My 2014/15 opera season officially started last week when I came into some tickets for productions at the Met and Gotham Chamber Opera. I saw the Metropolitan Opera‘s season-opening new production of Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro as well as Gotham Chamber Opera‘s season-opener, a double bill by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů.
Photo by Ken Howard for the Metropolitan Opera Archives
I’m usually pretty conservative about when a new production is necessary… If it ain’t broke, why fix it? But that aside, I did quite like this production. Maybe the set doesn’t translate to photos that well, but it’s, like, a set of hollow, deco/moorish-style towers on a rotating base? And I thought they did some neat things suggesting hectic movement between chambers as it rotated, so ok, I’m down with it.
All around, a good performance and cast (you can never go too wrong at the Met!). What caught my attention though was something Richard Eyre said in the director’s notes about how Le Nozze is a rare instance of an opera with sex as subject matter.
Which sort of brings us to the Martinů double bill at Gotham Chamber Opera! Unexpected repertory, great young performers, and delightfully funky productions, as we’ve come to expect from GCO by now…
Bohuslav Martinů, born in 1890 in what is now the Czech Republic, left for Paris in 1923 where he became a bit more experimental, taking inspiration from jazz and Stravinsky. His operas of this time are often absurd, if not outright surreal, including 1937’s Alexandre Bis, the opening opera in GCO’s double bill.
The story of Alexandre Bis (literally “Alexander Twice”) was itself inspired by Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte with a husband disguising himself to test his wife’s fidelity. She recognizes him immediately, but is aroused by the makeover and/or roleplay, and thus begins a sexual awakening.
Surrealist Paris must have been a sexually revolutionary place, since I’d consider Francis Poulenc’s Les Mamelles des Tirésias a kindred spirit to Alexandre Bis… In this opera, more about gender than sex per se, a woman gets rid of her breasts to become a man, leaving her husband to have children by himself. Consider also that Alban Berg’s darker (and more Teutonic) Lulu premiered the year Martinů completed Alexandre Bis.
Of course, Mozart beat all these Johnny come Lately’s to the punch with his 1786 opera about philandering aristocrats. But not even Mozart was the first to put sex front and center in his operas. That distinction might just go to Francesco Cavalli who started writing operas in the 1640s. Consider La Calisto, in which Jupiter seduces a chaste nymph by disguising himself as the goddess Diana.
At any rate, I guess this was all just an excuse to talk about sexy operas! What can I say, I like to create thematic groupings of operas… Ultimately, it was a great opening week for the 2014/15 season, covering the most classic of classics alongside the most obscure thing you could think of and I just love having that range here in New York…
Here’s a compilation video from a 2009 performance of Alexandre Bis by the Czech Theater Biel Solothurn as part of some kind of televised opera competition apparently? Man, Europe is classy.