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

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.

Written on Skin at Lincoln Center

Three years ago I made what may have been my single worst decision in a half century of attending opera. I wasn’t paying close attention when some conference organizers in Aix-en-Provence offered me two tickets to the premiere of a new opera. I opted instead for what seemed like a sure thing: William Christie conducting some Charpentier.

Pesaro’s Rossini Festival 2015

The 36th Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini’s Pesaro! La gazza ladra (1817), La gazzetta (1816) and L'inganno felice (1812) — the little opera that made Rossini famous.

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.

Airy and Bucolic Glimmerglass Flute

As part of a concerted effort to incorporate local color and resonance into its annual festival, Glimmerglass has re-imagined The Magic Flute in a transformative woodland setting.

Glimmerglass Conquers Cato

Bravura singing and vibrant instrumental playing were on ample display in Glimmerglass Festival’s riveting Cato in Utica.

Energetic Glimmerglass Candide

Bernstein’s Candide seems to have more performance versions than Tales of Hoffmann.

Die Eroberung von Mexico in Salzburg

That’s The Conquest of Mexico, an historical music drama composed in 1991 by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). But wait. Wolfgang Rihm construed a few sentences of Artaud’s La Conquête du Mexique (1932) mixed up with bits of Aztec chant and bits of poem(s) by Mexico’s Octavio Paz (d. 1998) to make a libretto.

Scottish Sensation at Glimmerglass

Glimmerglass is celebrating its 40th Festival season with a stylish new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.

Norma in Salzburg

This Salzburg Norma is not new news. This superb production was first seen at the Salzburg Festival’s springtime Whitsun Festival in 2013 with this same cast. It will now travel to a few major European cities.

The power of music: a young cast in a semi-stage account of Monteverdi’s first opera

John Eliot Gardiner conducted a much anticipated performance of Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo at the BBC Proms on 4 August 2015, with his own Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Review: You Promised Me Everything

Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

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):