21 Jul 2016
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.
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.
Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).
The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.
On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).
For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.
The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.
On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.
During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.
A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.
Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.
On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.
There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.
With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.
Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.
The piece premiered here of course, so there is significant resonance to experiencing it anew in such an invigorating, immensely moving realization. The company covered itself in glory starting with the casting of the title role.
Anna Christy is born to play Baby Doe. Diminutive and appealing, blessed with a limpid, silvery soprano, the role seems to have been tailored to her significant gifts. While she can certainly easily encompass the spunk and grit of the determined heroine, where Ms. Christy uniquely excels is in the incredible legato flights above the staff.
It is not often one encounters such total ease of vocal production, seamless phrasing, and alluring timbre. She also thoroughly understands the full range of emotions in Baby’s journey, and she communicates them with an honest simplicity. I have often marveled at Anna Christy’s achievements in the past, but with this role assumption she is at the height of her powers, an utterly perfect marriage of artist and material.
Grant Youngblood as Horace Tabor
As the object of her affection, Grant Youngblood, too, was a splendidly apt choice for Horace W. Tabor. His physical stature and self-assured bearing were matched by a dependable, rich baritone of considerable import. Mr. Youngblood perfectly balanced the public swagger of the successful businessman-politician with the pathos of his personal longings and shortcomings.
His version of Warm as the Autumn Light was luxurious in its outpouring of burnished tone. As he ultimately descended inexorably into a state of drunken despair, he infused his voice with such pathos and anguish that no one could have been unmoved. The final pages of the score with his compelling, unaffected enactment of Tabor’s death, followed by Ms. Christy’s crsytalline performance of Always Through the Changing were unbearably moving. There can’t have been a dry eye in the house.
As the third part of the story’s love/power triangle, Susanne Mentzer emphatically held her own as the determined, staunch, till-death-do-us-part wife Augusta Tabor. To her great credit, Ms. Mentzer finds every cranny of nuance in an often unsympathetic personage. She wisely invests the role with as much dignity as outrage, balancing the overt self-righteousness with an abiding sense of loss.
She is an attractive woman, her handsome bearing able to suggest severity as well as noble suffering. She has an incisive, throbbing mezzo-soprano, and her technique is rock solid, reveling in a freely ringing top and upper middle, while wisely negotiating lower passages with savvy dramatic flair. Ms. Mentzer also excels portraying the character’s physical deterioration, dramatically and vocally. When she appears as her youthful self in Horace’s final hallucination, she is stunningly renewed: sassy and fresh-voiced.
Bryan for President (Anna Christy and ensemble)
The featured character William Jennings Bryan was served up with gusto by bass-baritone Donald Hartmann. His characterful, sonorous singing boomed out in the house and his take-no-prisoners campaign persona was the riveting focal point of his scene, as was required. As Baby Doe’s near harridan of a mother, Sarah Barber dominated her scenes with potent stage presence and a highly-charged, brilliantly aggressive vocal delivery of penetrating power.
The large cast of featured roles was so uniformly excellent, it seems a shame not to have space to single all of them out for praise. These dynamic cameos were mostly peopled by the outstanding corps of Apprentice Artists, and the entire laudable cast list is enclosed for your perusal. Moreover, Chorus Master Aaron Breid has molded these talented artists into a precise and finely-honed ensemble.
Conductor Timothy Myers seemed to be having a ball in the pit, and his skillful orchestra responded with a reading that was by turns heady, colorful, atmospheric, driving, introspective and sweetly sentimental. Maestro Myers wrung every bit of variety from this popular score, managing a perfect combination of folksy Americana and profound operatic expression.
If this is not the year that Central City Opera discovered the possibilities of scenic projections, then mark it as the year they perfected them. Is there a show with as many different locations as this one? (Gypsy, maybe?) The over-achieving David Martin Jacques devised a truly wondrous design for sets, lighting and projections juggling all three duties with consummate skill. This achievement was so virtuosic that I suspect the talented Mr. Jacques could have done it all while still clanging a pair of cymbals between his knees like a consummate busker.
What Do You Intend to Do Augusta Tabor? (Susanne Mentzer)
The scenery was largely scrim panels and painting frames that flew in and out in various combinations. These frames were stretched with ‘canvases’ that were also scrim, spookily ragged, trailing downward as the bottom crosspiece of the frames was missing. On these shifting surfaces were projected real images of the locations and personages of the story. Highly effective.
The few pieces of furniture were chosen with great care and specificity, and it did not hurt that the actors were clad in Sarah Jean Tosetti’s spot-on period costumes. The sweep of the story and the definition of the characters and their stations in life were inestimably aided by Ms. Tosetti’s fine work. The icing on the cake was a beautifully judged wig and make-up design from Liz Printz.
Ken Cazan’s loving and knowing direction was so effective as to almost not be noticeable. The movement was natural and made good use of the space. He brilliantly peopled the stage with inevitable pictures and well-motivated crowd control. Mr. Cazan seems to have created highly productive subtext with his performers since their relationships were so connected and meaningful.
He also had great skill crafting powerful images, none more so than when Augusta is firmly planted center stage, with her lady ‘friends’ buzzing around her with unwanted advice. That they appeared and disappeared from behind a quintet of scrim projections of Horace’s ‘portraits’ was even more powerful, and the complete stasis of the upright, uptight Augusta made the visual startlingly impactful.
I also very much liked having a mute Baby Doe ambling on stage at the beginnings of the acts and other selected times, all buttoned up and moving stiffly as the eccentric recluse she would become after Tabor’s death. Indeed, the show started with her older self, standing in the middle of a snowy ground cloth, soon pulled away as the opera started. At the opera’s close, the same austere cloth was drawn around the dying Horace, and his grieving wife. Touching and meaningful.
This enduring company seems to return to celebrate its ‘signature opera,’ The Ballad of Baby Doe, every ten years. Based on this year’s loving and beautifully rendered landmark production, I can’t wait for the 70th anniversary edition.
Cast and production details:
Old Silver Miner: Justin Berkowitz; Bouncer: Chad Sonka; Kate, Saloon Girl: Ashley Fabian; Meg, Saloon Girl: Tatiana Ogan; Horace W. Tabor: Grant Youngblood; Sam: John David Nevergall; Bushy: Daniel Ross; Barney: Leroy Y. Davis; Jacob: Samuel Hinkle; Augusta Tabor: Susanne Mentzer; Sarah: Danielle Palomares; Mary: Marlen Nahhas; Emily: Anna Laurenzo; Effie: Megan Case; Mrs. Elizabeth (Baby) Doe: Anna Christy; Samantha, a Maid: Micaëla Aldridge; Clarendon Hotel Clerk: Peter Lake; Albert, a Bellboy: Michael Floriano; Mama McCourt: Sarah Barber; Washington Dandies: Terence Chin-Loy; Nathan Ward, Christopher Kenney, Cody Müller; Father Chapelle: Peter Lake; Footman: Michael Floriano; President Chester A. Arthur: Justin Berkowitz; Elizabeth (child): Lucy Crile; Silver Dollar (child): Carly Crile; Mayor of Leadville: Justin Berkowitz; William Jennings Bryan: Donald Hartmann; Stage Doorman: Peter Lake; Denver Politician: Stephen Clark; Silver Dollar (adult): Kaileigh Riess; Conductor: Timothy Myers; Director: Ken Cazan; Set, Lighting and Projections Design: David Martin Jacques; Costume Design: Sarah Jean Tosetti; Wig and Make-up Design: Liz Printz; Chorus Master: Aaron Breid.