Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Commentary

The Metropolitan Opera to cancel its Live in HD transmission of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer scheduled for this fall

 

Anna Prohaska, one of Europe’s most promising sopranos

Anna Prohaska sings Sister Constance in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites at the Royal Opera House. In the same month, she’s also in London to sing a recital with Eric Schneider at the Wigmore Hall, and to sing Henze with Sir Simon Rattle at the Barbican Hall.

Garsington Opera’s 25th anniversary unites its past with its future

Garsington Opera celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Annapolis Opera’s 26th Annual Vocal Competitions

Baritone Brandon Coleman’s mother, Linda, knew that 3-year old Brandon would be a great singer when a stranger who had heard him, predicted it.

Barbiere Comes to Sin City

Professional opera returns to the Las Vegas Valley June 6th and 8th with performances of one of the best-known comic operas of all time, Gioachino Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

Jean-Paul Scarpitta in Montpellier

I met with the embattled artistic director of the Opéra et Orchestre National de Montepellier not to talk about his battles. I simply wanted to know the man who had cast and staged a truly extraordinary Mozart/DaPonte trilogy.

Interview: Tenor Saimir Pirgu — From Albania to Italy to LA

Maria Nockin interviews tenor Saimir Pirgu.

Claudio Abbado, Italian conductor, dies aged 80

Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, former principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, has died aged 80

Matthew Polenzani — Des Grieux, Manon, Royal Opera House

Matthew Polenzani reprises the role of the Chevalier des Grieux in Jules Massenet’s Manon at the Royal Opera House. “I love coming back to London”, he says, “It’s a very good house and they take care of you as a singer. And the level of music making is unbelievably high”.

Season 2014 at San Diego Opera

On Saturday evening January 25, San Diego Opera opens its 2014 season with Ruggero Leoncavallo’s verismo blockbuster Pagliacci (Clowns).

Maestro Joseph Rescigno Discusses The Flying Dutchman

The Flying Dutchman is a transitional piece because Wagner was only beginning to establish his style. He took some aspects from Carl Maria von Weber and others from Italian composers like Vincenzo Bellini.

Royal Opera House Announces Digital Theatre

The Royal Opera House has its own DVD arm, Opus Arte, and is developing quite a global following with its cinema broadcasts.

Patricia Racette on Dolores Claiborne

On a personal level, I feel that Dolores is almost like Emmeline grown up. Their circumstances are not exactly parallel, but they are both women at very different points in their lives whose stories involve dilemmas with life-changing outcomes.

Tobias Picker Talks About His New Opera Dolores Claiborne

With the help of Andrew Welch, a London theatrical producer who had adapted several of King’s works for the stage, including this one, I got the rights to both Dolores Claiborne and Misery.

Dolora Zajick on New Opera Written for Her

On September 18, 2013, San Francisco Opera will present the world premiere of Tobias Picker’s opera, Dolores Claiborne, which has a libretto by J. D. McClatchy based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name.

Ermonela Jaho — Singing and Character

Ermonela Jaho caused a sensation at Covent Garden in London five years ago, when she took over Violetta at short notice from Anna Netrebko.

Ignite at Wigmore Hall

What do you get if you cross Benjamin Britten, ‘one-page scores’, an innovative performing ensemble and ‘Wigmore Learning’ — the Wigmore Hall’s imaginative outreach programme which aims to provide access to chamber music and song through innovative creative programmes, online resources and events?

Marseille, Capital of European Culture

Marseille woke up this past January 11 stunned to find itself number two on the New York Times list of 46 places you should visit in 2013 (Rio was number one, Paris just made the list at number 46).

Rossini Maometto Secondo at Garsington Opera - David Parry speaks

Garsington Opera at Wormsley is producing the British premiere of Giacomo Rossini´s Maometto Secondo. Garsington Opera is well-known for its role in reviving Rossini rarities in Britain. Since 1994, there have been 14 productions of 12 Rossini operas, and David Parry has conducted eleven since 2002. He´s very enthusiastic about Maometto Secondo.

Michele Mariotti conducts La donna del lago

Rossini’s La donna del Lago at the Royal Opera House boasts a superstar cast. Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez are perhaps the best in these roles in the business at this time. Yet the conductor Michele Mariotti is also hot news.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Commentary

Memminger Auditorium (Charleston, SC)
09 May 2008

Spoleto USA revives opera, hall

Operas do not often get a second chance. A new work is premiered and — if it’s a co-commission — it moves on to another company or two.

Above: Memminger Auditorium

 

Then the score retreats to libraries, waiting to be listed in the next edition of the Grove Dictionary of Opera.

Recent successes such as Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” and “Dead Man Walking” by Jake Heggie are happy exceptions. Thus it’s good news that Anthony Davis’ “Amistad,” premiered by the Chicago Lyric Opera late in 1997, is being revived by Spoleto USA, the Charleston, South Carolina, all-arts festival that has a special “feel” for unusual works. Now it’s being revived in a greatly revised version by the composer to re-open Charleston’s Memminger Auditorium, the city’s former arts venue that had fallen upon hard times until that Spoleto “feel” sensed its value as a unique performance space.

A gala performance of “Amistad” opens the 2008 Spoleto season and inaugurates the rebuilt hall. When Davis accepted Chicago’s commission to write “Amistad,” the mutiny of heroic Africans about to be sold into slavery was a story whose time had come. Steven Spielberg’s film version also appeared in 1997, and it led — in turn — to David Pesci‘s novel on the mutiny and the court case that was a first step toward the abolition of slavery in this country.

Yet in the original version of the opera Davis seemed — so to speak — to have missed the boat. Critics were not kind to the work. Davis and his librettist cousin Thulani Davis, some felt, had “leached” a great story of its energy. The Trickster God, an African folk deity, did too much of the talking, allowing one-dimensional characters little opportunity for meaningful exchange. The opera was too long; it was static and did not excite the audience. The Amistad case — the Spanish owners of the ship tried to claim the Africans as their property — had gone all the way to the Supreme Court. Yet, one observer wrote, the scene that focused on John Quincy Adams's courtroom defense of the captives was “a snore.”

Nonetheless Spoleto general director Nigel Redden saw “Amistad” as a work of particular relevance for Charleston and decided to bring it back to life in a theatrically and musically vital way. It would be ideal, he felt, for the inauguration of the re-built Memminger. “I was at the Chicago premiere,” Redden says, “and I thought of “Amistad” immediately when we started making plans for Memminger. “It’s important to me that people feel this is a theater for everyone, and I wanted a work that would attract a wide spectrum from the community.”

Although only minutes away from King Street, the Charleston’s major downtown shopping artery, Memminger stands in the middle of a very mixed neighborhood off the regular path of festival visitors. The city’s once-active and well preserved slave market is a horror of history close at hand. “ ‘Amistad’ was an obvious choice for Memminger,” Redden says. “It’s a work that belongs here.” Redden sat down with Davis, who gained early fame for his “Malcolm X,” and made suggestions for the revision of the opera.

“It’s a work that relates to a major issue in Charleston’s history,” says Spoleto director of opera and concerts Emmanuel Villaume, “and staging it in Memminger underscores the impact that Spoleto has — and has had — on the city.” Villaume will be on the podium for all six performances of “Amistad.” And Villaume is pleased that the opera is open minded and without a narrowly defined political position.

“Anthony had been hoping for a chance to return ‘Amistad’ to the stage,” he says. “He has put a lot of effort into the new version, shortening the work and making it more concentrated. “It’s now for smaller forces used more efficiently, and it’s far more intimate than it was in Chicago.” “‘Amistad’ will gain from the location and the legacy of Charleston,” Davis says. “It’s now shorter and tighter, and there will be a better balance between singers and orchestra.”

A totally new cast has been recruited for the Memminger production, which will be directed by Sam Helfrich with costumes by Kaye Voyce and an imaginative set by Caleb Wertenbaker. Leading the list of 21 singers are Gregg Baker, Stephen Morscheck, Mary Elizabeth Williams and Michael Forest.

Redden points out that 2008 is of particular significance for “Amistad,“ for it marks the bicentennial of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. “This brings a particular resonance to the Spoleto production,” he says. Spoleto has planned numerous events related to the opera, including artist talks and roundtables at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, guided tours of the newly-renovated Old Slave Mart Museum, followed by a walking tour of sites related to African-American history in Charleston and screenings of related films. The Freedom Schooner Amistad – a replica of the slave ship currently on an 18-month transatlantic voyage – will be docked at the Charleston Maritime Center from May 16 through the opening weekend of the season.

****************

It is, however, not only Amistad that is getting a second chance at Spoleto this season. Memminger Auditorium, once Charleston’s major arts venue, has undergone a $6-million renovation, and will reopen on May 22 with a gala performance of “Amistad.” Designed by the Charleston architect Albert Simons, Memminger was completed in 1939 as a Federal Works Agency. It was home to the Charleston Symphony Orchestra prior to the opening of Gaillard Auditorium in 1968. It was also the site of high-school basketball games. Neglected after Gaillard was built, Memminger lost its roof in Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Emergency repairs saved the structure, which was filled with pigeons and cobwebs when Nigel Redden envisioned the ruin as the site for Spoleto extravaganzas. With makeshift air conditioning and miles of duct tape to save the audience’ clothes from splintered seats, Memminger reopened with a performance of Heiner Goebbels’ massive “Surrogate Cities” in 2000. Mahler symphonies and China’s “Peony Pavilion” — complete with a moat for live ducks — followed. The 2004 staging of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” was so successful that it was repeated in 2005. It also prompted the decision to rebuild Memminger as a black-box theater. “Memminger has an edge to it,” Redden says. “Frankly, it’s fabulous. It makes a very strong statement.”

Memminger-Balcony-%28before%29.pngThe balcony of Memminger Auditorium prior to renovations.

This season Memminger will also be home to Spoleto’s twice-daily chamber-music recitals, the most popular events of the festival, while the historic Dock Street Theatre is remodeled. Memminger is now handicap accessible and it has an attractive lobby with upgraded restrooms. The stage now has wings, and a garden will welcome audience members during intermissions.

****************

The second opera of the 2008 Spoleto season is Rossini’s “La Cenerentola,” which opens in Gaillard Auditorium on May 23. Charles Roubaud, whose Spoleto credits include a shimmering “Lakmé” and a rollicking “Ariadne auf Naxos,” directs; Matteo Beltrami is the conductor. Sandra Piques Eddy sings the title role; others in the cast are Victor Ryan Robertson, Tim Nolen and Bruno Taddia.

For complete information on Spoleto USA, visit www.spoletousa.org.

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):