12 Jul 2010
Three Decembers at Central City
CENTRAL CITY — The story is banal: a single mother, an aging actress, is alienated from her grown-up children.
Wigmore Hall has announced the 25 young singer and pianist duos from around the world who have been shortlisted for this prestigious competition, which takes place at Wigmore Hall in September with the generous support of the Kohn Foundation. Details were announced on 27 April during a recital by Milan Siljanov, who won top prize in the 2015 Competition.
Garsington Opera's thrilling new commission for the 2017 Season, Silver Birch, will feature over 180 participants from the local community aged 8-80, including students from primary and secondary schools, members of the local military community, student Foley artists under the guidance of Pinewood Studios and members of Wycombe Women’s Aid.
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments: “I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
CENTRAL CITY — The story is banal: a single mother, an aging actress, is alienated from her grown-up children.
It’s a dysfunctional family, and things are complicated further by the fact that son Charlie is gay — his partner is dying of AIDS — and daughter Bea — trapped in a bad marriage — has turned to drink. Nothing much new in that, is there?
But what makes Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers compelling is the depth that director Ken Cazan brings to it in the production that opened at the Central City Opera here on Saturday. Cazan makes Maddy, mother and actress, an Everywoman with two Everykids. We’ve all been there; we’ve all shared to some degree in the alienation and sorrow of these three characters and we’ve all lived the Little Lies that — with luck — add up to one Big Truth.
Cazan has gone for the subtext of the story and made this a poignant study in the drives that cause people to do the Wrong Thing and shun each other. Heggie wrote Decembers for his friend Frederica von Stade, and the staging that was new in Houston in 2008 has moved around the country with her as Maddy. Much — indeed, almost everything — is new here. The 12-member orchestra, on stage elsewhere, is now in the pit, and Joyce Castle plays Maddy. It’s not a question of who plays it better; it’s how different the two singers — mezzos looking back on long careers — are.
Von Stade is famous as cute and cuddly Cherubino and puppy-loveable Octavian, while Castle has made her mark as — to mention only a couple of her 146 roles — Strauss’ hard-as-nails Herodias and a gender-bent Orlovsky. Castle has an edge — a bite, a grit — that makes her Maddy powerful and brings depth to her suffering. She presses the audience to her own failed breast and involves them in the errors she has made. Her success is spectacular, and it adds dimensions to her kids.
Youthful baritone Keith Phares, who created the role in Houston, is a stellar Charlie, and as Bea CCO regular Emily Pulley makes no effort to hide the mess that her life is. Impressive here in such diverse roles as Elvira, Susannah and Vanessa, Pulley has never sung so beautifully as she does as Bea.
Keith Phares as Charlie and Emily Pulley as Beatrice
Designer Cameron Anderson hit upon a great idea to underscore Cazan’s approach to Decembers, white windows — a total of 50 — descend upon the stage and then leave it vacant for the final scene, a memorial service for Maddy, that brings about reconciliation and redemption.
“The windows,” Cazan explains in a program note, “represent the endless potential for communication — for the speaking and heeding” foreign to these three people. Windows, of course, also close.
Call Decembers— if you will — a chamber or even “pocket” — opera, is has grown immensely through the CCO staging. Heggie’s voice remains his own — closer here perhaps to Broadway than the Met. That, however, is of little concern. It is music that speaks to the heart; it provokes feeling and demands emotional reaction. He is clearly American’s no. 1 opera composer. His Dead Man Walking has been staged around the world, and he celebrated a new triumph by turning Melville’s Moby Dick into grand opera in Dallas in April.
Three Decembers is a modern masterpiece, and it documents the unusually intense collaboration between Heggie and librettist Gene Sheer, his partner also in Moby Dick. It is a triumph for Central City, but — alas — one that leaves a big question open: where were the opera-goers Saturday who usually pack the house here on opening night? They were painfully absent, and this is disturbing.
Heggie is today a household word in the music world. He was in Denver to open the Ellie; he’s been at the Vail Valley Festival. The University of Colorado staged an awesome production of Dead Man Walking. Yet on Saturday people stayed away in droves. Does this mean that to stay in business Central City must stage endless Bohemes and Carmens? One refuses to accept the answer seemingly given that question here on Saturday.
Played without intermission, Decembers runs 95 minutes. John Baril conducted.
Three Decembers plays in repertory with Madama Butterfly and Orpheus in the Underworld at the Central City Opera through August 8. For tickets and information, call 303-292-6700 or visit www.centralcityopera.org.