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

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

Tristan, English National Opera

My first Tristan, indeed my first Wagner, in the theatre was ENO’s previous staging of the work, twenty years ago, in 1996. The experience, as it should, as it must, although this is alas far from a given, quite overwhelmed me.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

Holland Festival: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Amsterdam

Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his wife.

Lalo: Complete Songs

Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.

Pietro Mascagni: Iris

There can’t be that many operas that start with an extended solo for double bass. At Holland Park, the eerie, angular melody for lone bass player which opens Pietro Mascagni’s Iris immediately unsettled the relaxed mood of the summer evening.

L’italiana in Algeri, Garsington Opera

George Souglides’ set for Will Tuckett’s new production of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Garsington would surely have delighted Liberace.

Carmen in San Francisco

Calixto Bieito is always news, Carmen with a good cast is always news. So here is the news.

Eugene Onegin, Garsington Opera

Distinguished theatre director Michael Boyd’s first operatic outing was his brilliant re-invention of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo for the Royal Opera at the Roundhouse in 2015, so what he did next was always going to rouse interest.

Bohuslav Martinů’s Ariane and Alexandre bis

Although Bohuslav Martinů’s short operas Ariane and Alexandre bis date from 1958 and 1937 respectively, there was a distinct tint of 1920s Parisian surrealism about director Rodula Gaitanou’s double bill, as presented by the postgraduate students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Lohengrin, Dresden

The eyes of the opera world turned recently to Dresden—the city where Wagner premiered his Rienzi, Fliegende Holländer, and Tannhäuser—for an important performance of Lohengrin. For once in Germany it was not about the staging.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Christine Ebersole [Photo by Erin Baiano courtesy of The Collegiate Chorale]
28 Mar 2010

A Composer Grows before his Work — The Grapes of Wrath at Carnegie Hall

Many congratulations and thanks are in order to the Collegiate Chorale for bringing Ricky Ian Gordon’s adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath to New York audiences this week.

Ricky Ian Gordon: The Grapes of Wrath

Jane Fonda, Narrator. Nathan Gunn: Tom Joad; Victoria Clark: Ma Joad; Elizabeth Futral: Rosasharn; Sean Panikkar: Jim Casy; Peter Halverson: Pa Joad; Stephen Powell: Uncle John; Andrew Wilkowske: Noah; Steven Pasquale: Al; Christine Ebersole: Mae; Matthew Worth: Ragged Man/Connie/Truck Driver; Madelyn Gunn: Ruthie. American Symphony Orchestra. Ted Sperling, Conductor. Edward Barnes, Producer. Eric Simonson, Director. Frances Aronson, Lighting Designer. Wendall Harrington, Projection Designer. Carnegie Hall, March 22, 2010.

Above: Christine Ebersole

All photos by Erin Baiano courtesy of The Collegiate Chorale

 

However, while the evening at Carnegie Hall was more theatrically compelling than most semi-staged performances, the compromise of shortening the three-act opera into two acts of music-theatre with a crossover cast seemed better intended than it was actually effective. Firstly, by replacing the connective recitative with narration from novel (read by Jane Fonda), Gordon’s musical diction was made less effective and, moreover, Michael Korie’s rhyming libretto suffered in comparison to John Steinbeck’s original prose. Secondly, changing the theatrical structure of the evening necessarily altered the musical architecture. Reoccurring motives effectively became musical theatre reprisals rather than the thematic development post-Wagnerian opera audiences expect. At its best, Gordon’s score evoked Ragtime more than Porgy and Bess.

The crossover casting, made possible by across the board sound enhancement, was inspired in some instances but minimized the vocal demands on the singers and did little to establish The Grapes of Wrath as an equivalent to the great American novel. Christine Ebersole was in character from the moment she stepped onto the stage, much more so than most of her counterparts from the world of opera and concert repertoire. That said, while her brief appearance as the waitress Mae should be lauded for the character arc created in a single scene, Ebersole’s vocalism on Monday evening would be considered lacking on either the Broadway or the operatic stage. Victoria Clark and Steven Pasquale, both from the original cast of Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza, fared better. As Ma Joad, it was Clark, rather than headliner Nathan Gunn, who proved to be the both the musical and dramatic lynchpin of the evening. Pasquale used Al Joad’s short second act aria “Hooverville” as an opportunity for cynical showboating à la Gershwin’s Sportin’ Life.

Among the opera singers in the cast, Gunn had the easiest singing and, not coincidentally, the most fun with his musical material. His duet with Sean Panikkar (stepping in for Anthony Dean Griffey as the preacher Jim Casy) featured the evening’s most exciting vocalism. Moreover, Panikkar dealt with the Jiminy Cricket text of his aria “Things Turn Around” with considerable style and dignity. It was unfortunate to hear such a fine singer’s phrasing and coloring flattened by the so-called acoustic “enhancement.”

In order to elide three acts into two, Gordon and Korie had to cut much of the musical and dramatic exposition and development. Therefore, the aria establishing Jim Casy’s character was actually his swan song. This was also the case with Andrew Wilkowske in the role of Noah. Perfectly cast, Wilkowske carried off the evening’s most challenging scene with sweet singing, sensitive acting, and overall aplomb. As Uncle John, Stephen Powell’s performance was fully realized both dramatically and vocally. Within the ensemble cast, Matthew Worth played three parts, but should be especially commended for his turn as the Ragged Man.

CC100322-555RT small.pngNathan Gunn and Victoria Clark

Costuming by Jacob Climer and projections by Wendall K. Harrington helped to actualize the opera’s considerable theatrical potential. Inexplicably, though, Elizabeth Futral showed no visible signs of pregnancy as Rosasharn. Some of the projections, a mix of black-and-white period footage and color representations of Dust Bowl meteorological phenomena, were more literal than evocative (as in the case of the burning crops during the riot at Hooper Ranch). The evening’s rather abrupt ending, in particular, could have been made more poignant with different projections and lighting. Perhaps this was due to the limitations of the concert stage – a full orchestra of music stand lights took away from the poetry of Rosasharn’s “one star” in the night sky as a beacon of American hope – or, more likely, the rushed feeling of condensing a five hours of original music into two acts.

In either case, as an evening of music-theatre Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath shows promise. Since its original production at the Minnesota Opera in 2007, members of the original team, including director Eric Simonson, have overseen the subsequent productions at Utah Opera and Pittsburgh Opera as well as this week’s performance at Carnegie Hall. If new creative teams can work with the material as effectively as singers like Andrew Wilkowske, Sean Panikkar, and Stephen Powell have assimilated their roles, then audiences have something to look forward to.

Clearly, Gordon and Korie are open to the idea of re-tooling their opera in order to make it more viable for today’s opera houses and audiences. It would be interesting to see if, rather than featuring a large orchestra and expanding the use of the chorus, the opera could be centered around a core ensemble cast à la John Corigliano’s recent reconfiguration of The Ghosts of Versailles. After all, the difference between a novel and a musical score as a source document is that as a book stands the test of time it eventually becomes a definitive example of something specific within its literary canon. In order for an opera to become part of the standard repertoire, the score and libretto need to inspire many different interpretations so that multiple successful productions may be mounted. The Collegiate Chorale’s concert version of The Grapes of Wrath should definitely be considered a success and a step towards establishing both the composer and the work within the American opera repertoire.

Alison Moritz

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):