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!

SONY DSC

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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Sendak at the Society, and at the Opera

Poster for Maurice Sendak exhibit at the Society of Illustrators

Maurice Sendak exhibit at the Society of Illustrators Copyright the Estate of Maurice Sendak

Tomorrow night at 7pm is the opening for an exhibit on Maurice Sendak at the Society of Illustrators.  You may have seen the Google Doodle for his 85th birthday a few days ago, though the animation didn’t work on my computer…

As I’ve mentioned beforeSendak also designed for opera pretty extensively, including five operas for the Glyndebourne summer opera fest in England.  Glyndebourne’s Archive has a page devoted to Oliver Knussen‘s operatic adaptation of Sendak‘s Where the Wild Things Are, the final version of which they premiered in 1984.  But for today, here’s the 1987 Sendak-designed production of Maurice Ravel‘s (first name twins!) one-act L’Heure Espagnole:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JI7gr4mGhQU&NR&w=350&h=300]

For hours of fun, check out Glyndebourne‘s performance database.

Rat Pack Rigoletto on PBS Tomorrow

Enrico Caruso in Rigoletto, 1903

Enrico Caruso in The Met’s Rigoletto, 1903, photo by Aimé Dupont

This new, Las Vegas-set Met Opera production of Verdi‘s 1851 opera Rigoletto is a far cry from earlier Met productions, including the 1903 season-opener where celebrated Italian tenor Enrico Caruso made his house debut as the Duke of Mantua.  It was an important debut, so the Met archives have a whole article devoted to it, with lots of fun anecdotes and primary documents.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zzk5YLH4oxo&w=350&h=300]

Did you know there have been 9 different productions of Rigoletto at the Met?  Just one of the fun (if you’re me, at least) things you can learn on The Met’s online archives, which I am learning to love.  New productions are very well-documented, with plenty of production and rehearsal photos.

Rigoletto at the Met in 2012

Met Rigoletto 2012, photo by Ken Howard, copyright Metropolitan Opera

PBS will show the Met Opera‘s new production of Rigoletto tomorrow at 9 pm, with a repeat airing on Sunday at 12:30 in New York.  Check your local listings.

Cunning Little Opera

In my own end-of-semester flurry, I overlooked the end-of-semester operatic offerings from the music schools here in New York!  For example, the Juilliard School’s Opera program is ending the semester with an all-out production of Leoš Janáček‘s 1924 Czech opera The Cunning Little Vixen.  

The Juilliard School's Cunning Little Vixen

The Juilliard School’s Cunning Little Vixen

There are performances tomorrow and Thursday at 8pm, with $30 tickets, half-off for students in-person at the Juilliard box office.  This is bound to be a popular event, so if it sells out before you can get in, check out the Juilliard calendar for other end-of-semester performances (including lots of ticketless, free ones!).

The Cunning Little Vixen seems like a fun challenge for directors and designers; you don’t get too many chances in opera to direct singing animals.  It’s been performed before in New York at NYC Opera in a 1980s Maurice Sendak-designed production and more recently at the NY Philharmonic.  Somehow a video of the complete 1983 NYCO performance is up on YouTube, and since NYCO‘s Sendak production was lost in a fire, it’s an especially valuable resource.

Carousel Reminder

It sure has been primary sources week on Bizarro Twins, huh (guess my library research classes are getting to me).  To remind you about PBS‘s airing of the New York Philharmonic‘s semi-staged performance of Rodgers & Hammerstein‘s Carousel tonight, here are some resources from the NYPL Digital Gallery from the original production on Broadway in 1945.

1945 Carousel cast photo, from NYPL Digital Gallery

Jan Clayton and John Raitt in Carousel, 1945, from NYPL Digital Gallery

As I mentioned last time, NYPL’s Library for the Performing Arts is a predictably amazing resource for Broadway history, and lots of that is on the Digital Gallery.  A search of “Carousel” there brings up cast photos, set designs, playbills, etc., from the original 1945 production and from 1949, 1965, and 1994 revivals too.

Set design for Carousel, 1945 on NYPL Digital Gallery

Set design sketch by Jo Mielziner for Carousel, 1945 on NYPL Digital Gallery

For some wider entry points into NYC Theater history, you can see NYPL’s digitized archival collections of Jo Mielziner, including his set design drawings for plays and musicals, and the Vandamm Studio, for backstage photography of NYC theater from the 1920s to the ’50s.

Peruvian Perricholi

1956 La Monnaie costume design for La Périchole by Suzanne Fabry

1956 La Monnaie costume design for La Périchole by Suzanne Fabry

Tonight and Saturday are your last chances to see the final opera in New York City Opera‘s current season, Offenbach‘s 1868 operetta La Périchole at New York City Center.

The story is inspired by the real-life 17th century Peruvian singer (and mistress to the Viceroy) Micaela Villegas.  So in addition to opulent costumes like the one above, costume designer Suzanne Fabry also got to design some altiplano cholita costumes…

1956 La Monnaie costume design for La Périchole by Suzanne Fabry

1956 La Monnaie costume design for La Périchole by Suzanne Fabry

These designs come from La Monnaie‘s super entertaining digital archives, but I’ll admit that my original motivation for the “fashion” tag was Nana Mouskouri‘s awesome get-up in her duet with Thierry Le Luron.  Oh man, 1960s French variety shows, yes please.

NYCO and director Christopher Alden‘s production leans a little more modern (and Mexican), but it looks like a riot!

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.