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

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

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):