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

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’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Frederica von Stade as Myrtle Bledsoe [Photo by Lynn Lane]
26 Apr 2014

A Coffin in Egypt: A Tour-de-Force for von Stade

Librettist Leonard Foglia based his elegant and literate text on the late Horton Foote’s play, A Coffin in Egypt, and the opera has the original play’s dramatic punch.

Ricky Ian Gordon’s New Opera: A Tour-de-Force for Von Stade

A review by Maria Nockin

Above: Frederica von Stade as Myrtle Bledsoe

Photos by Lynn Lane

 

Foglia who wrote the libretto and directed the opera, also directed the world premiere of the original play.

On April 23, 2014, The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts gave the West Coast premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s new opera, A Coffin in Egypt. Known as The Wallis, the Beverly Hills complex opened in 2013. Thus, it was the perfect place for an even newer opera. Houston, Texas, audiences saw Gordon’s opera last March and Philadelphia audiences will see it in June. Librettist Leonard Foglia based his elegant and literate text on the late Horton Foote’s play of the same name and the opera has the original play’s dramatic punch. Foglia who wrote the libretto and directed the opera, had directed the world premiere of the original play.

Musically, this is a chamber opera that uses the smallest possible forces: one soloist, a quartet of Gospel Singers, and nine instrumentalists. In this case, the soloist was the world famous mezzo-soprano, Frederica von Stade, who came out of retirement to assume the juicy role that Gordon wrote for her. Myrtle Bledsoe was a rich Texas widow who lived in the tiny hamlet of Egypt, near Wharton, where Horton Foote grew up in the early years of the twentieth century. Wharton is on the east side of the Colorado River, about forty-five miles north of the Gulf of Mexico.

Coffin_in_Egypt_02.gifFrederica von Stade as Myrtle Bledsoe and Adam Noble as the Captain

In her ninth decade, Myrtle recounts her life with its many unfulfilled dreams. Although the title speaks of death and Myrtle is old, she is as lively as a firecracker in designer Riccardo Hernández’s bright rose-colored gown. Hernández’s scenery showed flowers on curved surfaces and Brian Nason’s imaginative lighting design added strong colors that enhanced various aspects of the story.

Actually, it is von Stade’s magnetic personality that makes this charming piece come alive. Myrtle recounts her life with her husband, Hunter, and her happiest years abroad with her daughters. She also tells of her husband’s mistresses and the murder with which he was never charged. She can speak freely now because Hunter and her daughters have all preceded her in death. She alone is left to tell the stories, but she knows she will soon join them, in her own coffin, destined to be buried in Egypt. Actors represent the characters of whom she sings. David Matranga was the womanizing Hunter Bledsoe and Adam Noble the handsome Captain Lawson. Carolyn Johnson was Elsie Bledsoe and Cecilia Duarte Jessie Lydell.

The opera is a tour-de-force for mezzo and von Stade’s performance on Wednesday evening is proof that she retired too soon. She was on stage for the full eighty minutes of the opera’s duration, singing almost constantly with well-focused tones. Her voice was always a bit light for a mezzo and on this occasion it had a clarion quality that blended with the woodwinds of conductor Kathleen Kelly’s chamber group. Gordon’s music was very translucent and Kelly’s players brought out his delightful harmonies.

Gordon’s most inventive addition was a Gospel Chorus singing music he composed in the manner of old time Spirituals. For this piece, that addition was sheer genius. Best of all, the singers: soprano Sheryl D. Clansy, alto Laura Elizabeth Patterson, tenor James M. Winslow, and bass Jawan C. M. Jenkins sang in glorious harmonies which formed a delightful contrast to Myrtle’s solo storytelling. Clansy, in particular, has a spectacular voice that should be heard by a wider audience.

Coffin_in_Egypt_03.gifCecilia Duarte as Jessie, Frederica von Stade as Myrtle, and the Gospel Singers

A Coffin in Egypt is a new piece that is quickly winning acceptance in the cities where it has been shown. It will be in Philadelphia in June and from there it should go on to the many theaters in cities large and small that need a well put together opera on a small scale.

Maria Nockin


Cast and production information:

Myrtle Bledsoe, Frederica von Stade; Hunter Bledsoe, David Matranga; Elsie/ Clerk, Carolyn Johnson; Jessie Lydell, Cecilia Duarte; Captain Lawson, Adam Noble; Gospel Chorus: Cheryl D. Clansy, Laura Elizabeth Patterson, James M. Winslow, Jawan C. M. Jenkins; Gospel Chorus Director, Bethany Self; Conductor, Kathleen Kelly; Stage Director, Leonard Foglia; Set and Costume Designer, Riccardo Hernández; Lighting Designer, Brian Nason.

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):