A Very Operetta New Year

Gipsy Princess poster from The Memory of the Netherlands digital collection

Gipsy Princess poster from The Memory of the Netherlands digital collection

In the latest case of me learning about something just hours before it’s set to start, Medici.tv will be live streaming a special New Year’s performance of Emmerich Kalman‘s 1915 operetta Die Csárdásfürstin (aka, The Gipsy Princess for those non-Hungarian speakers among you) from Staatskapelle Dresden with the powerhouse duo of Anna Netrebko and Juan Diego Flórez.  You’ll need an account to see the live performance, but it’s free and pretty painless!

Here’s an old school televised version of a duet from the Gipsy Princess in all it’s glory:

Operetta seems to be an old world New Year’s tradition, and the Met Opera is getting in on the game with a new production of Franz Lehar‘s Merry Widow premiering on Wednesday, New Year’s Eve!  So get your operetta fix this week!

 

What a Selfish Turk

Juilliard Opera, Rossini's Il Turco in ItaliaIn honor of Juilliard‘s performances of Rossini‘s 1814 comic opera Il Turco in Italia this week (glowingly reviewed at Parterre), here are some famous depictions of Turkey in opera.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of them wound up revolving around harems, ha ha…

Maybe the most famous opera set in Turkey, Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail follows the European hero as he tries to rescue his girlfriend from the Turkish Pasha’s harem.  I don’t know how she wound up there either…

Yet another opera partly set in a Turkish Pasha’s harem is Verdi’s 1848 Il Corsaro, depicting a war between the Pasha and some Pirates, with the Pasha’s favorite Gulnara, below, stuck in the middle…

And in a variation of the first story, here’s another opera about a Turk holding a Western woman captive (Oh, those dastardly Turks!), the first act of Rameau’s globe-trotting anthology opera Les Indes Galantes, aka Le Turc Généreux!  You can see the whole opera below, or click on the upper left hand corner to get to the fourth video, where the Turkish segment begins.

Ah, good old fashioned Orientalism!

I Guess Opera can still Shock…

This weekend, the Met Opera gave it’s last performance of what became the hot button cultural event of the season here in New York, John Adam‘s 1991 Death of Klinghoffer.

Death of Klinghoffer premiere at La Monnaie, photo by Baus Hermann J.

Death of Klinghoffer premiere at La Monnaie, 1991, photo by Baus Hermann J.

The opera is about the the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by four members of the Palestinian Liberation Front, during which a 69 year old Jewish American passenger was murdered.  As you might imagine, controversy has dogged the work since it’s premiere at La Monnaie, in Belgium, just six years after the original events.  That being said, the reception in New York seemed especially strong compared to other recent productions in the US.

Having seen the piece myself last week, I thought I’d offer a few thoughts on its merits.

Musically, the opera is known for its choral pieces, which are mostly quite lovely/striking, ranging from peacefully meditative to distressingly aggressive.  Besides the choral music though, I found the music pretty flat at the beginning.  The second part had more diverse music though, from agressive expressions of anger to one weirdly 90s commercial jingle interlude…  All in all though, that diversity I thought included stronger music and made for a more interesting musical experience.

Textually, the libretto by Alice Goodman alternates between poetic and more concrete language, which I found problematic…  Given the reality of not just this particular hijacking and murder, but of the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, any time someone’s given obtuse poetry to recite feels like a missed opportunity.  Furthermore, it seemed that the Jewish characters were more frequently given poetic lines than the Palestinians, so the Palestinians had more concrete things to say, while the Jews were just harder to understand…

All that said, I don’t think the opera is antisemitic or glorifies terrorism, two critiques often thrown at it.  It obviously depicts hatred, and I think that’s done heart-wrenchingly well.  While Palestinians are given a voice in the choruses, and allowed to express their grievances as displaced people, the terrorists aren’t really sympathetic.  But that comes to another critique, about humanizing the terrorists…  And of course, they are indeed human, not pure avatars of evil, so I think that aspect was pulled off alright…  Despite some glimpses of underlying shared humanity, their actions are never sugarcoated.

All in all, a  gutsy albeit ultimately imperfect attempt to analyze an unapproachably taboo subject through opera…

Now for some totally inappropriate emotional whiplash!

In an infinitely more light-hearted case of operatic culture clash, Juilliard is presenting Rossini‘s 1814 comic opera Turco in Italia starting this Thursday (tickets $30).  Below, the full opera from Zurich Opera in 2001:

On the (Makropulos) Case

The Makropulos Case at Bavarian State Opera

The Makropulos Case at Bavarian State Opera

Because of a time difference miscalculation on my part, you now actually have 30 minutes before today’s livestream from Bavarian State Opera in Munich, Germany, begins!  Very easy, just head on over to BSO TV to see the full opera online!

Today’s opera is maybe sort of Halloween appropriate?  It is a noir opera after all…

The Makropolous Case by Leoš Janáček based on the play of the same name by fellow Czech, pioneering science fiction author Karel Čapek, was premiered in 1926 in Brno, Czech Republic.  It’s about a mysterious woman who seems to have been around much longer than she looks, and it’s ultimately revealed that she’s been keeping herself alive for centuries with a magic potion, one she needs to find the recipe for before her age catches up to her and she dies.  Verrry moody and mysterious…

This is a European production though, so fair warning, they will probably find a way to show lots of weird sex stuff…

To Know to Know to Love Her So

A saint is one to be for two when three and you make five and two and cover.  Source

Four Saints in Three Acts premiere performance with sets by Florine Stettheimer

Four Saints in Three Acts premiere performance with sets by Florine Stettheimer

The other night I had a chance to speak to Gertrude Stein at a party at Pablo Picasso’s home (I’ll explain…), and I regret not asking her about her collaboration with American composer Virgil Thomson, for whom she wrote two opera librettos in the last two decades of her life.  They were classic Stein, meaning they didn’t make any logical “sense”, but as the introduction to the 1947 CBS radio broadcast of their first collaboration, Four Saints in Three Acts, says…

Gertrude Stein’s words made no sense to anyone. …  Afterwards however, people went away with an embarrassed feeling that the thing made more sense than they thought.  They began to see that the authors wanted them to understand not illogical words, but a fine symbolism of the gaiety and strength of spiritual and consecrated lives.  Source

Four Saints in Three Acts premiered in Connecticut in 1934 and went on to Broadway later that same year.  The thought that a modernist, non-linear opera ran on Broadway is confounding enough, but to add to that, the opera was also performed by an all-black cast.

At any rate, you can judge the opera for yourself thanks to a digitized 1947 CBS Radio broadcast, conducted by Thomson a year after Stein’s death.  Reading the libretto may not make sense, but hearing it sung, it certainly has a good rhythm to it…

Set design for 27 at Opera Theater of Saint Louis by Allen Moyer

Set design for 27 at Opera Theater of Saint Louis by Allen Moyer

From writer of librettos, to the subject of a libretto herself, Gertrude Stein‘s 27 Rue de Fleurs Paris apartment, the site of her celebrated salon, is the setting and namesake of the forthcoming opera 27, by Ricky Ian Gordon, another American composer, to be given its premiere by the Opera Theater of Saint Louis this summer.  Here’s an article in Opera News in anticipation of this premiere.

And most importantly!

If you want to meet Gertrude Stein in person, then don’t miss the last few performances of A Serious Banquet, a Cubist dinner party featuring such luminaries as Stein, Picasso, Braque, and Rousseau among others, hosted by This is Not a Theater Company.  The Rave reviews are in, the company is legendary, and dinner is included!  What’s not to love!

I don’t know enough about football to pun…

Operavore, the Opera-dedicated division of WQXR, New York’s public classical music radio station, will be celebrating March Madness in its own way this week, with a full streaming opera each weekday at 2pm, each having some notable “mad scene”.  The week’s full schedule, from Mozart’s Idomeneo to Bernstein’s Candide, is available here; the Operavore stream can be listened to on the WQXR website.

In keeping with the sports theme, a new opera about Bum Phillips, American football coach, premiered in New York at La MaMa last week, and is up through the end of the month.  Commissioned by the collective Monk Parrots, with music by Peter Stopschinski and libretto by Kirk Lynn, it was apparently live-streamed earlier today  : P  How did I miss that!?