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

Anna Caterina Antonacci, Wigmore Hall, London

Presenting a well-structured and characterful programme, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci demonstrated her prowess in both soprano and mezzo repertoire in this Wigmore Hall recital, performing European works from the early years of the twentieth century. Assuredly accompanied by her regular pianist Donald Sulzen, Antonacci was self-composed and calm of manner, but also evinced a warmly engaging stage presence throughout.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Los Angeles Opera Opens with La traviata

On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

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.

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):