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?

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:

Cape of Good Opera

I’ve been making an effort to go to more Juilliard concerts lately, so I saw the New Juilliard Emsemble‘s concert on contemporary South African composers on Monday, programmed to complement Carnegie Hall’s current South African performing arts themed Ubuntu Festival.  It was an interesting sampler of seven living composers, ranging in age from 65 to 36.

CarnegieHall-UBUNTUNow, you know me, always looking for the operatic connection, and this performance had a couple of oblique ones.  Andile Khumalo‘s “Shades of Words” for ensemble and spoken word narrator set poetry by countrywoman Alexandra Zelman-Doring; Michael Blake‘s “Rural Arias” was composed for the eerily voice-like singing saw (though it can also be performed by a plain ol’ soprano).

That being said, only one composer’s bio made any mention of opera and that was Bongani Ndodana-Breen.

His site lists five operas, including his most recent, the 2011 bio-opera Winnie, about Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the activist and politician in the South African liberation movement who was married to Nelson Mandela‘s during his 27 years in prison and served as his public face in that time.

Given what I heard of his music at Juilliard, I’d certainly be curious to hear one of his operas!  For the more classically minded, there’s another South African take on opera in New York, through November 9th, at the New Victory Theater.

The Magic Flute by Isango Ensemble, at New Victory Theater

The Magic Flute by Isango Ensemble, at New Victory Theater

Isango Ensemble from Cape Town takes pieces from the Western canon and recontextualizes them through a South African lens, bringing in actors and musicians from local townships.  They’ve turned their eye on opera several times, including La Boheme and Carmen, but it’s their version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute that they’ve brought to New York!

The New Victory Theater is all about all ages, family friendly theater; they’re advertising this show as appropriate for audiences 8+, so take your favorite little one!

This was an interesting subject, so I might just have another post on South African opera in me!

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…

Jeremy no-middle-name Beck

On Friday, May 24th, like a total dummy, I accidentally posted about composer Jeremy Beck when I should’ve  posted about Jeremy Howard Beck, whose opera The Long Walk was given a concert reading at American Lyric Theater‘s week-long festival of new opera, InsightALT.  Here’s what I had written about Jeremy Beck before I updated everything like a madman when someone called me out on my mistake:

Composer Jeremy Beck

Composer Jeremy Beck

In a totally different vein, here is a full performance of Beck‘s satirical one-act opera Review based on a New Yorker piece by Patricia Marx, who wrote the libretto, in a 2011 performance from the Peabody Conservatory at John Hopkins University.

A group of friends and acquaintances gather for a cocktail party and start a vapid discussion. Ultimately, it is revealed that this party from hell turns out to be literally from hell, and the party-goers are actually dead, engaging in a review of their trivial lives.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fiS-B6X57c&w=350&h=300]

On a side note, the Peabody Opera program lacks a current web presence, but they’ve archived their old site, with full season information for Peabody Opera Theater and Peabody Chamber Opera from 1995 to 2009, which is pretty interesting in it’s own right…  Neat to see how adventurous they were in their programming…

Well, I found it interesting at least…

Two Mexican Operas on Two Mexican Drug Traffickers

 

Composer Jorge Sosa

Composer Jorge Sosa

The last full opera performed in American Lyric Theater‘s InsightALT opera fest is Jorge Sosa‘s “La Reina”, about a Mexican drug queenpin, performed on Monday at 7pm (buy tickets here).  You can actually hear a sample aria on Sosa‘s site (under “listen”), so good way to prep.  Here’s ALT‘s trailer for the new opera:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4e61G9S78yw&w=350&h=300]

This actually reminded me of another Mexican composer’s chamber opera about a lady drug trafficker: Gabriela Ortiz‘s “¡Unicamente La Verdad!” (“only the truth”), premiered in 2008 at Indiana University and recently performed at Long Beach Opera, California.  This video is from the 2008 IU performance:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wf_3LgoOpCI&w=350&h=300]

You can still  buy tickets for the remaining InsightALT operas (“La Reina” on Monday and “The Long Walk” tomorrow, at 7pm), and if you can’t make it in person, they’ll also be live-streamed here.