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

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

Siegfried, Opera North

This, alas, was where I had to sign off. A weekend conference on Parsifal (including, on the Saturday, a showing of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal film) mean that I missed Götterdämmerung, skipping straight to the sequel.

Götterdämmerung, Opera North

The culmination of Opera North’s “Ring for Everyone”, this Götterdämmerung showed the power of the condensed movement so necessary in a staged performance - each gesture of each character was perfectly judged - as well as the visceral power of having Wagner’s huge orchestra on stage as opposed to the pit.

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):