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

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

21 Apr 2019

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

Kurt Weill: Street Scene

A review by Ruth Bright

Photos courtesy of Maryland Opera Studio

 

An ambitious work for any theater, Street Scene is especially challenging for younger singers because it encompasses such a variety of styles, from blues to jazz, to popular dance idioms of the 1940s, to Puccini-esque arias and complex ensemble numbers, let alone the many intervening moments of spoken dialogue. Maestro Craig Kier, the orchestra comprised of the University of Maryland (UMD) School of Music students, and the cast sparkled in their energetic opening performance, not completely devoid of stumbles, but entirely entertaining. The production is a part of the Kurt Weill Festival, funded partially by the Kurt Weill Foundation, hosted by the UMD School of Music, and spearheaded by the MOS director Kier. This year-long celebration of Kurt Weill is also a component of the UMD’s Year of Immigration initiative.

MOS.Street Scene 1.png

Kurt Weill considered opera his “real field of activity,” and throughout his career wrote extensively for the stage. Yet, in America as in Berlin, he was constantly trying to circumvent the well-trodden tropes of established classical opera and define his own place within the operatic tradition. In this pursuit, the composer used popular culture as a foundation for his innovative musical ideas. In 1946, Weill decided to use the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Street Scene by Elmer Price for his new opera, designed to be uniquely American and intended for a premiere on Broadway. Weill knew Rice personally, had seen the play, and saw potential in the raw realism of its subject and characters. It was to be an American urban folk tale, set in one of the storied tenements of New York City. Weill engaged the celebrated African-American poet Langston Hughes as lyricist, to adapt Rice’s text to song, but also kept many passages of spoken dialogue intact. The composer brilliantly combines text and music, using the orchestra to underscore and comment on the action, as well as set up and accompany vocal numbers. As you hear and see a blending of the Broadway song and dance style with traditional operatic arias, it may not be quite so apparent how enormous the challenge is to the conductor and orchestra to navigate and prepare for suc stylistic shifts. Maestro Kier deftly navigated these hurdles, as the UMD orchestra valiantly (mostly) followed.

The hotbed of musical ingenuity and stylistic medley that is Street Scene may not be for everyone, and neither is its dark, troubling plot. Set over the course of a single day on the street in front of a tenement building, the first act begins with the neighbors complaining about the oppressive heat, and focuses on Anna Muerrant (Helena Crothers), a mother and wife, who desperately wishes to believes that there might be more to her lonely and unfulfilling existence. Only a few minutes into the show, the barely disguised hints and gossip from her nosey neighbors reveal that she is carrying on an affair with the sleazy milkman. Crothers brought a melancholy strength to Mrs. Muerrant’s soaring arias. When Mrs. Muerrant’s teenage son stumbles onstage, having been in a rough fight defending her reputation, we begin to understand that the neighborhood gossip is taking hold. Soon it reaches Mrs. Meurrant’s eldest child, beautiful Rose (Shafali Jalota). As Rose navigates her mother’s protestations, her father’s thinly veiled anger, abuse, and neglect, while fending off unwanted attention from a variety of men, she finds solace in Sam Kaplan (Samual Keeler), her quiet, nerdy neighbor and friend. Jalota and Keeler shone in their innocently staged duet at the close of the act, as the two sit together on the front steps of the building, dreaming of leaving it together.

MOS.Street Scene 2.png

Another highlight of the first act and a special moment of true hilarity was the famous Ice-Cream Sextet, a dramatic ode to the magnificence of ice-cream on a hot day. The star of the sextet and other lighthearted interludes was Dallas Gray, who electrified the audience with his energy and comedic timing as one of the building’s denizens, Italian musician Lippo Fiorentino.

Dramatically much faster-paced and more difficult to follow, the second act begins with a new life, as a birth is celebrated in the building, transitions through a double-murder by Mr. Muerrant of his wife and her lover, and closes with a departure, as Rose leaves the tenement and Sam to face an unknown future alone. Meanwhile, Park Avenue nannies ogle the infamous murder scene, prospective tenants view the Muerrant’s now-vacant apartment, while the remaining neighbors again complain of the heat, as the curtain falls.

One of this production’s great strengths lies in its remarkable set (Ryan Fox) and lighting design (Peter Leibold IV). The exquisitely crafted, looming tenement building, reaching up to the rafters, provides stability to the complex drama, while each of the six windows of the house brings clarity but also circumscribes the less central storylines taking place in individual apartments, not allowing them to overshadow the opera’s dominant themes of oppression, poverty, and desperate loneliness. The lighting follows the changing time of day in the story with the subtle shifts of color and shadows.

Another pleasant surprise was the strength of acting demonstrated by some of the cast, although, in that, many disparities are to be expected. Crothers in particular brought an inner strength to Mrs. Muerrant, who might otherwise have been seen as a weak and superficial character. Keeler also was up to the challenge of elevating Sam to hold his own opposite Rose/Jalota’s stunning vocal technique and poised stage presence.

Although the political undertone of this opera – a new look at the success, failure, and reality of the American dream – was not particularly highlighted in this production, it did bring to the fore the distinctly different (if brashly accented) ethnicities of families and individuals inhabiting the tenement. And, as a part of the Year of Immigration, the MOS production of Street Scene lends a folkloric quality to this vitally contemporary topic by its picturesque depiction of the quirky locals and immigrants coexisting within the squalid but undeniably lively New York City slum. How much more American could it be?

Ruth Bright
School of Music
University of Maryland

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):