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

Fortepiano Schubert : Wigmore Hall

The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

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):