Opera

Glimmerglass 2017: Opera in Angustiis: Commentaries for our Troubled Times in Stunning Glimmerglass Season Siege of Calais

Talise Trevigne as Bess and Frederick Ballentine as Sportin' Life in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2017 production of The Gershwins' "Porgy and Bess." Photo Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

The late Donizetti masterpiece, L’assedio di Calais (The Siege of Calais) is a rarity indeed, even in Europe. Four years after the first performance, l’assedio was not performed again until 1990.  One hundred and eighty-one years after its premiere in 1836, this Glimmerglass production marked the American premiere.  During its composition, Donizetti had struggled with it and bent operatic conventions to seek performances in Paris. Ultimately, the opera was a tactical failure and Donizetti wound up with two versions, with an unequal number of acts. In preparation for this production, Francesca Zambello and Joseph Colaneri worked on a new performing edition that tightened loose ends and yielded a satisfactory, if not compelling, conclusion.  Some ballet music was lost in the cuts, but dance (to curry favor with French opera goers) would be an awkward addition to the nobility and gravity of the plot. In the Zambello/Colaneri conclusion, the final exculpation of six sacrificial hostages was emotionally and musically heartrending.

Dvořák’s Grand Opera, Dimitrij, at Bard

Dvořák, DImitrij, Ensemble, Bard Summerscape. Photo Cory Weaver.

The word has been that Antonin Dvořák’s grand Opera, Dimitrij is a lost and rediscovered masterpiece. Whatever one thinks of it musically, dramatically, or politically, it is clear that the reasons for its neglect arise from its faulty transmission. Dvořák had great hopes for it. He thought it might be his ticket to international fame as an opera composer. Unfortunately—it turns out—the influential music critic, Eduard Hanslick attended the premiere in Prague…and liked it very much—both score and libretto—and wrote a highly positive, intelligent review. He made certain criticisms, however, which Dvořák took very seriously, especially because of Hanslick’s praise and his position as the most influential critic in Vienna, the Hauptstadt of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For Dvořák Vienna was the first step to international recognition, and he desperately wanted a production there.

Dvořák’s Rare Grand Opera, Dimitrij, Coming Up at Bard Summerscape, beginning July 28 [REVISED]

Olga Tolkmit as Xenia in Dvořák's grand opera, Dimitrij at Bard Summerscape, 2017.

Bard Summerscape visitors have much to look forward to in this year’s fully-staged production of Dvořák’s rarely performed grand opera, Dimitrij. For this ambitious work Dvořák set a Russian subject, the unhappy fate of the false pretender, Dimitrij, who appeared after the death of Boris Godunov, presenting himself as the son of Ivan the Terrible. The libretto was by Marie Červinková-Riegrová, one of the preeminent Czech librettists of the time, the deeply educated daughter of leading Czech politician František Ladislav Rieger, and a granddaughter of the famous historian František Palacký. In her libretto, which advisedly took liberties with historical accuracy, Dimitrij was a young Russian serf who was taken up by Poles and brought up to believe that he was in fact the son of Ivan. Hence in this opera, he is the innocent victim of ruthless Poles, eager to destabilize Russia. He is unhappily married the the Polish Princess Marina, who is merely interested in using him for her own national and personal ends.

A Room with Two Views: Campra and Handel at the Boston Early Music Festival

Caroline Copeland in Cmapras's Le Carnaval de Venise. Photo Kathy Wittman.

Two large-scale vocal works were presented at BEMF on successive nights (Wednesday and Thursday, June 14 and 15), one a work of music theater, merging opera and ballet; the other devotional but in the musical language of opera absent the staging. Composed within nine years of each other, they offer contrasting perspectives of Italian music and culture from the points of view of a French and a German composer. Both were clearly besotted with Italy, one responding to the carnival spirit of Venice with its light-hearted approach to life, love, and entertainment; and the other situated at the center of the sober religious and devotional culture of Rome. Experiencing these two works back-to-back and interpreted by many of the same performers provided a wonderfully condensed testament to the multidimensional attractions and influences that Italian opera radiated at the turn of the 18th century.

Félicien David’s Herculanum at the Wexford Festival: Opera Grand and Melodious

Émile Pierre Metzmacher. Portrait of Félicien David, 1858.

Music festivals often pride themselves on reviving works that, for whatever combination of reasons, have fallen out of the repertory. One important French grand opera of 1859, Herculanum, by Félicien David, got its first recording two years ago and reached the opera stage—for the first time in nearly a century—at Wexford Festival Opera this past October. Reviewers of the recording, including New York Arts contributor Ralph P. Locke, were struck by the melodic richness of the music, the keenly characterized solo roles, and the imaginative use of orchestra and chorus. Reviewers of the Wexford production were more muted, though perhaps the low-budget and curiously updated production had something to do with that. Locke, who is a professor emeritus of musicology at the Eastman School of Music, contributed an essay to the WFO’s program book that gives a sense of this fascinating work. We reprint it here with the festival’s kind permission.

2016 in retrospect — The Bard Music Festival: Giacomo Puccini and his World

Giacomo Puccini. © Frank C. Bangs, Library of Congress.

If advance gossip is any indicator, this year’s Bard Festival, devoted to Giacomo Puccini and his World, was one of the most controversial. “Puccini! Controversial!” You say, “There’s not really enough in him to have a controversy about, is there? Those sappy tear-jerkers speak for themselves.” In fact there was a lot of grumbling. Some festival regulars stayed away, or dragged themselves to only one concert, the one that included pieces by Dallapiccola, Pizzetti, and Petrassi. Even with these absentees the Festival sold out, or came close to selling out. Most of the concerts and the panel discussions were packed.

Openings: Boston Musica Viva plays Boulez, Marteau sans maître, and Nelsons and the BSO present Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier

R. Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier: Andris Nelsons, Renée Fleming, Franz Hawlata, Susan Graham. Photo Winslow Townson.

One hoped and expected there would be performances of Pierre Boulez pieces in Boston this season to honor this great musician who died last winter. The Berlin Philharmonic, hardly a local group, will play one piece on its visit here in November. I don’t see anything else on the horizon. So, many thanks to Boston Musica Viva, our fine contemporary music ensemble now in its 48th year, for opening its season with Boulez’s perhaps most significant work, Le Marteau sans maître (The Hammer without a Master, 1954-57).

Glimmerglass Festival 2016 – Opera for the Inner Birdwatcher…and the Rest of Us!

As always, I seek some unifying subtext for the offerings, and this year the quest was, at face value, quite simple: birds. An outdoor avian sculpture and a birder challenge in the program booklets left no doubt of the “theme” intended.  However, the degree of suggestion varied from the most obvious (Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie) to the surreal (Sondheim’s Sweeny Todd) and merely suggestive in the others. Rossini’s rarely performed dramatic comedy, La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) was the most interesting production this season.  While I would never concur with Toscanini’s equating Rossini’s talent to that of Mozart (in quality and not merely in youthful quantity), the mix of comedy and high drama certainly had pretensions to some of Mozart’s great operatic moments. Perhaps, Don Giovanni and Die Zauberflöte served as models for the young composer; he even manages some near literal quotes of these works in the second act.

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