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the best and worst of the operasphere in 2012

This year was one for the books, so to speak. My 2012 marked many new and challenging review opportunities–thirteen in all, ranging from Philadelphia to New York.

You can read all my reviews on Bachtrack at this link.

Melodic contemporary operas, classic operas done in outlandish contemporary style, never before seen operas, and even opera/musical theatre mash-ups. I saw some pretty good productions with some singularly splendid moments. I watched some not so good productions with several redeeming moments.

Rarely did a see a wonderful opera replete with splendid moments. But it happened at least twice this past year.

Herewith are my best and worst moments of the 2012 season, occurring both on and offstage.

The Best of 2012

For me, the best single production was a tie between Nico Muhly’s Dark Sisters presented by the Opera Company of Philadelphia and Glimmerglass Festival’s Lost in the Stars.

Dark Sisters: The wives of The Prophet, left to right sung by Margaret Lattimore, Eve Gigliotti, Jennifer Zetlan, Caitlin Lynch, and Jennifer Check, appear on a news show to appeal for the return of their children. TV personality “King” is sung by Kevin Burdette.| c. of Opera Company of Philadelphia | Kelly and Massa Photography

I was enthralled by Dark Sisters, a contemporary opera about the plight of women trapped in plural marriage—one husband with multiple wives. You can read the full review here, but suffice it to say that it was a moving, beautifully sung, and technologically stunning production.

Met star Eric Owens (center) in “Lost in the Stars”

Likewise, the Glimmerglass Festival’s Lost in the Stars, an opera/musical mash-up written by Kurt Weill adapted from the novel Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton was a first-rate show.  It was a co-production with Cape Town Opera where it first played with performers who themselves experienced apartheid. Interestingly, Weill wrote this show  as a way to “deepen the American musical theater experience.” Lost in the Stars actually deepened and broadened my opera-going experience.  The full review is available here.

The Worst of 2012

I don’t really want to denigrate any single production or performer–that’s not what Operatoonity is about.  I prefer civility first.

However, I will say that having no #Operaplot Contest this year was a huge personal disappointment.

I can scarcely begin to describe how much I enjoyed participating and reading other entries. I’m sure it is a bear to organize and judge, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that mounting no annual contest was one (of  precious few ) Twitter campaigns sorely missed.

The other disappointment I grappled with was being emailed by a young performer after I didn’t include his name in a review. Yes, he was a lead performer, and he was understandably disappointed not to have been mentioned. However, since he was a young artist, I took the high road and excluded him rather than write an unfavorable review. I asked him if I could interview him on this blog about the challenges of preparing for a professional career singing opera, kind of as a makey-up, and he  declined to participate, another major disappointment.

To all stage performers out there, I need to remind you that reviewer is more than likely a working person who does opera reviewing in his or her spare time. She is overworked, tired, traveled a distance to get there, and endeavors to write an honest review. Therefore, if you don’t intend to bring everything you have to your performance, your overworked, overstimulated, and simultaneously exhausted reviewer (who has seen more than 35 full-length operas and recitals in venues from D.C. to the Met in the last 28 months) is likely to notice.

That’s it for Operatoonity’s birds-eye view of the best and worst of 2012.

Here’s to happy opera viewing and greener musical pastures in 2013.

 

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Filed under Best of Operatoonity, favorites, Festival Opera, Performers, Rant, Regional opera, Reviews

supporting characters are opera’s unsung heroes

I recently saw a wonderful production of Carmen by Opera Company of Philadelphia, their 2011-12 season opener.

When one goes to see Carmen, one expects the character Carmen to be the vocal and emotional centerpiece of the show. Philly’s Carmen, portrayed by internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham, was Carmen–vocally, physically, emotionally. Expectations exceeded.

We all agree that a heavy burden to “deliver” is placed on any singer playing a title role in opera.

Rinat Shaham as Carmen flanked by Tammy Coil (left) as Mercédès and Greta Ball (right) as Frasquita / OCP 2011 / Kelly & Massa Photography

After enjoying the first half of Act I, knowing I could completely trust Shaham in the title role, I settled into the “rest” of the characters–the supporting players– specifically, all of Carmen’s gypsy friends.

It is important for Carmen to have “friends” since she can be perceived as more rogue than *Sarah Palin* if that’s possible.  She dances with Mercédès and Frasquita, she reads cards with them (sort of). These characters help the audience to realize Carmen can play in the sandbox, too, if not always nicely, and provide comic relief, especially Frasquita.

Vocally, however, it’s critically important to have Mercédès and Frasquita, who lend richness to the texture of the show. The gypsy quintet with smugglers Le Dancaïro and Le Remendado are showpieces that demand talented supporting players. By the end of the show, I have fallen harder for Carmen’s gypsy band than I have for the fiery gypsy, if portrayed well–and they were.

Last spring, during the Met’s Ariadne auf Naxos, the nymphs made the show for me. The direction, staging, and costuming mined the full potential of these supporting players. Of course there were other wonderful performances in that production, but I’ll never forget the nymphs as portrayed.

Anne-Carolyn Bird, Tamara Mumford and Erin Morley as the nymphs in the Met's 'Ariadne auf Naxos'

Could you have a Rigoletto without a stunning Sparafucile? Or Un ballo in maschera without the notorious Ulrica, the fortune teller. (Yes, Verdi definitely mined the dramatic and vocal potential of the supporting player).

Who are some of your favorite supporting players in opera?



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Filed under Classic Opera, North American Opera, opera challenges, Supporting roles

Opera Co. of Phila. launches ‘Carmen’ under the stars

historic Independence Hall, the southern bookend of Independence Mall in Center City Philadelphia

The Opera Company of Philadelphia cordially invites the City of Philadelphia to grab their picnic baskets and blankets, and join them for Opening Night Philadelphia!, a free, public simulcast of Bizet’s Carmen on September 30, 2011, at 8:00 p.m. on historic Independence Mall.

This marks the first big screen live simulcast  at one of Philadelphia’s most iconic public spaces and has been made possible by an $150,000 inaugural gift from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge to support art ideas that enrich and engage Philadelphia.

“We are proud to bring this classic production of Carmen to life in a  larger-than-life way,” shared General Director David B. Devan. “We have affirmed . . . the important role that art and music play in making our city vibrant. Our hope is to have just as many first-time opera-goers in our audience for this special evening on Independence Mall as we have loyal opera fans – that’s the fun of it.”

Carmen tells the story of a beguiling gypsy who sets her sights on a naïve but passionate young corporal, tracing a tale of seduction, obsession, and deadly betrayal. Bizet’s masterpiece features many of opera’s most powerful melodies, from the bewitching “Habañera,” to the passionate “Seguidilla,” and the bravura of the “Toreador” song, capturing the imagination from the first notes of its renowned overture.

Mezzo Rinat Shaham sings Carmen at OCP this fall

“We chose Carmen specifically as a vehicle for Rinat Shaham, one of the most acclaimed Carmens of our time,” shared Artistic Director Robert B. Driver. Rinat began her career at the Curtis Institute of Music, and sang career-forging roles with OCP early on, including Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, and Werther’s Charlotte.

Shaham has performed the title role of Bizet’s opera in New York, Berlin, Stuttgart, Japan, Montreal, Miami and Tel Aviv, among others. Her Glyndebourne Festival debut in Carmen led the The Independent to praise her as “… a sensation. From the moment she slinks downstage…. this [Carmen] uses the music like promises and threats, coaxing, cajoling, insinuating, bending the melody.”

As Don José, Canadian tenor David Pomeroy makes his OCP debut on the heels of recent performances at the Metropolitan Opera in the title roles Romeo and Juliet and The Tales of Hoffmann. He starred as Alfredo in Vancouver Opera’s La traviata earlier this year, and sang Pinkerton in recent Canadian Opera Company performances of Madama Butterfly.

Rising star baritone Jonathan Beyer, a Curtis Institute of Music alumnus who has sung a number of major roles with Pittsburgh Opera and recently performed in the World Premiere of Moby Dick at Dallas Opera, makes his Company debut as Escamillo.

Academy of Vocal Arts alumna Ailyn Pérez, who sang the title role of Romeo and Juliet with the Opera Company, returns as Micaëla following performances of Marguerite in Faust with Santa Fe and San Diego Operas.

OCP’s Carmen will be performed in French with English translations and runs for five performances on September 30, October 2m, 5, 9m & 14, 2011.

Information and details on the September 30th Opening Night Philadelphia! event, including registration for free tickets, can be found at www.operaphila.org/CARMEN.



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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Classic Opera, Live opera performance, North American Opera, opera and technology, Opera broadcasts, Opera Marketing, opera milestones, opera news, Opera Simulcast, Regional opera

contemporary opera? modern opera? define, please

This afternoon I’m seeing Opera Company of Philadelphia‘s Phaedra, a concert opera composed by Hans Werner Henze, which first premiered in 2007. I’m a little anxious about seeing it because I believe I am neither as fond of modern opera nor concert opera as classic opera performed full-out. I learned from watching musicals as concert pieces on PBS that I don’t even like concert musical theater. That’s because I love being engaged by drama and much prefer being invited to sit behind that invisible fourth wall and enter in.

I will however concede that my favorite production this spring was Séance on a Wet Afternoon presented by New York City Opera, written by composer Stephen Schwartz, and that I was prepared to not love that show either, feeling strongly that I needed to see it instead.

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Since that production, I have been made to consider why I liked it so much.  It was contemporary opera with which I have a limited musical vocabulary. One of the things I realized I preferred was the realistic, immediate storyline of Séance. It wasn’t about a bride who goes crazy on her wedding night or a small town opera singer who stabs a police chief with a steak knife. Or a Russian king who goes mad on a throne.

Drawn from a contemporary novel, Séance had characters and a storyline that seemed plausible and that I could relate to.

Lest you are wondering at this point whether I read classic literature, I can tell you that I unabashedly love Hugo, Hardy, Shakespeare, Dumas, and RLS, to name a few. But when it comes to classic opera, while the music is accessible, for me sometimes the storylines don’t grab me, and the whole affair can become what I imagine concert opera to be–you’re concentrating on the music and production of sound foremost and the story is a distant second.

That is probably my limited view of concert opera–which is another reason I’ve opted to see Phaedra. I want to expand my thinking on this experience and my appreciation for concert opera as an art form.

Back to the subject of modern opera or contemporary opera.  A bit of research suggests that anything goes for opera composers in the 21st century. If their musical sound hearkens back to an earlier musical era, then the modern composer’s work is labeled neo-classical or neo-romantic. If they want to skip arias, nothing will stop them. If they want to use atonality or a hybrid musical language such as the contemporary jazz rhythms and sonorities in Berg’s Lulu,  no one will bat an eye.

If such a description is accurate–that anything goes when it comes to opera in the 21st century–then isn’t modern or contemporary opera like a feast–a wonderful buffet–one in which you’re never quite sure if prime rib or pot roast will be the entree but that’s fine because you love both? Isn’t that more fun, more of an adventure than a prix fixe meal where you know every morsel you’ll be consuming in that sitting?

I don’t think I have contemporary opera figured out or completely understand all its parameters. But it’s fun exploring contemporary musical expression. How about you? How do you feel about modern opera? Here’s a clip from Phaedra to stimulate your thinking:

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best opera singers in the world today – female persuasion

As promised, here are the female artists that a discriminating, opera-loving group of Twitterers suggested as the best women performing today. Now, as I mentioned when I posted the men’s list, I was seeking a list of opera greats who are not just living but are performing and can still “cut the mustard,” as Stephanie Brooke said.

So that’s why you don’t see opera great Jessye Norman on this list. Nor do you see promising up-and-comers such as Latonia Moore, Ailyn Pérez (whom I just saw in Opera Company of Philadelphia’s Romeo and Juliet and reviewed very favorably), and Amber Wagner.

Unable to find an already published list from which to draw, this USA Today article naming the best stars of the 1990’s was too old, I created my own, with a little help from my friends.

Anna Netrebko will sing Anna Bolena for the Met in 2011-12

Besides being recording favorites, some of the singers such as Cecelia Bartoli and Anne Sofie von Otter are frequently enjoyed in live recitals. For a wonderful write up of Anne Sofie von Otter’s New York recital, see this post at Opera Obsession. Others like Angela Gheorghiu might be has-beens next year if they keep pulling out of Met productions. (Was her nose bent out of shape because images of Anna Netrebko as Anna Bolena appeared to dominate the marketing collateral for the Met’s 2011-12 season?)

So, what do you think? Have I included your favorite(s) in the list below? If not, please feel free to include in the comments.

– Cecilia Bartoli, Italian mezzo-soprano

Olga Borodina

– Olga Borodina, Russian mezzo soprano

– Sarah Connolly, British mezzo soprano

Fiorenza Cedolins, Italian soprano

– Diane Damrau, German lyric coloratura soprano

Annette Dasch

– Annette Dasch, German soprano

– Natalie Dessay, French coloratura soprano

Mariella Devia, Italian soprano

Joyce DiDonato, American mezzo soprano

Renée Fleming, American soprano

– Angela Gheorghiu, Romanian soprano

Anja Harteros

Anja Harteros, German soprano

– Magdalena Kožená, Czech mezzo-soprano

– Aleksandra Kurzak, Polish coloratura soprano

– Waltraud Meier, German dramatic soprano

Anna Netrebko, Russian soprano

Patricia Racette

– Patricia Racette, American soprano

Sondra Radvanovsky, American soprano

– Dorothea Röschmann, German soprano

– Rinat Shaham, Israeli mezzo soprano

Nina Stemme

– Nina Stemme, Swedish soprano

Anne Sofie von Otter, Swedish mezzo-soprano

Don’t forget to check out the male singers identified as the best in the world today.

And thanks again to the lively informed Twitter “opera” community for their recommendations!



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