Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

L’equivoco stravagante in Pesaro

L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding), the 18 year-old Gioachino Rossini's first opera buffa, is indeed bizarre. Its heroine Ernestina is obsessed by literature and philosophy and the grandiose language of opera seria.

BBC Prom 44: Rattle conjures a blistering Belshazzar’s Feast

This was a notable occasion for offering three colossal scores whose execution filled the Albert Hall’s stage with over 150 members of the London Symphony Orchestra and 300 singers drawn from the Barcelona-based Orfeó Català and Orfeó Català Youth Choir, along with the London Symphony Chorus.

Prom 45: Mississippi Goddam - A Homage to Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century music. But she was much more than this; many of her songs came to be a clarion call for disenfranchised and discriminated against Americans. When black Americans felt they didn’t have a voice, Nina Simone gave them one.

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Glimmerglass’ Showboat Sails to Glory

For the annual production of a classic American musical that has become part of Glimmerglass Festival’s mission, the company mounted a wholly winning version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal Showboat.

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Pictured: Don Marco (Philip Cokorinos) with Annina (Christina Martos) as she takes the veil in Central City Opera’s The Saint of Bleecker Street. Photo by Mark Kiryluk
27 Aug 2007

Menotti’s “Saint” wears a dim halo

CENTRAL CITY, Colo. — A year ago, when the Central City Opera announced plans to conclude its 2007 75th anniversary season with Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Saint of Bleecker Street,” the composer was aged but alive.

Above: Don Marco (Philip Cokorinos) with Annina (Christina Martos) as she takes the veil in Central City Opera’s The Saint of Bleecker Street.
Photo by Mark Kiryluk

 

His death at 95 on February 1 made the CCO staging both an act of homage and an object of special interest to opera goers. It was thus the conversation piece of this celebratory season. And although CCO general and artistic director Pelham (“Pat”) Pearce admitted that at first examination of the 1954 score he was “underwhelmed,” the company went overboard to mount a production that seemed designed to revive interest in Menotti and perhaps correct the view offered in a July Opera News obituary by Barry Singer that he was “the most prolific, widely performed and widely disdained” composer in all of opera.

On the heels of her 2005 directorial debut with “Madama Butterfly” the CCO brought veteran soprano Catherine Malfitano back to Colorado to stage “Saint.” Annina, the ill and visionary orphan whose story the opera tells, had played a significant part in the soprano’s career. When she sang the role at Wolf Trap in 1973, Julius Rudel, chief of New York City Opera, was in the audience and engaged her to sing Annina with that company the following season. The production was seen on public television when it was revived in 1978. (Malfitano, by the way, made her professional debut in a CCO “Falstaff” in 1972.) Thus the summer production was an act of faith for Malfitano, who further came up with the concept for handsome sets, effectively realized by Wilson Chin.

Yet even Malfitano’s belief in “Saint” could not triumph over the feeling that the opera is justifiably absent from the repertory today. Indeed, this was clearly a case, in which the staging was superior to the work, upon which the company lavished such affection. “Saint” got off to a magnificent start. Ill and orphaned Annina, sumptuously sung by a convincingly adolescent Christina Martos, was an engaging study in a faith so absolute that it led to stigmata, to the wounds of Christ bleeding in her. On the other hand, her brother Michele, a macho product of New York’s Little Italy as portrayed by Derek Taylor, was ridden by doubt. The two, it is generally agreed, are metaphors for two sides of Menotti’s own tormented soul.

The composer’s verismo and his choral writing are up there with Puccini, and the power of the first act elevated expectations. Things paled, however, and melodrama took over with Michele’s murder of girl friend Desideria, passionately sung by Kirstin Chávez. The sub-plot won the upper hand, as Menotti inched towards liturgy in the remainder of the work. Annina died as she took the veil, something her fugitive brother tried to prevent, and, while the virtual on-stage canonization of the young woman might have wowed the Sunday-school set, it left the unchurched waiting for the curtain to fall.

“Saint” ended up being too much, rather than too little, and doubters were disturbed by the ease with which Menotti was content to let the mighty final chorus obscure the question of what happens to murderer-on-the lamb Michele. Might the composer have done better to delete the murder and develop the incest motif so obviously present in the sibling relationship? And although Menotti is certainly right in questioning the mob that would exploit Annina, this perspective of the plot is obscured by his post-Puccini choruses.

“Saint” is a dark work, in which Menotti, his own librettist, stirs in the complex depths of the soul, but fails to put his findings together convincingly. The resolution - Annina almost sprouts angelic wings on stage - is contrived; the audience is browbeaten by the sheer power of Menotti’s music, but left without answers to the essential questions involved. Indeed, the best - and most moving - music heard at the CCO on the July 21 opening night was Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, played by an octet from the pit orchestra in an outdoor courtyard as a memorial to Menotti.

In the brief work Barber, first a fellow student at Curtis, then Menotti’s long-time companion, wrote music of amazing clarity and cleanliness - quite the opposite of Menotti’s overwrought score that followed on stage. “Saint” brought Menotti his second Pulitzer (the first was awarded for “Amahl and the Night Visitors” in 1951), yet the Central City staging makes clear why the work is so seldom encountered today. The CCO has further staged Menotti’s “Amelia Goes to the Ball” with Eleanor Steber in 1951 and “The Medium” in 1979.

A personal recollection:

Italian-born and Curtis-educated Menotti was his own man in opera. He wrote for Broadway during decades in which academic atonality dominated serious music and in “Amahl” written for television, he created what remains today the most-performed American opera. The world owes him much as a composer also active as a director and architect of the Spoleto Festival, first in Italy and then in Charleston, South Carolina. We were hardly buddies, yet for several years Gian Carlo Menotti was a presence in my life, and I - in a modest way - in his.

It was one of those right-place, right-time scenarios that have enriched my life. For many years I wrote a weekly column for a major newspaper chain. This gave me “visibility,” and musical organizations were eager to be the subject of my articles. A special fruit of this chapter of my life was a close and warm association with Spoleto USA, the American “half” of the Festival of Two Worlds, founded by Menotti in Italy in 1956 and then “imported” to Charleston, S.C. 11 years later.

During the decade before his somewhat operatic departure from Charleston, I interviewed Menotti by phone each spring about the up-coming season - he was usually then at home in his Scottish castle, where Prince Charles and the late Queen Mum were frequent guests. And in the first days of the season, which begins the last week in May, Menotti invited the critics present to breakfast in the garden of Charleston Place Hotel, his home in the city.

Not content to be only Spoleto’s founder and artistic director Menotti further made his mark by directing Mozart’s “Figaro” and Wagner’s “Parsifal” during my years at the festival. And he laid weight on being a man-about-town, cropping up suddenly in the midst of performances in the many historic venues used by the program. And I often encountered him “off stage” at the lavish late-night parties staged in the gardens of the well-maintained mansions on Charleston’s historic peninsula.

He radiated charm and charisma and - thanks largely to daily swim sessions - on his 80th birthday he could easily have been taken for 65.Yet Menotti was a difficult person who - in Charleston at least - became his own worst enemy. As the years piled up, the question of administrative succession at Spoleto grew pressing and it was complicated by Menotti’s insistence that his adopted son Francis follow him as artistic director of the festival both in Charleston and in Italy.

Those who had long supported Spoleto in Charleston felt that Francis, a difficult person, was not the man for the job. During negotiations often confrontational and even hostile Menotti threatened to move the American festival elsewhere - Savannah, just down the coast, was mentioned as a new site. And when Menotti finally did depart from Charleston he insisted for a time that the name “Spoleto” was his personal property.

Happily, Spoleto USA has done very well without Menotti, while word from Italy indicates that son Francis is no great success there. My life was made richer through my association with Menotti, with whom I had little contact following the death of his American press agent shortly after he left Charleston. It was sad indeed that things ended in that wonderful, historic city as they did, but it was clear that the time had come for Menotti to go. Nonetheless, today Spoleto USA, the country’s top all-arts festival, is a major monument to Menotti; even if his many operas are not often performed, he was an active presence on the art scene of the world for over half a century.

Wes Blomster

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):