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!

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!

Mozart once, Martinů bis

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.

Le Nozze di Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera, 2014

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…

Martinu's Alexandre Bis performed by Gotham Chamber Opera

Photo by Richard Termine for Gotham Chamber Opera

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.

Martinu in Paris, 1937

Martinů in Paris, 1937, from the Bohuslav Martinů Institute database

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.

I don’t know enough about football to pun…

Operavore, the Opera-dedicated division of WQXR, New York’s public classical music radio station, will be celebrating March Madness in its own way this week, with a full streaming opera each weekday at 2pm, each having some notable “mad scene”.  The week’s full schedule, from Mozart’s Idomeneo to Bernstein’s Candide, is available here; the Operavore stream can be listened to on the WQXR website.

In keeping with the sports theme, a new opera about Bum Phillips, American football coach, premiered in New York at La MaMa last week, and is up through the end of the month.  Commissioned by the collective Monk Parrots, with music by Peter Stopschinski and libretto by Kirk Lynn, it was apparently live-streamed earlier today  : P  How did I miss that!?

Revenge-Heartburn

Magic Flute on Boumeries

Copyright Boum.

Didn’t know French-Canadian cartoonist Boum was an opera fan!  A kindred spirit out there!  Interesting though, maybe that’s a good way to turn kids on to opera, by exploiting the dramatic aspect of it all…  I saw plenty of opera as a kid, but didn’t start to really like it until I was older, so I wonder how I would teach any little ones in my life to like it…

Boum posted a great Dessay interpretation of the aria to accompany her comic, so to mix it up, here’s one by Joan Sutherland instead:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7R5F6aPMRSk&w=350&h=300]

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.

Okun at the Opera

Two of my parallel interests intersected recently, when an artist I discovered while cataloging books at my library internship showed up as a set designer for a production at Los Angeles Opera this season.

Carmy Skylight Triptych by Jenny Okun

Carmy Skylight Triptych, Copyright Jenny Okun

Jenny Okun is a LA-&-London-based photographer who creates abstract, cubist-like digital composite images of architectural spaces.  The LA Opera production in question is the world premiere of Lee Holdridge‘s Dulce Rosa, based on a story by Isabel Allende.  Set to premiere in May, Okun will be working with set designer Yael Pardess, designing backdrop projections. Continue reading