Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

Arizona Opera Ends Season in Fine Style with Fille du Régiment

On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.

Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera

This second revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2005 production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia seems to have every going for it: excellent principals comprising experienced old-hands and exciting new voices, infinite gags and japes, and the visual éclat of Agostino Cavalca’s colour-bursting costumes and Christian Fenouillat’s sunny sets which evoke the style, glamour and ease of La Dolce Vita.

The Siege of Calais
——
The Wild Man of the West Indies

English Touring Opera’s 2015 Spring Tour is audacious and thought-provoking. Alongside La Bohème the company have programmed a revival of their acclaimed 2013 production of Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and the composer’s equally rare The Wild Man of the West Indies (Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Mary Zimmerman’s still-fresh production is made fresher still by Shagimuratova’s glimmering voice, but the acting disappoints

Voices, voices in space, and spaces: Thoughts on 50 years of Meredith Monk

When WNYC’s John Schaefer introduced Meredith Monk’s beloved Panda Chant II, which concluded the four-and-a-half hour Meredith Monk & Friends celebration at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, he described it as “an expression of joy and musicality” before lamenting the fact that playing it on his radio show could never quite compete with a live performance.

St. John Passion by Soli Deo Gloria, Chicago

This year’s concert of the Chicago Bach Project, under the aegis of the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation, was a presentation of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Philip Cutlip as Joseph De Rocher [Photo by Felix Sanchez courtesy of Houston Grand Opera]
06 Feb 2011

Heggie’s Dead Man Walking triumphs at HGO

The production of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking currently on stage at the Houston Grand Opera is marvelously celebratory in its success.

Jake Heggie: Dead Man Walking

Sister Helen Prejean: Joyce DiDonato; Joseph De Rocher: Philip Cutlip; Joseph’s mother: Frederica von Stade; Sister Rose: Measha Brueggergosman; Owen and Kitty Hart, parents of murdered girl: John Packard and Cheryl Parrish; Jade Boucher, mother of murdered boy: Susanne Mentzer. Conductor: Patrick Summers. Director: Leonard Foglia. Sets: Michael McGarty. Costumes: Jess Goldstein. Lighting: Brian Nason. Chorus master: Richard Bado. A co-production with Opera Pacific, Cincinnati Opera, New York City Opera, Austin Lyric Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Pittsburgh Opera and Baltimore Opera.

Above: Philip Cutlip as Joseph De Rocher

All photos by Felix Sanchez courtesy of Houston Grand Opera

 

Staged by more than a handful of American companies since its 2000 premiere at San Francisco Opera, Dead Man Walking has been seen in Dresden and Vienna — and in distant Australia. It is the most popular of American operas in decades — perhaps since Porgy and Bess. But that only states the obvious.

More important is the universality the HGO staging brings to the true story of Sister Helen Prejean’s encounter with death-row damned Joe De Rocher. For here the work — and the bare-bones libretto by Terrence McNally — is no longer an argument about capital punishment — if this ever was its central concern. It is now rather an essay — a careful balance of ideas and emotions — on the quest for compassion — and love — in a world poor in compassion, chilled by loneliness and loathe to grant redemption.

HGO music director Patrick Summers conducted the SFO premiere of DMW and has been with it constantly. In Houston he demonstrates how much he has grown in a decade distinguished by further Heggie achievements. Indeed, the Houston staging takes DMW full circle, underscoring a network of friendships that reaches beyond the stage and contrasts warmly with the lonely despair that darkens this story.

In addition to the long collaboration between Heggie and Summers, in the pit for the Dallas premiere of the composer’s Moby Dick last season, this staging gains through the return to the cast of Frederica von Stade who — repeating her SFO role — sings Joe’s mother. Adding to the weight of her still superb singing is the fact that Heggie has long prized the mezzo as his personal Muse, together with that the tug at the heart prompted by the knowledge that the HGO performances mark her last appearance on the opera stage.

John Packard, the first Joe and now an internationally recognized baritone, is now in Houston to sing his father. Older opera buffs are delighted to find in the cast singers of note edged off stage by today’s quest for new talent.

Cheryl Parrish, loved for many performances of Despina and Gilda, and Suzanne Mentzer, only a decade ago a leading Octavian, sing supporting roles. (Both are now voice teachers in Texas.) New to the cast — and the HGO — is Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman, who makes Sister Rose an alter ego of Sister Helen.

At the top of this list of notables, of course, is Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen. An alumna of the HGO studio, DiDonato, now the world’s leading mezzo, has long been Houston’s “own.” Having appeared in a wide variety of roles here, she has just been named the company’s Lynn Wyatt Great Artist for 2011-12. (She will sing the title role in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda at the end of the next season.) DiDonato, who sang the role at New York City Opera in 2002, is a vulnerably feminine Sister Helen without the grit of Susan Graham who created the role at the SFO. By internalizing the conflict, however, DiDonato brings new intensity to the independent nun. She makes clear that Sister Helen gets more than she bargained for in seeking to counsel Joe. DMW is, after all her opera — her story and her journey. DiDonata makes her a delicately refined woman who underscores how porous the boundary between eros and agape is.

DMW_HGO_2011_02.gifJoyce DiDonato (Sister Helen Prejean) and Measha Brueggergosman (Sister Rose)

Philip Cutlip is an unrelentingly macho Joe — still obsessed by sex — who makes Sister Helen’s mission doubly difficult.

Jake Heggie began his career as a composer of songs, and DMW profits greatly from his understanding of the voice and his ability to set words with transparent clarity. But, as Summers brings home, Heggie is also a master of orchestration. There are interludes in this score that rival Bergs Woyzeck in drama of hurricane force.Sixty years ago DMW would have been taught in courses on Existentialism, for the story is as complex in sins of omission as in their opposite.

And God? Despite Sister Helen’s frequent — and fervent — prayers, Heggie and McNally leave that question to the audience, free to answer it according to the degree of their belief. More significant perhaps is the experience of “King” Elvis Pressley that Joe and Sister Helen share and — recalled by both — leads to the breakthrough in their relationship.

While Dead Man Walking has grown in significance during its decade of enviably popularity, the world — in the eyes of many — has gone downhill. As chaos grows, a society largely with a moral compass and ethical rudder seems doomed to produce more and more souls equal in loss to Joe De Rocher, while the supply of Sister Helens diminishes.

This was brought home by the near-capacity audience in the Brown Theater in Houston’s impressive Wortham Center on January 29. They were totally — and actively — engaged in DMW. Indeed, one might speak of a Jungian mystique of participation, something for which art strives, but all too rarely achieves. (This was the second of five performances of the work that began on January 22.)

DMW_HGO_2011_03.gifFrederica von Stade as Mrs. Patrick De Rocher

Although Jake Heggie, born in 1961, has done significant things during the past decade, a direct line connects his two big — indeed, grand operas: Dead Man Walking and Moby Dick, premiered by Dallas Opera last April. In his overwhelmingly successful capturing of the epic sweep and scope of one of the world’s major novels, Heggie makes clear that it is time to liberate him from the “post-Sondheim” category and cherish him as the equal of John Adams and Osvaldo Golijov, America’s two major masters of opera. Heggie writes with a voice as original, powerful and emotionally convincing as his slightly older contemporaries. The Houston Grand Opera production of Dead Man Walking leaves no doubt about this. Indeed, the staging of this now-classic work is a well-deserved celebration of Jake Heggie’s stature and significance.

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):