Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Semiramide at the Rossini Opera Festival

The pleasures (immense) and pain of Gioachino Rossini’s Semiramide (Venice, 1823). Uncut.

L’equivoco stravagante in Pesaro

L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding), the 18 year-old Gioachino Rossini's first opera buffa, is indeed bizarre. Its heroine Ernestina is obsessed by literature and philosophy and the grandiose language of opera seria.

BBC Prom 44: Rattle conjures a blistering Belshazzar’s Feast

This was a notable occasion for offering three colossal scores whose execution filled the Albert Hall’s stage with over 150 members of the London Symphony Orchestra and 300 singers drawn from the Barcelona-based Orfeó Català and Orfeó Català Youth Choir, along with the London Symphony Chorus.

Prom 45: Mississippi Goddam - A Homage to Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century music. But she was much more than this; many of her songs came to be a clarion call for disenfranchised and discriminated against Americans. When black Americans felt they didn’t have a voice, Nina Simone gave them one.

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Glimmerglass’ Showboat Sails to Glory

For the annual production of a classic American musical that has become part of Glimmerglass Festival’s mission, the company mounted a wholly winning version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal Showboat.

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

A scene from <em>The Gospel According to the Other Mary</em> [Photo by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging courtesy of Los Angeles Philharmonic]
03 Apr 2013

The Gospel According to the Other Mary, Los Angeles

Composer John Adams’ smashing, crashing and poignant The Gospel According to the Other Mary, created in collaboration with Peter Sellars, made its second appearance at Disney Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Gospel According to the Other Mary, Los Angeles

A review by Estelle Gilson

Above: A scene from The Gospel According to the Other Mary

Photos by Craig T. Mathew / Mathew Imaging courtesy of Los Angeles Philharmonic

 

The work which was commissioned by the Orchestra had its premiere as a concert oratorio in May 2012, with a view towards the present (March 2013) staged version.

“Surprise wakes me up to the world…I don’t want to fall back on a solution I found in the past and brand myself,” Adams reportedly told a Julliard graduating class. “I want each piece to be new, to be a statement of who I am and where I am in my life.”

True to this vision, Adams’ musical expression has moved rhythmically and harmonically from his earlier minimalism. However, the essence of Adams as a self described “secular liberal living in Berkeley, California,” has remained unchanged. He is a man concerned with the political, social and spiritual implications of the world around him. Among his operatic works are The Death of Klinghoffer, which juxtaposes the plight of middle class Jews and Arab terrorists, and Dr. Atomic, which examines Robert Oppenheimer’s concern with the creation of the atomic bomb. At age 65, Adams has survived a great deal of critical pounding not only for musical “flaws” (repetitive arpeggios in Nixon in China), but for social and political views some have considered offensive. Nevertheless Adams has remained a composer unafraid to speak to power.

The Other Mary has undergone changes since its premiere last spring. Commissioned to be 90 minutes long — it ran close to 140 minutes, and was delivered late in a difficult season when the Philharmonic was also presenting the first of its Mozart/Da Ponte operas. Most reviewers judged the work — particularly its first act, to require cutting. The new, staged version is not perceptibly shorter — and the first act still seems less coherent than the second, and a bit overlong.

The chutzpah of staging large vocal pieces in their open concert space seems to be paying off for the Philharmonic. Perhaps the abstract nature of this particular libretto suited the spare settings Sellars created. But the presentation of this work was the most satisfactory and most accessible in terms of comfortable visibility of those I’ve attended at Disney Hall.

PY7C0408.gif

The orchestra presented a fascinating sight — its last row, a ring of extraordinary percussion instruments; various gongs, tam-tams, an array of tuned Almglocken (cow bells). In addition to the usual woodwind and brass, the score also calls for a harp, a piano, a bass electric guitar and a cimbalom, a hammered dulcimer, which produces crisp, yet lingering metallic twangs. The cast included six singers: Mary and her sister Martha, mezzo sopranos; their brother, Lazarus, a tenor, and three narrators — counter tenors, who most often sing in exquisite harmonies — but also take on solo roles. There are also three dancers — two male and one female, who sometimes shadow, sometimes interact with the three singers. The dancers were a brilliant addition in terms of clarifying and enriching the action of the plot. All performed on a raised platform to the conductor’s left. A table and chairs were to his right. The Master Chorale — called on to sing, shout, moan, and even don and shed costumes, was ranged on a ledge behind the orchestra. The libretto was projected on the wall behind them.

The libretto of “the Other Mary was created by Sellars from Old and New Testament sources, from the works of writers Rosario Castellanos, Rubén Darío, Primo Levi, June Jordan, Louise Erdrich, Hildegard of Bingen, and from the journals of Catholic activist, Dorothy Day. Whereas Day’s somewhat declamatory words sounded intrusive, the excerpts from Levi’s Passover used in the context of the Last Supper, lifted the spirit. The title character, “the other Mary” and central figure in this passion is Mary Magdalene. It is through her anger, suicidal confusion, her inability to love and believe, that we experience the death and resurrection of both Lazarus and Jesus. Martha’s energy and struggles are devoted to achieving social justice for the downtrodden. Jesus never appears in the work.

From its very first moment, The Other Mary drops us into a musically and visually harsh and painful place. “The next day in the city jail we were searched for drugs,” says Mary as the dancers and singers enact humiliating assaults and searches to wild dissonances in the horns and trembling strings.

From there the story moves back and forth in time. Scenes depicting social activism — the two women create a home for unemployed women — or a Chavez-led farm workers protest, are interspersed with those of Christ’s last days.

The Gospel According to the Other Mary is too intricate and intense for a first time audience to grasp. Granted that there are operas I would much rather listen to than see, I think the spare staging of this abstract work galvanized language that might otherwise sound hollow. The movements that accompanied the passionate choral writing added power to even to those utterances. The explosive and evocative orchestral score is stacked with layers of sound and rhythmical variations. Strange sonorities, melodies and shreds of melody flash by before one can quite grasp what one has heard. The effect is overwhelming.

The six singers, who have been performing their roles for many months by now, seemed perfect in their parts. Adams wrote the role of Mary for Kelley O’Connor, whose voice and acting encompassed extraordinary and rapid mood shifts. Tamara Mumford, the steadier Martha, revealed a gleaming lower register. Russel Thomas, as Lazarus sang with power and energy. Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings, and Nathan Medley, the countertenors, told their story with a kind of sweet innocence that reminded me of the three boys in The Magic Flute. There is no choreographer listed in the program, but dancers Michael Schumacher, Anani Saouvi, Troy Ogilvie managed to demonstrate an extraordinary range of movement and emotion on a small, crowded platform. The chorus, led by Grant Gershon performed with verve. And in the center of it all, conductor Gustavo Dudamel beat weird rhythms and cued his instrumentalists with undemonstrative competence.

Though Adams and Sellars are said to have described the time of the oratorio as “the eternal present,” it is not so. One part is set in the last days of Christ’s life — the other, however — except for a few loose strands — is tightly tethered to the United States in the 20th century. One wonders how the quotations and references to our nearly century old Catholic Workers Movement — to Cesar Chavez, or to the Teamsters Union, which can give pause to contemporary Americans, will be understood in Europe, where the work will soon be performed.

It may not matter. The music will make the composer's intentions clear to sympathetic listeners. The Disney Concert Hall audience was moved to long and vociferous applause. I, for one wouldn't have minded hearing the work all over again — right at that moment.

The Gospel According to the Other Mary by John Adams will be performed in London on March 16th, in Lucerne on March 20th, Paris, on March 23rd and in New York March 27th of this year.

Estelle Gilson


Cast and production information

Composer: John Adams. Libretto: Peter Sellars. Conductor: Gustavo Dudamel. Mary: Kelley O’Connor; Martha:Tamara Mumford; Lazarus: Russell Thomas. Narrator: Daniel Bubeck: Narrator: Brian Cummings; Narrator: Nathan Medley. Dancers: Michael Schumacher, Anani Saouvi, Troy Ogilvie. Designer and Director: Peter Sellars. Chorus Director: Grant Gershon.

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):