Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Mascagni's Isabeau at Opera Holland Park: in conversation with David Butt Philip

Opera directors are used to thinking their way out of theatrical, dramaturgical and musico-dramatic conundrums, but one of the more unusual challenges must be how to stage the spectacle of a young princess’s naked horseback-ride through the streets of a city.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

William Browning as Eddie Carbone [Photo by Ben Ehrenreich]
04 Nov 2009

A View from the Bridge by Vertical Player Repertory

Unlike many contemporary composers — who too often derive their operas from full-length novels — William Bolcom (whose first opera, to be fair, was the novel-based McTeague, which I do not know) based his second,

William Bolcom: A View from the Bridge

Beatrice Carbone: Judith Barnes; Catherine: Valentina Fleer; Eddie Carbone: William Browning; Alfieri: Samuel Smith; Rodolpho: Glenn Seven Allen; Marco: Branch Fields. Vertical Player Repertory, at 219 Court Street, Brooklyn. Performance of November 1.

Click here for photo gallery of this production.

 

A View from the Bridge, on a taut, tight play by Arthur Miller about immigrants in Brooklyn, a piece whose operatic and classically tragic echoes were striking even without music. This follows the tradition of Verdi and Puccini, who got most of their best opera libretti from plays. I read Bridge in tenth grade and retained enough of it in memory to expect certain lines in the libretto — and sighed with delight when they arrived, Bolcom and Miller and co-librettist Arnold Weinstein having been unwilling to let them go either:

Catherine: Hungry?
Rodolpho (looking at her): Not for food.

and the climactic

Beatrice: I know what you want, Eddie — and you can’t ever have her.

— and both of these bits of dialogue have been lightly, delicately, musicked so that an audience will get the words clearly. (How would it go over in Italian, I wonder? A suggested Palermo production of the opera fell victim to that famously sticky Italian red tape. One would like to know how Italians take this very Italian but non-Mafia New World tale.)

At the Vertical Player Repertory production of the opera, in its tiny home on Court Street in Cobble Hill, set and theater were so small you felt scrunched into a claustrophobic kitchen to the point of explosion, just as the characters are on stage. Voices rather louder than you ever hear in your kitchen also suit this story — and these were very good voices. It made for thrilling theater, but left me puzzled how the piece plays on the stages of immense theaters like the Chicago Lyric and the Met. The next performances hereabouts will be a VPR staging in situ, on the docks in Red Hook in June, following the footsteps of their highly admired presentation of Puccini’s barge-side opera, Il Tabarro, in that venue. That performance will have a small orchestra — these indoor performances made do with two pianos in a carefully redacted arrangement.

A View from the Bridge gives the lie to the old law of drama that tragedy requires a ruling figure destroyed by his tragic flaw. Eddie Carbone is a longshoreman in Brooklyn in the era of On the Waterfront, and his word is law only to his womenfolk — but his code of honor is clearly stated, his tragic conflict simply presented, and his downfall feels as fated and piteous as any Greek hero’s. He lives with his long-suffering wife and her orphaned niece — and, having no child of his own, has delighted in the niece — but she’s not a little girl any more, and his feelings are more than protective. Now two poor cousins, illegal aliens, arrive from Sicily — the local code demands they be offered hospitality and secrecy — betrayal to Immigration will incur ostracism or worse in this close-knit community. And Catherine, the niece, falls for Rodolpho, the younger, prettier “submarine.” Eddie suggests Rodolpho is gay, “not right,” or selfishly seeking a green card marriage — but everyone sees, and fears to mention, the jealousy that’s really eating him. Will he break his own code of honor? Can he have any self-respect, any life, if he does?

All the play lacked was a chorus, awkward in modern naturalistic theater. Their place taken by Alfieri, a lawyer on the fringes of the action, sort of a Tiresias figure, warning Eddie, predicting disaster. (Would Tiresias the seer be a lawyer today — or would he be Bernie Madoff?) In an opera, of course, you can have a chorus — streets can talk, even sing — which leaves Alfieri very little to do. Keeping the community on stage, observing, commenting, participating, seems very Greek — Sicily, remember, was Magna Graecia, the wealthy western colonized New World in the time of the classical tragedians — and the skill with which they slide on or scuttle off into the cramped edges of the scaffolded VPR set is not the least extraordinary thing about Michael Unger’s vivid direction.

With their audience so close to the action and the instruments cut down to barebones pianos (Bolcom is the sort of composer who would much rather highlight a significant word or gesture than whelm the emotions in a wave of sound), you need a cast who can make big sounds while moving and acting with total commitment, and VPR had them. They put over a riveting account of the play, even to their eyes raging, lusting, and popping from the head, while singing with great big voices. The vocal style is more Verismo than Mozart, which suits the story down to the ground.

At VPR all the voices were big and in tune and hardly seemed “operatic,” so natural and intense was the acting. William Browning, in the unsympathetic but tragic role of Eddie, seemed especially in command of every vocal nuance and every gesture. He has a longshoreman’s barrel chest and a big, agreeable baritone, but he is also a presence: his slow burn was almost as loud as his vocalism. As Beatrice, Judith Barnes’s sizable soprano showed an edge when heated — sometimes approaching shrillness — but a calm, measured voice would have been a mistake for this unassuming woman driven to speak unspeakable truths. Valentina Fleer and Glenn Seven Allen made personable, charmingly vocal young lovers, and Allen’s “Lights of New York” aria, the prettiest and most memorable tune in the show, was a highlight — “I wanted to write him a Neapolitan canzone; I figured that’s the style Rodolpho would know,” says Bolcom — but both performers showed themselves actors of considerable weight as well. Branch Fields, as Marco, stopped the show with his bitter denunciation of hunger and the laws of immigration. As Bolcom retailed it, in an after-the-show talk-back, he felt Marco, all but inarticulate in the play, needed a vocal moment to himself — and on his shyly saying so, Miller, unquestioning, wrote the text for it in three days. Samuel Smith, as Alfieri, the lawyer commentator, showed a strong basso cantante but he should take care — his voice was the only one that displayed an unlovely beat when pushed. Longshoremen were all well cast, and the chorus sang effectively and got on and off stage in amazing style. I wish they’d give lessons on movement to the chorus at the Met.

I had not heard this score before, and while I am now curious to hear it with full orchestra am not sure it is music with the charm to pull me back again and again, as the great operatic works do. The play has largely been set in a conversational arioso style, that pauses tidily for set pieces like Rodolpho’s hymn to owning a motorcycle or a Christmas carol quartet for the longshoremen, but the music that underlies the dialogue tends to astringency rather than melody; individual phrases of music do not hold you — the whiplash of the play and its fascinating characters do. If three characters have something — even different things — on their minds, I’m old-fashioned enough to think a trio would be a nice way to get this across and pass the time. Bolcom seems to feel this would be intrusive; he’d rather home in on the dramatic action, and no one can doubt his success in doing so. I recall more tunes from the other Arthur Miller opera I’ve encountered, Robert Ward’s excellent The Crucible — but that one has never played the Met.

John Yohalem

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):