Mozart once, Martinů bis

My 2014/15 opera season officially started last week when I came into some tickets for productions at the Met and Gotham Chamber Opera.  I saw the Metropolitan Opera‘s season-opening new production of Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro as well as Gotham Chamber Opera‘s season-opener, a double bill by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů.

Le Nozze di Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera, 2014

Photo by Ken Howard for the Metropolitan Opera Archives

I’m usually pretty conservative about when a new production is necessary… If it ain’t broke, why fix it?  But that aside, I did quite like this production.  Maybe the set doesn’t translate to photos that well, but it’s, like, a set of hollow, deco/moorish-style towers on a rotating base?  And I thought they did some neat things suggesting hectic movement between chambers as it rotated, so ok, I’m down with it.

All around, a good performance and cast (you can never go too wrong at the Met!).  What caught my attention though was something Richard Eyre said in the director’s notes about how Le Nozze is a rare instance of an opera with sex as subject matter.

Which sort of brings us to the Martinů double bill at Gotham Chamber Opera!  Unexpected repertory, great young performers, and delightfully funky productions, as we’ve come to expect from GCO by now…

Martinu's Alexandre Bis performed by Gotham Chamber Opera

Photo by Richard Termine for Gotham Chamber Opera

Bohuslav Martinů, born in 1890 in what is now the Czech Republic, left for Paris in 1923 where he became a bit more experimental, taking inspiration from jazz and Stravinsky.  His operas of this time are often absurd, if not outright surreal, including 1937’s Alexandre Bis, the opening opera in GCO’s double bill.

Martinu in Paris, 1937

Martinů in Paris, 1937, from the Bohuslav Martinů Institute database

The story of Alexandre Bis (literally “Alexander Twice”) was itself inspired by Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte with a husband disguising himself to test his wife’s fidelity.  She recognizes him immediately, but is aroused by the makeover and/or roleplay, and thus begins a sexual awakening.

Surrealist Paris must have been a sexually revolutionary place, since I’d consider Francis Poulenc’s Les Mamelles des Tirésias a kindred spirit to Alexandre Bis…  In this opera, more about gender than sex per se, a woman gets rid of her breasts to become a man, leaving her husband to have children by himself.  Consider also that Alban Berg’s darker (and more Teutonic) Lulu premiered the year Martinů completed Alexandre Bis.

Of course, Mozart beat all these Johnny come Lately’s to the punch with his 1786 opera about philandering aristocrats.  But not even Mozart was the first to put sex front and center in his operas.  That distinction might just go to  Francesco Cavalli who started writing operas in the 1640s.  Consider La Calisto, in which Jupiter seduces a chaste nymph by disguising himself as the goddess Diana.

At any rate, I guess this was all just an excuse to talk about sexy operas!  What can I say, I like to create thematic groupings of operas…  Ultimately, it was a great opening week for the 2014/15 season, covering the most classic of classics alongside the most obscure thing you could think of and I just love having that range here in New York…

Here’s a compilation video from a 2009 performance of Alexandre Bis by the Czech Theater Biel Solothurn as part of some kind of televised opera competition apparently?  Man, Europe is classy.


Magic Flute on Boumeries

Copyright Boum.

Didn’t know French-Canadian cartoonist Boum was an opera fan!  A kindred spirit out there!  Interesting though, maybe that’s a good way to turn kids on to opera, by exploiting the dramatic aspect of it all…  I saw plenty of opera as a kid, but didn’t start to really like it until I was older, so I wonder how I would teach any little ones in my life to like it…

Boum posted a great Dessay interpretation of the aria to accompany her comic, so to mix it up, here’s one by Joan Sutherland instead:


Clemenza Comes and Goes

Sticking with the Metropolitan Opera today, NYC PBS stations will be airing this season’s production of Mozart‘s 1791 La Clemenza di Tito tonight at 8:30, with a repeat airing nationwide on  Sunday at noon.

Poster by Karl-Ernst Herrmann

1982 Poster from La Monnaie, Brussels; By Karl-Ernst Herrmann

If you can’t see it tonight, you can revisit my last post on La Clemenza for three free streaming performances courtesy of Opera Today and their collection of streaming audio.

I got the poster elsewhere entirely, by revisiting the digital archives of La Monnaie, which I’ve also mentioned before here.  Definitely a fun resource…  This poster in particular is based on a design by German set designer Karl-Ernst Herrmann.  Coincidentally, La Monnaie will present a new production of La Clemenza next season, a great reminder that these digital archives are the perfect place to see bygone productions…

1982 performance of La Clemenza di Tito at La Monnaie

1982 performance at La Monnaie; Photo by Oliver Herrmann.

Okun at the Opera

Two of my parallel interests intersected recently, when an artist I discovered while cataloging books at my library internship showed up as a set designer for a production at Los Angeles Opera this season.

Carmy Skylight Triptych by Jenny Okun

Carmy Skylight Triptych, Copyright Jenny Okun

Jenny Okun is a LA-&-London-based photographer who creates abstract, cubist-like digital composite images of architectural spaces.  The LA Opera production in question is the world premiere of Lee Holdridge‘s Dulce Rosa, based on a story by Isabel Allende.  Set to premiere in May, Okun will be working with set designer Yael Pardess, designing backdrop projections. Continue reading

NYCO’s New Season

NYC Opera just announced their 2013/2014 season, and the modern British invasion of the New York opera scene, begun this season with the double-feature of Adès operas at NYCO and the Met, continues with the American premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage‘s 2011 Royal Opera House -commissioned Anna Nicole.

(Yes, that Anna Nicole.)  The production, a co-production with the Brooklyn Academy of Music, will open their 2013 Next Wave Festival of new art.  Predictably, the original production got mixed reviews.  But I’m kind of morbidly curious?  Here are the first 10 minutes on YouTube if you want more of a teaser (there is a DVD too).

After that, NYCO will exhibit some of that operatic whiplash I love so much by going back to the 18th century to present another American premiere, of Johann Christian Bach‘s 1772 Endimione.

So Much Clemency

Maybe I spoke too soon about being off the hook for finals, but regardless, tonight I’m taking a little break at the Met Opera listening to some Mozart, his 1791 La Clemenza di Tito to be precise.  Luckily, you can listen along thanks to Opera Today, who comes to the rescue with three recordings of live performances of La Clemenza from throughout the ages…

Mezzo Elina Garanča looking great in drag in the Met‘s production as Sesto, a role written for a castrato.

Here’s a 1955 performance from Köln, Germany, with Nicolai Gedda in the title role, followed by a 1976 performance from the Royal Opera House. with Janet Baker as Vitellia.  Lastly, for those who don’t like listening to Italian, you can hear a 2007 performance sung in English, courtesy of the English National Opera.

Opera Jawa & Austwia

After hearing about this upon its release 6 years ago, I finally saw it by chance on CUNY TV last night:

Opera Jawa was commissioned of Garin Nugroho, prolific and award-winning Indonesian director, by  Peter SellarsNew Crowned Hope Festival to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart‘s birth, so I gotta wonder what he would’ve made of it.

It’s an adaptation of an episode from The Ramayana to modern Indonesia, but it still retains a very mysterious, ritualistic vibe…  I’m sure I didn’t get out of it what someone who is more familiar with Indonesian music and drama would, and it did feel pretty long at just under 2 hours, but I was glad to see it finally.  I enjoyed the imaginative use of props, the clearly collaborative process, and the mix of classical Gamelan music, by Rahayu Supanggah, with folk music elements.

Opera Jawa will be shown again on CUNY TV‘s City Cinematheque tonight at 9pm, and next Saturday at midnight.

I think the furthest east Mozart ever got in an opera was Turkey, so no super-appropriate from-beyond-the-grave response to Nugroho, but here’s a choral interlude from the incidental music he wrote to the play Thamos, King of Egypt, in a 1980s Swiss TV performance:

Don John Silver

I’m trying to keep on top of the Met Opera‘s live stream schedule, so here’s another one for y’all:  Don Giovanni live, tonight at 7:25pm!

Starowieyski Don Giovanni posterImage by Franciszek Starowieyski

Somehow this is the first time I’ve featured Mozart here, and that’s a little crazy…  Anyway, tune in here tonight at 7:25pm for some live opera!  Also, this is my second Polish poster illustrator, that’s an interesting world of graphic design that I’m increasingly curious about…

And don’t forget!  You can hear Ralph Vaughan WilliamsThe Pilgrim’s Progress on BBC Radio 3 until Saturday too!

Coding to the Classics

I’ve been coding for a school project these past few days, and opera is ideal listening for just such an occasion, seeing as it lasts so long!

Cherubini Medea title page

In addition to listening to BBC’s Pilgrim’s Progress (blogged about here, and online until Saturday), I’ve also made use of Opera Today‘s collection of full live opera performances.  Today it was Cherubini‘s 1797 opera Médée, in a 1961 La Scala performance starring Maria Callas.

Cherubini’s Medea, streaming performance from Opera Today

Callas as Medea

(You’ll notice the opera was called Médée but this performance is called Medea, as it’s sung in an Italian translation.)

The top image links to Harvard‘s Loeb Music Library collection of digitized scores and libretti.  A very neat resource if you’re looking for free sheet music (here’s another one)!

Happy Death Day to Gluck

Gluck anniversary stamp

Thanks to Operabase‘s nifty anniversary tracker for alerting me to the fact that today is the 225th anniversary of Christoph Willibald Gluck‘s death!  Gluck is hugely important for his operatic reforms, doing away with the formulas and excesses of Baroque opera, and returning to a clearer focus on the human drama.  His first reform opera, Orfeo ed Euridice actually had its own important anniversary this year; 250 years since its premiere!

Orpheus and Eurydice by Frederic LeightonImage by Frederic Leighton

Orfeo ed Euridice, streaming performance from Opera Today

I’m disappointed that this wasn’t a bigger deal…  O&E was followed by two more reform operas, also created with partner-in-crime librettist Calzabigi, who wrote a manifesto of their reform ideas.  These two next operas aren’t as popular as the first, but lucky for us, Opera Today has streaming performances of all three, so let’s all enjoy the complete trifecta in Gluck’s honor!

Alceste, streaming performance from Opera Today

Paride ed Elena, streaming performance from Opera Today