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 Performances

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Kevin Moreno [Photo by David Moreno courtesy of Virginia Arts Festival]
19 Apr 2011

Americans define new territory for songs

They all wrote songs — lots of them: Ives, Bernstein, Rorem. In recital, however, the American product has never found a place on the perch claimed by Schubert and Schumann.

A Question of Light, a song cycle by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer. Winspear Opera House, Dallas, April 8, 2011

Rappahannock County, a musical theater piece by Ricky Ian Gordon and Mark Campbell. Harrison Opera House, Norfolk, Virginia Arts Festival, April 12, 2011

Above: Kevin Moreno [Photo by David Moreno courtesy of Virginia Arts Festival]

 

(When did you, for example, last hear Elie Siegmeister’s Strange Funeral in Braddock, the 1936 documentation of a day when Marxism was not yet a curse in America?) Happily, things are changing — largely due to the commitment to song on the part of two Americans now moving toward middle age: Jake Heggie and Ricky Ian Gordon.

True, both men made their strongest mark in opera. Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, premiered in San Francisco in 2000, has become the most-performed opera of the 20th century, although in all probability it will soon by outranked by his Moby Dick, first staged by Dallas Opera a year ago. And Minnesota Opera offered Gordon’s touching treatment of Grapes of Wrath in 2007. Although both men are somewhat too easily pegged as “post-Broadway” and “post-Sondheim,” their achievement of the past month indicates it is time to take them with greater seriousness and see them as original and unique voices that elevate the status of American music. Their newest achievements in songs define new parameters for the genre.

*******

Heggie returned to Dallas’ Winspear Opera House on April 8, 2011,for the premiere of a new song cycle, A Question of Light. The six songs, again a colaboration with Gene Scheer, whose poems respond to works in the Dallas Art Museum, celebrate the philanthropy of Margaret McDermott, for whom the Winspear’s auditorium is named. “They are works either given to the Museum by Margaret or by friends in tribute to her,” explained Scheer, whose partnership with Heggie finds the two widely referred to as the “Strauss/Hofmannstal of the 21st century.”

jakeheggie.gifJake Heggie [Photo © Ellen Appel]

“We had turned earlier to works of art for inspiration,” Scheer added “And in Dallas we had gotten to know Margaret, an incredible philanthropist and a great friend.” Scheer and Heggie toured the Dallas Museum to study 40 works that fit the definition of the project. “There were six that immediately triggered my imagination,” Scheer said. “I found words right away for Magritte, but came up with nothing for Mondrian — and then one day it was there.”

The works are: The Light of Coincidences by Rene’ Magritte, a Mayan flint depicting a crocodile canoe from between 600 and 900A.D., Gustave Caillebotte’s Yellow Roses in a Vase, Piet Mondrian’s Place de la Concorde, El Hombre by Rufino Tamayo and Gerald Murphy’s Watch. “Jake had his heart set on the Tamayo,” Scheer said. “And I loved it as well.”

Although Scheer’s poems stand stably on their own (the audience would have gained from projection of the texts), they are enhanced by the changing moods of Heggie’s candidly romantic settings. Heggie sets the cycle in motion with bell-like Impressionist sounds for Magritte, grows dreamy in Caillebotte and gains Latin force in flavor in Tamayo. Heggie, long the master accompanist of his work, partnered baritone Nathan Gunn in the premiere. While Gunn sings Mozart’s Papageno at the cavernous Met, the 2,200 Winspear seemed a trifle large for his cultivated delivery.

On the second half of the program, a gala fundraiser for Dallas Opera, Gunn turned to music reaching from Home on the Range to a “hit” from Camelot. Here he was almost upstaged by his keyboard partner — and also his wife — Julie Jordan Gunn, a professor of music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Moby Dick took me to a new level in my composition,” Heggie said. “And these songs are a direct extension of that musical language and world. “Each part of the cycle asks who we are and how we fit into the landscape — what a work of art says to us, and what we bring to it as we look at it as well.”

*******

It was hardly a coincidence that the Virginia Arts Festival scheduled the world premiere of Rappahannock County for April 12, 2011. For it was on April 12, 1861 that the attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor launched the Civil War. Rappahannock County, a music theater piece composed by Ricky Ian Gordon with texts by Mark Campbell not only recalls that event, it traces the fate of the divided nation through the five years of war that followed. To add to the significance of this cycle of 22 songs that follow the feelings of those affected by the war the Festival made the premiere the opening event of its 15th anniversary season.

Rappahannock-County---Moore.gifAundi Marie Moore and Faith Sherman [Photo by David Beloff courtesy of Virgina Arts Festival]

In commissioning it, Virginia Festival director Robert Cross asked only for a work on the Civil War. What exactly it would be was up to Gordon and Campbell. “I couldn’t see a big three-act opera on the war,” Gordon says. “The challenge was to make the subject manageable — to cut it down.” Gordon brought Campbell on board, and they both started reading.

“Virginia was so central to the war — and so divided!” Gordon says. “We decided to focus on just one county in the state: Rappahannock.” The two decided on music theater as their genre, and Gordon thought in terms of a cycle of songs to be performed by a small group of singers, each of whom plays a number of roles. Although the final score is divided into five acts — one for each year of the war — they are performed without interruption. The work lasts 85 minutes. “The poems offer no cohesive narrative, they must be performed without intermission,” the composer says. “That would break the mounting intensity of the cycle.”

Campbell’s texts draw on letters, diaries and other documents from a group of people, both black and white, who experienced the impact of war first hand. The goal of the creative team was a work in which individuals speak with intimacy. “But the personal is political,” Gordon says, “and the political is personal. “The piece has the sense of a lens closing in on a spectrum of individuals and their feelings around slavery and morality in a profound and poignant way. Mark’s libretto shows what everyone has to lose — or has lost.”

Rapppahannock-County---Full.gifFull cast of Rappahannock County [Photo by Rachel Greenberg courtesy of Virginia Arts Festival]

The acclaim accorded Rappahannock County by the 2,200 people who packed Norfolk’s Harrison Opera House for the premiere made clear that Gordon and Campbell had achieved their goal. The work, described by Gordon as “a series of snapshots of life and loss during the war,” makes no attempt at narrative unity, but focuses rather on intensely emotional moments in the lives of 30 individuals portrayed in Norfolk by five extremely talented young singers. Indeed, soprano Aundi Marie Moore, mezzo Faith Sherman, tenor Matthew Tuell and baritones Kevin Moreno and Mark Walters were an unusually well balanced group of singers who clearly had taken the message of this stellar new work to heart. For the texts Campbell created a language magnificently suited to their contents. It reflects the period and the events described with no attempt at dialect-like coloring. Wisely, the texts were projected as supertitles during the performance.

The 17-pieces orchestra — Rob Fisher conducted Bruce Couglin’s orchestration of the score — played behind a scrim, on which were projected telling visuals designed by Wendall Harrington. They included actual photographs along with landscapes and documents that contributed much to the easy flow of the score. Gordon had wanted the songs to be performed without interruption; but, growing applause documented the increasing involvement of the audience during the premiere performance.

Costumes were by Jessica Jahn; lighting by Robert Wierzel. Kevin Newbury directed the production.

Rappahannock County is a co-commission of the 2011 Virginia Arts Festival, Virginia Opera, the University of Richmond and the University of Texas in Austin, The Norfolk production will be staged at both universities in September 2011.

*******

Next up for Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer is a commission from Houston Grand Opera for a set of songs marking the 10th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attack on New York City. “Through music, the work will honor Houstonians affected by the attack,” said HGO general director Anthony Freud in announcing the commission. “Music, after all, has the ability to tell a story and enable people to reflect and connect with each other.”

Scheer is developing texts from — among other sources — interviews with Houston firefighters who went to New York to assist in rescue operations and from telephone messages left by a Houston-born woman on the flight that went down in Pennsylvania. Freud has asked Heggie for a “transportable” work, written for example, voice plus guitar, violins or flutes. “This will make it possible to perform it in many different venues from fire stations, city-hall foyers and hospitals,” Freud said. Plans are not yet definite. Yet, the HGO hopes to premiere the work in Houston’s Rothko Chapel. This is the eighth Heggie-Scheer collaboration.

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):