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 Reviews

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

Aureliano in Palmira in Pesaro

Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Pesaro

Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?

Armida in Pesaro

Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

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):