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!

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…

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?

More Opera at Lincoln Center

Today a new partnership was announced between the New York Philharmonic and its host campus, Lincoln Center, to pool resources and produce fully staged operas, starting with George Benjamin‘s 2012 Written on Skin in August of this year, weirdly coinciding with the Mostly Mozart Festival

Written on Skin was incredibly well-received after its premier at the 2012 Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, with a subsequent production at the Royal Opera House, which resulted in a new commission for the 2018 season for the team of Benjamin and Martin Crimp

This new initiative builds on Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert’s success with innovatively semi-staged operas at the Philharmonic in collaboration with production team Giants Are Small, starting with György Ligeti‘s Grand Macabre in 2010:

This clip Barbara Hanngian features at the NY Phil production of Le Grand Macabre, and of course Hannigan created the role of Agnes in Benjamin’s Written on Skin too, so nice coincidence there…

 

What is Opera, Alex?

We here at Bizarro Twins are huge Jeopardy fans, and always relish the rare opera or comic-themed categories, but opera has burst onto America’s favorite trivia show in a surprising way recently…

If you’ve been watching, the current Jeopardy champ is Elliot Yates from New York, and he’s introduced as an opera producer which is exciting enough on its own…  But in his second chat with host Alex Trebek he talked about a new opera he’s working on about Truman Capote!  Unfortunately, my Googling is not turning up much concrete information about this project, but as always, I’m excited to hear about new operas, no matter how far in the future they may be!

Capote is obviously known as a writer of prose, from short stories to novels to non-fiction, but he did write the book for one musical: 1954’s House of Flowers, about rival bordellos in Haiti…  cheery, I guess.  With music by Harold Arlen, the most enduring song is probably A Sleepin’ Bee, sung here by Diahann Carroll, a member of the original Broadway cast.

Funnily enough, this song was also sung by Barbra Streisand seven years later on her first appearance on American national television, on The Jack Paar Show in 1961:

Now, another interesting tidbit about this forthcoming Truman Capote opera is the fact that Capote’s distinctive voice will be portrayed by a countertenor.  On hearing this, Alex Trebek referenced the British singer Alfred Deller who helped revive the use of the countertenor voice in the mid 20th century.  So now I like Alex even more than before!  Here is Deller singing an Elizabethan love song by Thomas Campion, accompanied on lute as he was wont to be…

All around, not a bad day for opera on national television…

Christmas Caroling

Photo by Lynn Lane

Photo by Lynn Lane

It was just a few weeks ago that I first discussed the young British composer Iain Bell here, specifically his first foray into opera with last year’s dark adaptation of the 18th century moralistic painting cycle The Harlot’s Progress, but the 2014/2015 cultural calendar has brought the premiere of his second opera.  He’s moved one century forward in British art, but the new opera’s source material shares a lot in common with last year’s…

Bell and the Houston Grand Opera have adapted Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, apparently emphasizing the eerie ghost elements over the more conventional yuletide cheer…  In another unusual turn, it’s a monodrama for a single tenor, inspired by the one-man version of the story Dickens himself used to perform in Victorian England.

Keeping with the forward march through British literature, Iain Bell’s website already lists his next operatic commission, for the Welsh National Opera, this time adapting an epic poem of the 20th century.  In Parenthesis, by David Jones, was about World War I and culminates in the Battle of the Somme; WNO’s 2016 premiere performance will mark the occasion of that battle’s centennial.

At any rate, I’m hoping Bell keeps up the pattern and makes his next opera about some 21st century British work of literature…  Any suggestions?

Hogarth’s Progress

 

A Harlot's Progress, scene 1, by William Hogarth, 1731

A Harlot’s Progress, scene 1, by William Hogarth, 1731

At tomorrow’s installment of the New York Comics & Picture-Story Symposium, Abigail Zitin of Rutgers will talk about William Hogarth in a presentation titled “Narrative Art and Visual Pleasure”.  Hogarth’s narrative painting cycles mark him as a proto-cartoonist, with two popular sets of 6 paintings each popularized through more affordable print cycles in their days.  The original, A Harlot’s Progress cycle from 1731, was followed up in 1733 by The Rake’s Progress cycle. (The original paintings of the latter are at the Soane Museum in London; the Harlot paintings were lost to a fire and only survive in the print format.)

After seeing the original pieces in an exhibit in Chicago, composer Igor Stravinsky adapted the story into 1951’s Rake’s Progress opera a neo-classical satire and a modern classic.  The 1975 Glyndebourne Opera production by English artist David Hockney is a classic in its own right too…  As a demonstration of how intrinsically linked this production has become to the opera, this video from Glyndebourne is as much about the production’s creation by Hockney and director John Cox as it is about the music and opera itself:

More recently, the earlier The Harlot’s Progress was adapted into an opera in six scenes (mirroring the original cycle of six paintings) by 34-year old English composer Iain Bell, premiering just last year at Theater an der Wien in Vienna with German soprano Diana Damrau creating the title role.  Unlike Stravinsky’s more comical take, Bell apparently had an unremittingly bleak vision for his Hogarth opera, but it seems to have been pretty well received

Is it any wonder an artist who pioneered narrative paintings would be an inspiration to modern composers?  Only a shame Hogarth didn’t create more cycles to be adapted!