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.
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
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.