London thrives operatically by not playing it safe at the first sign of trouble, which is what cautious American companies are doing. Our solution has been to spend less on productions. Do less. Program crowd pleasers…
But what is good business is not necessarily good opera. An art form must continually be transformed and refreshed as the British are so impressively demonstrating. The London performances I attended of “Medea” and “Skin” were packed. The audiences appeared to be enthusiastic and sophisticated theatergoers, including many stylish young people. There was an atmosphere at both performances of something happening.
2013-14 Opera Omaha season lineup announced
By Bob Fischbach
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
Three strong female characters will headline the three productions in Opera Omaha’s 2013-14 season, dubbed a year of “Breaking Boundaries.”
General director Roger Weitz said he is again balancing the season with shows representing a classic greatest hit, Bizet’s “Carmen”; a widely known top-200 title, Rossini’s “Cinderella”; and a lesser-known, more adventurous work, Handel’s “Agrippina.”
The oldest opera ever staged by Opera Omaha, this 1709 work centers on the mother of Roman emperor Nero. When her husband dies, Agrippina uses seduction and deception to make sure her son takes the throne. The show is fast-paced and full of plot twists and dark comedy, and is considered one of George Frideric Handel’s best.
The production is being built from scratch for Opera Omaha, which is premiering a new version shaped by director James Darrah and conductor Stephen Stubbs. It will include an aria imported from another Handel work.
Weitz said “Agrippina” often is considered Handel’s first masterpiece. He said Darrah is a rising young star in the opera world, employing a team of designers committed to staging early operas in ways that resonate with contemporary audiences.
Stars will be Jennifer Rivera, Hadleigh Adams and Nathan Medley. It’s in Italian with English supertitles.
Season subscriptions go on sale Wednesday, starting at $49. That’s a 15 percent discount on individual tickets, which will go on sale around Labor Day. Information is available at operaomaha.org.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1269, firstname.lastname@example.org
After two fast weeks, SFS closed the concert+theater+opera+multimedia adventure into Peer Gynt last night following three nights of ecstatic crowds and a slew of entertaining reactions that have varied wildly. I’m in awe of MTT’s imaginative programming and his fearless, bold vision to enhance, expand, and challenge the complacency of the expected symphonic experience. Great design colleagues, new friends at SFS, and a fun rehearsal process with host of talented, fast-adapting actors: it has been a great start to the year.
A brief excerpt from Gereben in the San Francisco Classical Voice (with some of the great SFS pictures!) below…
In a bold and successful move, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have condensed Henrik Ibsen’s 1876 Peer Gynt into an outstanding musical-dramatic multimedia production.
Following a string of semistaged hits — Flying Dutchman, Barbary Coast, and The Thomashefskys among them — Peer Gynt might have been the greatest challenge, presenting in less than two hours a five-hour, virtually unperformable, bizarre fantasy/nightmare, written for a huge cast, with 40 scenes alternating in time and space.
Ibsen, who wrote the work in rhyming verse, originally did not intend it for the stage. Dramaturgically impossible, the play is chock full of ideas, philosophical and psychological gems, such as the consideration of what is “enough” — should man be enough for himself or is there something more? — and the consequences of living by the maxim of “go around,” avoiding issues and commitment.
MTT/SFS not only dealt with the theatrical challenge on a sliver of the concert stage (a daunting task in itself), but enhanced the drama with the work of three composers: much of the well-known Grieg incidental music, six excerpts from Alfred Schnittke’s ballet suite, and the premiere of Robin Holloway’s Ocean Voyage, part of a large, yet-unperformed work on the theme of Ibsen’s play…
COT’s 2012 production of Handel’s TESEO has been lauded by Chicago Classical Review as one of Chicago’s Top 10 Performances of 2012.
Chicago Opera Theater: Handel’s Teseo
Handel’s Teseo was the final installment of Chicago Opera Theater’s three-year Medea cycle, and by far the most successful of the series. Led by Cecelia Hall in the title role, the superb young cast and stylish staging by James Darrah in April made this final show of Brian Dickie’s tenure one of COT’s greatest success of recent years.
Look, it’s only an hour long. I think you should try it.
It’s directed and designed by James Darrah, a rising star of new-old opera (he lives in LA), Susie J. Lee, the Seattle artist forever experimenting with bodies and digital technologies, and Seattle early music wizard Stephen Stubbs. That team! And I’m excited to see the strangeness of the opera itself, its sideways angle on the myth. It’s said to be the earliest known opera in English, and for years it was thought to have been written by Aphra Behn. Curiosity!
They’re blowing 330 years of dust right off John Blow’s English baroque opera Venus and Adonis at Cornish College of the Arts. One of the earliest surviving operas in English gets an entirely new life in a show that will “detonate and obliterate all your preconceptions”—according to the venturesome team assembled for this one-hour production.
Cornish Opera Theater’s production of Venus and Adonis brings to the table an astonishing constellation of talent. Music director Stephen Stubbs has four decades of international experience in presenting early opera (and three Grammy nominations for his recordings). Stage director James Darrah, barely out of UCLA and already boasting credits from Chicago to Croatia, is the face that should pop up when you type “adventurous” into your browser’s search field.
“A lot of people have a bad assumption about ‘baroque opera’,” James says. “They think it’s going to be sterilized and pristine, but it’s violent, bloody, and lustful. This show is going to pull against the audience’s expectations.”
If you’re thinking horned helmets and hefty sopranos when you read the term “opera,” think again. The cast will be composed of young, dramatically compelling singing actors drawn from Cornish’s undergraduate opera and Artist Diploma in Early Music programs. There won’t be any “stand there and sing” moments; instead, the action will be choreographed so it’s a continuous flow of music, dance, and highly fluid movement. The audience will also be a part of what’s happening onstage. In fact, Stubbs says that the first few rows of the audience in PONCHO Concert Hall will actually be “in the middle of the music.” And the hall itself will be the set: Seattle visual artist Susie J. Lee, whose work is exhibited nationally, will use the back wall of the stage as a surface for imaginative projections.
Venus and Adonis, composed for the dissolute court of England’s Charles II, tells the mythical story of the goddess Venus, who falls in love with Adonis—who doesn’t heed Venus’ warnings and is fatally gored by a boar during a hunt. It’s one of those rare operas of the period that doesn’t have a happy ending with a jolly song as the finale. At the opera’s premiere, the role of Venus was played by one of Charles’ favorite mistresses, Moll Davies, and the Cupids by royal “love children” (including Moll’s and Charles’ daughter Lady Mary).
Cornish Opera Theater’s production brings together a pool of early-music experts who will contribute their remarkable expertise to every aspect of Venus and Adonis. In charge of the dance elements will be choreographer Anna Mansbridge, an internationally known exponent of early dance, who will help construct what Darrah calls “a gestural vocabulary for the cast.” Connie Yun, whose work is familiar to Seattle Opera audiences, designs the lighting. Nancy Zylstra, whose wide teaching experience is acclaimed from Oberlin to Amsterdam, coaches the singers, and Stubbs has assembled a first-rate ensemble of professional musicians and student instrumentalists on harpsichord, lute, baroque harp, viola da gamba, and baroque violin. The band should be almost as fun to watch as the action on the stage, which it augments and underlines through music.
“The audience will be thinking about human interactions and human intimacy,” promises Darrah. “Not about which period the opera is in. This production is going to be a highly fluid and timeless piece.” More “nightmare vision” than “prissy pastorale,” it promises to be a highly engaging show.
Check out the Cornish Opera Theater production of Venus and Adonis November 8 through 11 at PONCHO Concert Hall, Cornish College of the Arts, 710 E. Roy Street, Seattle.
Melinda Bargreen, a Washington State writer, critic, composer and teacher, was previously classical music critic for The Seattle Times for 31 years.
Performances of Venus and Adonis begin on Thursday, November 8 at 8 pm with subsequent performances Friday, November 9 at 8 pm, Saturday, November 10 at 8 pm, and Sunday, November 11th at 2 pm. Tickets available online: $20 general; $15 seniors; $10 students and Cornish alumni.