Category Archives: Modern opera

Opera Phila’s ‘Cold Mountain’ a Scorching Success

Operatoonity.com review: presented by Opera Philadelphia (the sixth opera in their American Repertoire Program)
Live performance: Sunday, February 14, 2:30 p.m.
The Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Music: Jennifer Higdon
Libretto: Gene Scheer
5.0 out of 5.0 stars

five stars

 

 

Opera Phila's five-star production of "Cold Mountain"

Opera Phila’s five-star production of COLD MOUNTAIN

I am the luckiest reviewer in the world. I was privileged to experience an incredibly beautiful and poignant production of COLD MOUNTAIN, a new contemporary opera presented by Opera Philadelphia this past Valentine’s Day. How fitting. I left my heart in the Academy of Music that afternoon with tears staining my cheeks and my unabashed affection for this Pennsylvania company filling me with pride on my ride home to Lancaster.

Wait a minute. Aren’t critics supposed to criticize? The more critical it is, the better the review, right? My mission with Opera Philadelphia is different from many reviewers’, as I see it. It’s not to show how learned and accomplished I am. It’s not to display my facility with language. My task here is to use this digital bully pulpit to share with the world, and I do mean the world thanks to the Internet, the extraordinary arts opportunities Opera Philadelphia is bringing to the East Coast of the United States.

Full disclosure: I adore Opera Philadelphia’s American Repertoire Program. I’ve seen every production since they launched this initiative in 2011, beginning with DARK SISTERS, simply an excellent chamber opera. The American Repertoire Program points to the future of opera in America–contemporary, original operas not simply silly regietheater representations of classic operas that some companies trot out for audiences.

COLD MOUNTAIN was spectacular. And my expectations were sky-high. Charles Frazier’s novel Cold Mountain is my favorite contemporary book. I snuffled and wept through an entire box of tissues devouring it. When Opera Philadelphia announced this production, I almost couldn’t wait for February. And who among us looks forward to February? Opera Phila offered a singularly rewarding opera experience. So good that I had to find new five-star art to post for this show.

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Jarrett Ott as Inman and Isabel Leonard as Ada in COLD MOUNTAIN

The stage was set was fully visible upon entering the theatre–ramshackle boards in such disarray I immediately conjured media images of the World Trade Center after 9-11. Foreboding, devastation, and senseless loss crept into this  viewer’s soul before the orchestra has struck a single note of Jennifer Higdon’s extraordinary work.

Higdon tackled a novel of depth and scope and successfully translated it into a contemporary opera. I was fortunate to receive a copy of the education program that Opera Phila shares with school students and reading it brought Higdon’s score alive anew. I was reminded of all the distinctive elements in her score to evoke time and place–fiddle music, knee-slapping percussionists, the sounds of twinkling stars made with knitting needles, and strains of mountain music throughout. The opera opens with the sinister leader of the Home Guard singing a folk tune from the era, and the effect was chilling.

Because I am such a fan of the novel, high expectations loomed for Gene Scheer’s libretto, too. The language Scheer put to the aria Metal Age will rip out your spleen:

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“Thousands and thousands in bright blue, shiny, factory made uniforms. We shot them and loaded. Shot them and loaded. For five hours, thousands and thousands of men…and there in the middle of it, a drummer boy crying, bleeding, dying…He shot me in the neck. The metal age has come.”
–Inman’s aria “The Metal Age.”

If you don’t know the story, it’s nearly a contemporary telling of Homer’s Odyssey with a little Les Miserables thrown in for more an extra heaping helping of pathos. W.P. Inman (Odysseus) is a Civil War deserter struggling to return home to Cold Mountain see Ada Monroe (Penelope), the remembrance of whom is the only thing keeping him alive despite severe privation and dogged persecution by Teague (Javert), the leader of the crew hunting down deserters like stray dogs.

As Inman, baritone Jarrett Ott, who stepped in for Nathan Gunn, effected the most thoroughly broken man without the affect of melodrama. Since I admit to having fangirled Gunn in previous reviews, I thought I’d  be disappointed with Ott, but was very happily surprised with his interpretation. He fully inhabited Inman’s character while singing the role with power and polish.

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Jarrett Ott as W.P. Inman

Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard was luminous as Ada. She is the consummate performer–a star in every aspect. Beautiful to hear and see, she made her Opera Phila debut in this show. I predict Philadelphia was treated to a performance of one whose star will quickly rise even higher very soon. Brava, Miss Leonard.  You were grace, elegance, talent, and depth personified in this production. Would she have shone so brightly opposite Gunn? One hardly cared after a point.

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W.P. Inman ( Jarrett Ott) recalls a happier time with Ada Monroe (Isabel Leonard) before the Civil War.

Ruby Thewes, Ada’s friend and partner, is a delicious role in the novel but a difficult one to score and to sing. Ruby is as down-home and prickly as Ada is refined and noble. Mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall did a serviceable job in the role. Ruby’s character can be likened to nails scraping a chalkboard. While grit makes for an interesting spoken role, it can be overwhelming for a performer to convey in song and for the audience to hear. By necessity, Ruby lost some of pluck going from the page to a musical score, which is the show’s only real shortcoming.

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Ruby (Cecelia Hall) encounters her estranged father Stobrod Thewes (Kevin Burdette), who has also deserted the war

Tenor Jay Hunter Morris’ star power crackled as the evil leader of the Home Guard Teague, the Javert-inspired character. Yes, in this opera, the tenor is the bad guy, and the the baritone gets the girl. Hunter Morris was so masterfully evil, so convincing as the consummate Confederate baddie that he was soundly booed at curtain call. I smiled inwardly remembering this “baddie”performing a darling lullaby in cabaret at the Glimmerglass Festival’s Gentleman’s Night Out only a summer ago, accompanying himself on his guitar. He was the picture of haunting perfection in this production.

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Teague ( Jay Hunter Morris) uses Javert-like tactics in hunting down Confederate deserters.

I am such a fan of bass Kevin Burdette, who is a chameleon of a performer and an extraordinary opera singer (and I don’t really like basses–truth be told.) I have seen him be hilarious and also gut-wrenchingly despicable, depending on the role. I wanted his part to be larger as Ruby’s father Stobrod. But the opera is the proper length at two and a half hours with one intermission, so that is merely self-indulgent desire on my part.

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Stobrod Thewes (Kevin Burdette) and Ada Monroe (Isabel Leonard)

This tale of Inman–a quiet, private hero who has witnessed a depth of brutality no decent person should ever experience, who is redeemed only by Ada’s love–was a heroic effort for which all involved deserve highest praise. The orchestra under Corrado Rovaris,  the sweeping direction of Leonard Foglia, the ingenious completely functional dysfunctional set design by Robert Brill, lighting design by Brian Nason, and, of course, all the talented performers in the Opera Philadelphia Chorus turning in stunning cameos also made this production the shimmering, albeit soul-scorching, production it was.

I am deeply grateful for your artistic endeavors, Opera Philadelphia. I tried to choke back my tears during curtain call but they would not stop. The City of Brotherly Love has a treasure in this company.

A special Operatoonity.com shout-out to my press contact Frank Luzi, always a pleasure to work with, whose children were darling in the show.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, contemporary opera, favorites, Live opera performance, Modern opera, North American Opera, opera and fiction, opera firsts, opera milestones, PA, Premieres, Regional opera

Yo, next week Mozart has a new zip code — 90210!

 

Figaro 90210

Morningside Opera’s upcoming production: June 11-16

Morningside Opera is presenting a fresh, new multi-cultural take on Mozart’s The Marriage Of Figaro, set in present-day Los Angeles.

The debate over immigration reform takes center stage in ¡Figaro! (90210) as the title character from Mozart’s beloved opera is recast as an undocumented worker on a Beverly Hills estate. These concert performances showcase the original music note-for-note but with an entirely new English (and Spanglish) libretto that makes “the world’s most perfect opera” as fresh, as funny, as relevant – and as revolutionary – as ever.

‘Illegal’ immigrants Figaro and Susana can’t wait to get married, but on their way to the altar they’ll have to navigate a world of lecherous bosses, Botoxed starlets, bumbling human traffickers, ambitious hip-hoppers and pothead gardeners in an unpredictable adventure that turns The Marriage of Figaro into a thought-provoking comedy about citizenship in 21st-Century America.

Mixing classically trained voices with performers from more popular styles respects the integrity of the original, while allowing newcomers to appreciate the show like never before, as does the abbreviated running time, which cuts the nearly four-hour opera down to a brisk two-and-a-half, including one 15-minute intermission.

After sold-out performances in November 2012 at Dixon Place, ¡Figaro! (90210) is returning for a limited run of concert performances from June 11-16, 2013. The accomplished cast of opera and theater performers will be directed by emerging Latina director Melissa Crespo, and accompanied live onstage by a five-string ensemble under the direction of pianist and music director Raphael Fusco, whom The New York Times has described as “accomplished and winning.”

If you’ve never seen the opera before, ¡Figaro! (90210) offers the perfect introduction to this timeless work; if you know the music by heart, you’ll be surprised how fresh and relevant the show feels with words and settings that directly address the way we live today.

¡Figaro! (90210) will be performed from June 11- 16, 2013 at The NSD Theater, 151 Bank Street, New York.

Click here for in interview with librettist Vid Guerrerio.

* * *

Through tonight (Sunday, June 9) at 10pm, you can get discounted tickets by going to:

 
The discount code is: COMPANY90210
You can also visit them on Facebook.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Modern opera, Mozart, Opera Marketing

top ten posts on ‘operatoonity’ in 2012

Operatoonity's Top TenWhy did viewers stop in on this blog in 2012? What posts did they read most in the past year?

Would it surprise you to know of the nearly 111,000 visitors to this blog in 2012, that, far and away, most were seeking a definitive list of top classical singers in the world today? Divas, then divos?

Frankly, I am not in the least bit startled by this news.

There are so few definitive “talent” lists around. And I should know. I searched feverishly for such a list not too long ago. That’s why I compiled  mine –I couldn’t find any good/current list of opera singers myself.

Not surprisingly, people continue to chime in on who should and shouldn’t have made these lists.  I knew each was an imperfect instrument when I compiled it, and I honestly think it’s time to upgrade each one, since the best talents in the operasphere can change or fade in a matter of only years. We are talking about the most delicate and sometimes most frail of instruments–the human voice–after all.

Other top topics were top tenors, best operas, and the beloved composers Puccini and Mozart.

Here then, according to my site stats, are the titles of the most-viewed posts and their visit numbers in 2012:

Title Views
best opera singers in the world today – female 29,375
best opera singers in the world today – male 22,212
today’s top tenors 9,829
get with it, NYC, says M.C. Hammer-bee 1,469
on Carmen’s anniversary, we celebrate its arias 726
100 greatest operas . . . really? 686
don’t quote me . . . 650
Puccini’s best opera? 524
what makes a great tenor? 514
Mozart, the ultimate cross-trainer 464
contemporary opera? modern opera? define, please 464

 

How about you? Why did you stop in on “Operatoonity”? Did you find what you were looking for this year?

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Baritones, Best of Operatoonity, blog stats, Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Modern opera, Mozart, opera lists, Opera Stats, sopranos, tenors

the anniversary of an opera that launched legendary tenor’s career

Plácido Domingo as Don Rodrigo in his US premiere at NYC Opera, 1966

Today (July 24) in 1964 marks the premiere of composer Alberto Ginastera’s Don Rodrigo, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Don Rodrigo, a three-act opera based on the last Visigothic king of Spain, was Ginastera’s first. It was a 12-tone opera, a method of composing devised by Schoenberg that gives all 12 tones in the chromatic scale (more or less) equal importance thereby avoiding a key.

The NY Times called Don Rodrigo brilliant in the 1964 review of its premiere though it was considered unsuccessful in Argentina, despite being commissioned by Municipality of the City of Buenos Aires.

Less than two years later, on February 22, 1966, Plácido Domingo had his international breakthrough by singing the (difficult) title role of this opera at the US premiere of the work by New York City Opera, which coincidentally marked NYC Opera’s inaugural performance at New York State Theater at Lincoln Center (now the David H. Koch Theater).

Because of this Lincoln Center premiere of Don Rodrigo, a 25-year-old Spanish tenor became a household name.

The YouTube clip below has interviews with Domingo and Julius Rudel, General Director and Principal Conductor at NYC Opera from 1957 to 1979.

The excitement Rudel shares about his company moving to Lincoln Center and the sheer joy that Domingo conveys about premiering at Lincoln Center are palpable.

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, Modern opera, opera firsts, Premieres, tenors

COC nabs three Dora Awards

The Canadian Opera Company (COC) swept the Opera Division Monday evening during the The Dora Mavor Moore Awards, an annual ceremony honoring the best in Toronto Theatre. All totaled, the COC won three awards that evening:

  • Orfeo ed Euridice, directed by the Toronto-born Robert Carsen, won the award for Outstanding Production (Opera Division).
  • Alan Oke, front, as Gustav von Aschenbach

    Alan Oke, who played Gustav von Aschenbach in October 2010’s Death in Venice, won the award for Outstanding Performance (Opera Division).

“Scottish tenor Alan Oke sang the role superbly, with a flexible lyrical sound, wonderful pitch and clear words, conveying all of Aschenbach’s tortured speculations and desires within the very specific reaches of Britten’s melodic limning of his character.”Globe and Mail
  • Harry Bicket, who conducted Orfeo ed Euridice, won the award for Outstanding Musical Direction (General Theatre Division).

Hearty congratulations to everyone at the COC on their successful season.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Baroque Opera, Modern opera, North American Opera, Opera Awards