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).

ZhangHuan-Buddha-Florence

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!

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Twelve Nights of Music

I’ve been off my blogging game this holiday season, meaning less posts but also me getting to the party late for some pretty neat music events…  Chief among these is the Twelfth Night Festival, a twelve days jamboree of early music at Trinity Church and Saint Paul’s Chapel in downtown Manhattan starting last Friday and lasting through this weekend…

There’s lots of great instrumental and vocal music from the renaissance and baroque, with plenty of free concerts throughout, and  the festival is even book-ended by two musical dramas.  It opened this weekend with the French renaissance Play of Daniel, in a production originally created for the Met Museum‘s medieval outpost, the Cloisters, and reviewed here.  An excerpt from the original performances at the Cloisters above, depicting Belshazzar’s Feast.

The festival ends this weekend with another fully staged musical-theater performance, of Georg Frideric Händel‘s 1739 oratorio Saul, a chorus of which is below.  Get your tickets for that now, and check out the other ticketed and free(!) performances throughout this week!

Too Hot to Handel

It was a good week for Händel fans in New York, with the 1720 Radamisto at Juilliard and the Mark Morris Dance Group‘s setting of his 1740 oratorio L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato at the White Light Festival.

Radamisto at Juilliard

Radamisto at Juilliard, photo by Ruby Washington

I was lucky enough to see both, starting with Radamisto on Wednesday.  The New York Times review doesn’t do it justice in my opinion, I guess I have a high tolerance for nonstop da capo arias…  And the performers were all great, very impressive.  Since then I’ve been reliving it with this full performance from Salzburg in 2002.

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L’Allegro’s premiere at La Monnaie in 1988

As for L’Allegro, etc., I learned last night that it was created when Mark Morris was choreographer in residence at La Monnaie, the opera house in Brussels.  And since they have such a great digital archive, I was able to find photographs and costume designs from the premiere performance; even as still images, they bring back the joy of the performance, so lovely.

Here’s a featurette on  L’Allegro, etc. (is there some acronym for this?  LAIPEIM?) from MMDG themselves.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPakF1dNcs8&w=350&h=250]

Juilliard Baroque

Original Libretto for Handel's Radamisto

Original Libretto for Handel’s Radamisto at the V&A

Tickets for Juilliard‘s first operatic production of the academic year went on sale this week, and it’s for Handel‘s 1720 Radamisto, his first opera for the Royal Academy of Music in London.  Here’s a famous aria performed by Joyce DiDonato.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmzZLolnUVw&w=350&h=300]

The libretto at top is from the collection of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, and it was used at the opera’s premiere performance, making it one of the earliest preserved prompt scripts.  They have a nice page on 18th century opera with more primary sources from their collections.

The other operas to be performed at Juilliard are Tchaikhovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Massenet’s Cendrillon (ie, Cinderella).  Here’s their full listing of operatic and vocal offerings this year, and as long as we’re talking about New York schools, here’s the opera schedule for the Manhattan School of Music too, an intriguing combination of Haydn, Cavalli, and Virgil Thomson…

Cesare on TV

Can’t believe I forgot about this!  

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GtZBErqxco&w=350&h=300]

Tomorrow at noon (12:30 in New York), PBS is showing the Metropolitan Opera‘s performance of Händel‘s most beloved opera, Giulio Cesare.  This production, by Sir David McVicar, was imported from Glyndebourne where it premiered in 2005, and it’s a fun one, as the choreographed number above shows.  

Giulio Cesare at the Met

Giulio Cesare at the Met, 2013, photo by Marty Sohl

 

Oh star of my desire…

This lovely aria from one of my favorite operas has been in my head lately, so figured it was time to share it.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WRJA-vui94&w=350&h=300]

That’s one of Cleopatra’s act one arias in Händel‘s most enduring opera, Giulio Cesare in Egitto.  While I’m not usually a fan of opera in translation, I liked the vintage of this clip, and thought English soprano Valerie Masterson‘s performance (and diction!) was worth sharing.  Enjoy!

From Baroque to Contemporary in One Night (with some Kirby tossed in)

Jack Kirby Julius Caesar costumesImage by Jack Kirby

BBC Radio 3 has a new opera up today, and it’s from one of my favorite opera composers, G.F. Händel!!!  Giulio Cesare (aka Julius Caesar) will be up for a week here, and if you’re not familiar with Händel, it’s a good place to start as probably his single most famous opera.  However, strangely enough, it’s being sung in English since it’s a performance from the English National Opera where everything’s dubbed into English.

Also up tonight is a live-streaming discussion of and performance of excerpts from the January-2013 Minnesota Opera premiering Doubt, by Douglas J. Cuomo, as I mentioned here.

As for that amazing Kirby costume design; it was for a 1969 student production of that version of Julius Caesar by some Shakespeare fellow, and you can see the rest of his designs on the website of the wonderful, ever-aspiring Kirby Museum.  This will hopefully be the first of, if not many, at least a few Comics-Opera crossover posts : )