Pearl Fishing

Well, I’m back from Vancouver, but on one of my last days there I saw a work-in-progress dance performance by local company 605 Collective at the Vancouver International Dance Festival. which I enjoyed, but after a mostly electronic soundtrack, I was surprised that the piece ended to the tune of Enrico Caruso singing this aria from Bizet‘s 1863 Pearl Fishers opera:

Probably the best known piece from this opera, but if you want to see the full picture, it’ll be receiving its first Met Opera production in 100 years in the forthcoming 2015-2016 season:

Putting the Canadian in Canadian Opera Company

So I’m in Vancouver, Canada for a week, and considering the last opera I saw was the Canadian Opera Company‘s performance of Semele at BAM last week it seems fitting to discuss their forthcoming season, which, fittingly, features the world premiere of a Canadian Opera!

In October, COC will give the world premiere of Barbara Monk Feldman‘s short 2010 opera, Pyramus and Thisbe.  It’s based on a tale from antiquity so the COC is presenting it alongside two short, similarly classically themed, pieces by the grandfather of opera, Claudio Monteverdi: a scena for three voices and an aria, which is the only fragment to survive from his second opera, L’Arianna, performed below by Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci:

Here’s hoping I can make a return trip to Canada for this interesting early opera/premiere opera combo!

If It’s Baroque, Don’t Fix It

Tonight I’m going to see Händel‘s 1743 opera Semele, which I adore, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a production created by La Monnaie in Brussels and the KT Wong Foundation.  It’s being performed by the Canadian Opera Company in a reprisal of their performances in the 2011/2012 season, with Canadian soprano Jane Archibald resuming the title role.

Looks pretty crazy, right?  The key to this unusual production is the KT Wong Foundation, devoted to fostering dialogue in the arts and education between China and the West, which approached Chinese artist Zhang Huan with the idea of directing an opera.  His inspiration was a 450 year old Chinese temple he bought and wound up using as the centerpiece of the production (watch it being assembled at BAM here).

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Three Heads Six Arms by Zhang Huan in Florence, 2013

KT Wong has several videos about the project on Youtube and it’s certainly an interesting one!  Besides performances at Brussels and Toronto, the show was also taken to Beijing (where it was censored, natch)

Now, as a first-time opera director, Chinese person unfamiliar with Western opera, and a fancy-shmancy artist, Zhang is not beholden to opera’s sacred cows and has taken a pretty radical approach.  Besides the weirdo stage elements, he’s omitted some of Handel’s music (a capital offense in my book) and inserted several anachronistic Chinese elements.  So some weird hybrid of baroque opera and modern performance piece which I’m admittedly having a hard time preparing myself for…  I’ve seen reviews run the gamut from negative to glowingly positive, so we’ll see which what side I’ll land on…

In any other situation calling this concurrent production of Semele at the Seattle Opera the more traditional one might seem strange, but heck, this is just old school in comparison!  Opera News seemed to like this one a lot more, at least…

It’s great to see Semele performed by a smaller, regional companies, and if Zhang Huan’s production spurs renewed interest in this very deserving opera, than that’s a good thing!

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The stage maquette for Semele by Zhang Huan at La Monnaie

And for no other reason than because I like their Digital Archive, here is a set maquette from La Monnaie!

Alice’s Adventures in Opera

Another big anniversary this year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland!  What better way for us to celebrate than with Unsuk Chin‘s opera Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?  Below, the Mad Tea Party scene performed by the Seoul Philharmonic:

The Los Angeles Philharmonic celebrated this sesquicentennial with a staged performance in collaboration with the Los Angeles Opera.  This was the work’s belated LA premiere, since the LA Opera was one of the original commissioners of the piece, which ultimately premiered at the Munich Opera Festival in 2007.

Photo by Lawrence K. Ho for Los Angeles Philharmonic

Photo by Lawrence K. Ho for Los Angeles Philharmonic

The reviews I’ve read have been excellent, which is pleasantly surprising as I’ve heard mixed things about the opera with its bristly, modern musical language and elliptical, playfully obtuse libretto by David Henry Hwang.

The production, by English director Netia Jones, matched that darker tone by animating illustrations from British satirist Ralph Steadman‘s 1972 edition of the book.  Jones has used this technique with the LA Phil before, animating Maurice Sendak’s own Where the Wild Things Are illustrations for a performance of Oliver Knussen‘s operatic adaptation of that work.

At any rate, an interesting recent development is that the Royal Opera House in London has commissioned a sequel opera by the same team of Chin and Hwang, based on Through the Looking Glass!  This is scheduled for the 2018/2019 season, so I wonder if that will add fire to the second wind that Wonderland seems to be having…

The Sound of Music Echoes On…

Today is the 50th anniversary of the American release of The Sound of Music movie musical so stop everything you’re doing and go climb some mountains!

The movie is of course based on the 1959 musical which was the last collaboration of the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical dream team, since Oscar Hammerstein II died nine months after the Broadway premiere, of cancer.

An interesting Youtube find was this footage from actors on the set during the making of the movie:

Of course, the Oscars recently commemorated the anniversary of their 1966 Best Picture Winner with a medley performed by Lady Gaga that was an internet sensation.  Proof that the movie and the musical have still got it, all these years later!

Mourning Becomes Something…

Last Monday the composer Marvin David Levy passed away and though he only ever wrote one opera, the scale of its premiere followed by its passage into obscurity and then late-life renaissance sorta overshadow all his other accomplishments…  I guess opera can do that!

That opera, Mourning Becomes Electra, was one of two operas commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera when they moved to Lincoln Center in the mid ’60s.  It wasn’t too well received, and was barely performed again for three decades, until 1998 when Levy created a revised version for the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  Since then, it’s been performed at a few other American companies, most lately the Florida Grand Opera, where the newsreel below is from:

Along with Levy’s repairs, I wonder if the very fact of it being an American setting of ancient Greek tragedy (it’s based on Eugene O’Neill’s transposition of the Oresteia by Aeschylus to the American Civil War) can help give it a new life around the US at regional opera companies…

Speaking of Met commissions, it’s apparently not an uncommon story for those rather rare birds to be neglected for a while, then championed dramatically by other companies, as the Los Angeles Opera is currently doing with John Corigliano‘s The Ghosts of Versailles, commissioned by the Met for their 100th anniversary and premiered in 1991.

It would certainly be interesting to track how well Met commissions have done historically once they’ve received their house premiere, especially in light of the Met’s renewed commitment to commissioning new opera…  What might they do differently going forward?

Speaking of all these companies and of new opera, I certainly am excited it’s season announcement season!  Will have to get back to you with thoughts about the recently announced 2015/2016 seasons from several American companies…

Trip to Aulide

This week, the Met+Juilliard collaboration between the Metropolitan Opera and the Juilliard School will be giving three performances of Gluck‘s 1774 Iphigénie en Aulide.  It’s been pretty much supplanted in popularity by Gluck’s own 1779 Iphigénie en Tauride, so much so that most performances of it seem to occur as a double-feature with both installments:

At any rate, this week presents a pretty rare opportunity to see it!  Here’s a Juilliard Journal article interviewing some of the people involved in this production.

The Met+Juilliard collaboration has produced a few operas at Juilliard already, and though none have made the jump to the Metropolitan Opera, in some of the early announcement materials I read, that was cited as a possibility…

Which leads to some speculation…  Much has been said recently about the Met showing more modern opera and even commissioning new works…  In one such announcement from 2013, Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov was said to be working on an operatic adaptation of the original Euripides play Iphigenia in Aulis, tentatively slated for the 2018/2019 Season.

Hmm…  Aulide, Aulis…  What if – stay with me here – the Met were planning a 2018/2019 season including both Golijov and Gluck’s versions of Iphigenias in Aulis?  (And hey, they could even toss in their existing production of Iphigénia en Tauride, seen below).

Would that be too crazy?  Or would it be super amazing?  Thoughts?