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

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

23 Jan 2012

Five Boroughs Songbook

What does it say about New York that, in the songs of the city commissioned by the Five Boroughs Music Festival and given performances in Brooklyn, Queens and, now, Manhattan, the poets (often the composers themselves) rarely refer to life in that central part of the city, Rodgers and Hart’s “isle of joy”?

Five Boroughs Songbook

“The Five Boroughs Songbook.” Martha Guth (soprano), Jamie Van Eyck (mezzo-soprano), Alex Richardson (tenor), David McFerrin (baritone), Harumi Rhodes (violin), Thomas Bagwell and Jocelyn Dueck (piano). Manhattan premiere; Baruch Performing Arts Center, January 12.

 

These twenty songs by as many composers are largely concerned with the city as an abstraction, a beloved object, a universal core, or else they address the outer boroughs. Composers, poets, songwriters can no longer afford Manhattan perhaps. They live in Brooklyn’s lovely and not-so-lovely neighborhoods, or in the recuperating Bronx, or even Staten Island. They no longer even dream about Manhattan. Larry Hart wouldn’t recognize the place. Greenwich Village was not mentioned all evening—nor Chinatown, nor Harlem, nor even Inwood. Times Square, in Richard Pearson Thomas’s “The Center of the Universe,” was invoked to “remember the bad old days.” It is no use asking (though I do ask) how much longer New York will be “the center of the country, the world, the universe,” when none of the young, the adventurous, the energetic and creative immigrants can afford to live closer in than Bushwick or Newark.

This has an understandable effect on song output. In the gaudy days of Tin Pan Alley, songwriters stumped for inspiration could look out the window and come up with “Lullaby of Broadway” or “Way Out West on West End Avenue” or “When Love Beckoned on Fifty-Second Street.” But there is no Tin Pan Alley any more. Musically, there’s barely a Broadway. Few of the twenty composers on this program write that kind of theater (at least four of them have composed operas), but on this occasion they often seemed to channel the wisecracking New York wit and the nostalgic art largely missing from Broadway for the last generation. Requested by the Five Boroughs Music Festival to write about some aspect of New York, they have not been parochial in their choice of subject or text—some were old, some were modern, some were the composers themselves. Two of the songs were poems by the ever-exultant Walt Whitman, who retired in New Jersey but drew his universal point of view from his Brooklyn youth.

A lot of numbers in the Songbook boasted rumbling piano accompaniments to symbolize the constant basso continuo throb of the city. There were jazz inflections and dance rhythms, passing in and out of a song as if overheard while ambling by in the darkness. There were songs made up of fragments—fragments of overheard conversations, fragments of overheard melody (Harold Arlen, Giuseppe Verdi), fragments of dying or undying love affairs, fragmentary impressions of Brooklyn on a summer night or the odor of the garbage dumps on Staten Island, fragments of gnomic subway announcements.

_MG_1828.gifVan Eyck, Guth, Richardson, McFerrin, Bagwell, Dueck and Rhodes

There seemed to be quite a lot of songs about the subway. Glen Roven’s “F from DUMBO” seemed to consist of glances at the crowds by a numbly daydreaming straphanger. Gilda Lyons’ “rapid transit” invoked and celebrated the whole crazy system, its changeable schedules and half-audible warnings. Tom Cipullo’s “G is for Grimy: An Ode to the G Train” celebrated (and trashed) the one line in the system that never enters Manhattan at all. John Glover’s “8:46 AM, Five Years Later” unsensationally presented memories of being caught on the N train beneath the city on the morning of 9/11. There had to be one such song, just one, and this was one’s felt unforced and meaningful.

Yotam Haber’s exquisite setting of “On Leaving Brooklyn” made the very syllables of Julia Kasdorf’s revision of Psalm 137 into musical tones, “borough” and “Babylon” and “Jerusalem” becoming harmonized values and nostalgic wisps of melody. Scott Wheeler’s “At Home in Staten Island,” from an old poem by Charles Mackay, became a parlor ballad concealing its ache in an old-fashioned tune. Mohammed Fairouz’s ambitious “Refugee Blues” (which describes a more general situation rather than one specific to New York), builds on W.H. Auden’s use of a repetitive, folk song-like refrain, to achieve a gathering power. Jorge Martin set Whitman’s “City of Orgies, Walks and Joys!” to an irresistible boogie-woogie rich with the delight of simply romping about the town, while a solo violin gave the fantasy a piquant turn by chiming in just “off” the harmonies we had been led to expect.

Harumi Rhodes was the violinist. The pianists, Thomas Bagwell and Jocelyn Dueck, were both fine, but Rhodes played with almost vocal inflections of intricate participation rather than accompaniment: the violin as lieder singer. This speaks well of the composers who provided for her as well as her own poetic technique.

The songs were arranged for four contrasting voices, and the program varied and balanced their duties. Soprano Martha Guth and mezzo Jamie Van Eyck partnered well in the deadpan wit of “rapid transit.” Guth, having plumbed near-alto depths earlier, suddenly became a high, keening opera soprano for the melancholy of “At Home In Staten Island,” mated here with Rhodes’s violin, and (on the other side of that large borough) deplored the air of Christina Courtin’s “Fresh Kills.” Van Eyck brought drama to the mourning, accusing “Refugee Blues” and wistfulness to Renée Favand-See’s “Looking West on a Humid Summer Evening,” and lightly aired the brittle wit of Gabriel Kahane’s “Coney Island Avenue.” Tenor Alex Richardson was the yearning, regretting lover of Russell Platt’s “The Avenue” and Christopher Berg’s “OuLiPo in the Bronx.” David McFerrin’s grainy baritone gave us Martin Hennessy’s love song to the mothering city itself, “The City’s Love,” partnered Guth in Ricky Ian Gordon’s setting of Whitman’s invocation, “City of Ships,” and quietly made the point of “8:46 AM.” Texts were provided but the diction of all four was impeccable in the intimate confines of the Baruch Performing Arts Center.

The Songbook was recorded at an earlier performance with different singers, and the two-CD set is available from GPR Records on the Five Boroughs Music Festival web site.

John Yohalem

Click here to purchase the CD.

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):