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

Cave: a new opera by Tansy Davies and Nick Drake

Opera seems to travel far from the opera house these days. Alongside numerous productions in community spaces and pub theatres, in the last few years I’ve enjoyed productions staged on the shingle shore of Aldeburgh beach, at the bottom of the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe, and in a renovated warehouse in Shoreditch on the roof of which perch four ‘creative studios’ in the form of recycled Jubilee line train carriages and shipping containers.

Götterdämmerung in San Francisco

The truly tragic moments of this long history rich in humanity behind us we embark on the sordid tale of the Lord of the Gibichungs’s marriage to Brünnhilde and the cowardly murder of Siegfried, to arrive at some sort of conclusion where Brünnhilde sacrifices herself to somehow empower women. Or something.

Siegfried in San Francisco

We discover the child of incestuous love, we ponder a god’s confusion, we anticipate an awakening. Most of all we marvel at genius of the composer and admire the canny story telling of the Zambello production.

Boris Godunov in San Francisco

Yes, just when you thought Wotan was the only big guy in town San Francisco Symphony (just across a small street from San Francisco Opera), offered three staged performances of the Mussorgsky masterpiece Boris Godunov in direct competition with San Francisco Opera’s three Ring des Nibelungen cycles.

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Mascagni's Isabeau at Opera Holland Park: in conversation with David Butt Philip

Opera directors are used to thinking their way out of theatrical, dramaturgical and musico-dramatic conundrums, but one of the more unusual challenges must be how to stage the spectacle of a young princess’s naked horseback-ride through the streets of a city.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Joyce Castle (Madeline) [Photo by Mark Kiryluk courtesy of Central City Opera]
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.

Jake Heggie: Three Decembers

Madeline: Joyce Castle; Beatrice: Emily Pulley; Charlie: Keith Phares. Director: Ken Cazan. Conductor: John Baril. Central City Opera.

Above: Joyce Castle as Madeline

All photos by Mark Kiryluk courtesy of Central City Opera

 

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.

CCOThreeDecembersCharlieBea.gifKeith 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.

Wes Blomster

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):