29 Jan 2010
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s The Merry Widow
Melodic and scenic gaiety predominates in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow.
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
Melodic and scenic gaiety predominates in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow.
Paris in the opening years of the twentieth century is evoked in shifting venues from the Petrovenian embassy in Act I to the widow’s mansion and to Maxim’s in Acts II and III. The widow Hannah Glawari is sung by Elizabeth Futral in a performance ranging from touching sentimentality to lyrical purity and joyous sparkle in duets and ensembles. Her suitor from the past, Count Danilo Danilovich, as portrayed by Roger Honeywell moves convincingly from the pleasure-seeking rake to the man who still loves Hannah despite circumstances that interrupted their earlier courtship. A secondary romantic involvement is pursued between the married Valencienne and her admirer Camille de Rosillon, sung and acted plaintively in this production by Andriana Chuchman and Stephen Costello respectively. A large supporting cast is drawn into the comedic and wistful resolution of Hannah’s fortunes and amorous interests.
Paul La Rosa, Elizabeth Futral and David Portillo
After a spirited orchestral introduction led by conductor Emannuel Villaume the first act of Lehár’s operetta introduces both celebration and conflict. This scene, as staged in Lyric Opera’s new production, communicates an appropriate amount of business, replete with arrivals, wooing, and worries over the homeland. Baron Zeta broaches this latter topic by accepting congratulations in behalf of the Petrovenian head of state while at once lamenting the precarious financial issues of the homeland. In his portrayal of Zeta, Dale Travis assumes a Central European accent and delivers an effective mix of enthusiasm and anguish. After summarizing the economic concerns, he insists that the recently widowed Hanna Glawari must remarry a Petrovenian citizen so that her inheritance might remain in the domestic treasury. During Zeta’s distracted narration of such details his wife Valencienne is subjected to the repeated attentions of the nobleman Camille de Rosillon. Although obviously flattered by these advances, Valencienne expresses her irritation when Camille writes “I love you” on her fan. In the duet “Listen please” Valencienne reminds him of her intentions to remain faithful to her husband Zeta and suggests that he marry another. Chuchman and Costello fulfill the individual roles of Valencienne and Camille admirably yet their vocal and dramatic talents seem transformed to a still higher level when they sing together. In this first duet they epitomize the conflicts of love and duty as their voices blend to communicate a convincing emotional fervor.
Stephen Costello and Andriana Chuchman
Once the young couple leaves, the widow Hanna Glawari appears, trying to deflect the repeated attempts at adulation from men who wish to curry her favor. In her first aria (“Gentlemen, how kind”) Ms. Futral strikes a balance between a woman who demonstrates a vocally receptive sense of being flattered and the realistic widow who suspects any suitor of opportunism. As Hanna, for the present, leaves and repeated calls for Danilo’s needed presence are sounded (“Affluent widows double in charm”), the bachelor enters a near-empty stage. While staggering in apparent inebriation from the top of a staircase Roger Honeywell portrays Danilo not so much as dissolute but rather as one avoiding the confrontation of daily responsibility by losing himself in the swirl of activity at Maxim’s. In his aria “Oh, Fatherland” Honeywell muses with wistfulness on the duties of a minor nobleman that he fulfills for his country, but activities of the evening cause a suspension of the sense of homeland. When Hanna reenters she finds Danilo, in utter exhaustion, asleep on a divan. Ms Futral attempts to mask the surprise of Hanna, just as Mr. Honeywell’s Danilo can only appear confused while he recovers his composure. A renewed attraction between the principals, interrupted by the realities of an earlier, societal marriage, is evident for a moment before distance again sets in. Danilo insists that he will never express love for Hanna, while others vie for a dance with the widow. When she suggests such a dance with Danilo, he offers it to any other man for 10000 francs. Hanna is incensed and Danilo seems, at first, resolved in his sullenness. Yet Honeywell shows his character softening, and both agree finally to the proposed dance. As the act concludes Hanna and Danilo, as portrayed here, seem temporarily reconciled, if only for the evening, in a dance and song that bears a glimmer of more for the future.
In Act II of the operetta the action takes place in the garden of the widow’s Parisian home. Hungarian dances are performed first to celebrate the ruler’s natal day: in Lyric Opera’s production both colorful costumes and skillful choreography assure a lively introduction to the celebration. As an extension of these festivities the widow sings the traditional Hungarian song of the vilja. Ms. Futral performed the justly famous song of the wood-sprite, or vilja, with moving emotional force. As she described the feelings of the huntsman who becomes enamored of the sprite in the forest, Ms. Futral’s character itself seemed to bloom, so that buried emotions could again be kindled. A further encounter with Danilo, who arrives to participate in the widow’s reception, contributes to renewed confusion and bruised emotions, with both characters stomping away in opposite directions. The scene is then left to the naïve pair Valencienne and Camille, who both avail themselves of the solitude to discuss openly the state of their love. Despite the protestations of Valencienne, Camille serenades her with the aria “Just as the rosebud blossoms in the light of May.” Mr. Costello flourished here as an ardent lover in the solo aria in which his vocal modulations and use of legato were especially well received. The two withdraw into the garden’s pavilion in time for Valencienne’s husband Zeta to return and peer curiously into the enclosure. Although he at first believes that he sees his wife with Camille, Hanna changes places with Valencienne in order to save her reputation. The widow and Camille emerge from the pavilion declaring their intention to marry, an announcement which confuses Zeta and irritates even further Danilo. Mr. Honeywell gave convincing expression to his pique in the aria “Fall in love often,” as he rushed off at the close of the act to console himself in diversion at Maxim’s.
Roger Honeywell and Elizabeth Futral
It is indeed here at Maxim’s that the numerous conflicts and emotional tensions are ultimately settled during Act III of the operetta. After the mood is set by an orchestral introduction including strains from the “Merry Widow Waltz,” we see the various girls of the club along with Valencienne dancing to entertain Danilo. Further communication from the homeland prompts the widow to admit that she never intended marriage to Camille and that her motives consisted in the protection of another woman’s honor. At this Danilo admits his love for Hanna, and they sing the duet “Strings are sighing.” Futral and Honeywell express their bond, leading eventually to the consent of marriage, in touching unison as they conclude aptly on the lines “We’ve gone soaring to the heights” and “It’s you I love alone!” Only the breach between Valencienne and Zeta must be repaired. When the jealous husband discovers the fan on which Camille had written of his love, Valencienne convinces Zeta to read the declaration on the reverse: “To my loving husband from his adoring wife.” All is now well in the emotional world of The Merry Widow, as depicted in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s delightfully musical production.