The Opera Thread

Started by Hester Jean, Jul 31, 2017, 06:51 pm

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Hester Jean

As requested by @Vera Charles  :)

A recap of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis' past season*:

The highlight was a revised version of Ricky Ian Gordan and Michael Korie's Grapes of Wrath.  Set in a Depression Era soup kitchen, the cast acts out the story using props on hand (it worked better than I explained.  I suck at reviews! :( Hopefully @Bookman George can add more.)  The score is so beautiful and the story so relevant for today.  And when I met Korie, I told him I knew Donna and he praised her highly!

My second favorite was the American premiere of Philip Glass' The Trial.  It was amazing! Even Glass-haters enjoyed it.  It was basically the same production team as the Music Theatre Wales.  The set having to be revisioned since we have a thrust stage.  Theo Hoffman was Joseph K and was incredible!  And he is only 24!  A friend and I sat next to his parents Opening Night and they were so proud!  And for the second time this season, we had the composer and the librettist there!

Not so for Mozart ;)  It is our Music  Director's 25th and final season and he was allowed to pick his opera and cast.  He choose La Clemenza di Tito (we called it Titus, because according to our GM, people are afraid of foreign titles.) with Rene Barbara and Laura Wilde.  Beautiful music, beautifully sung.  Plot, eh!

The fourth (I was going to last, but it was actually the opening opera) was Madame Butterfly.  It was fine, not as good as the one we did several years ago with Kelly Kaduce.  I wasn't fond of the set and Puccini, like Mozart, failed to show up!  :D  Rena Harms played Cio-Cio-San, a part she is playing throughout the world for the next year.

*Disclosure - I am very involve with OTSL.  I was on the Volunteer Board last year and spend most of my June there.  I am very partial O:-)

Hester Jean

More Saint Louis Opera:

Union Avenue Opera's first show was Britten's Albert Herring with Christine Brewer.  She did Doubt with them last year.  UAO is much smaller and affordable for opera.  They operate out of church (the Union Avenue Church ;) ), but they have been very successful and have turned into a fairly nice venue.  They did a great job on Albert Herring. I only usher for them, so I'm not as partial O0



Bookman George

Thanks for starting the thread, Connie. I will post on both the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis season and Albert Herring later today, if I have time. I have to run now...


valmont

I wish I had seen Grapes of Wrath.  But the soup kitchen concept seems odd.  Was it introduced by the director? Or is it part of the revision?
I was born to ask "why was I born?"

Hester Jean

Quote from: valmont on Aug 01, 2017, 08:15 amI wish I had seen Grapes of Wrath.  But the soup kitchen concept seems odd.  Was it introduced by the director? Or is it part of the revision?
It was the director's choice, but the reason Gordon and Korie wanted the revised version was to make to easier to be produce in the future.  So a more simple set and it was cut down to just under three hours. 

valmont

Also, I'm super jealous that you got to meet Korie.  IMO he is the best lyricist working today after Sondheim.
I was born to ask "why was I born?"

AmyG

That season sounds amazing @Hester Jean! I especially would have loved to see Grapes of Wrath and The Trial.

I did the LA Opera season with a friend last year and I'm going this coming season as well. The highlights last season were...

  • Tales of Hoffman. Our Hoffman was Vittorio Grigolo. He was great. I think Hoffman is my favorite opera -- so far (I haven't seen them all  ;) ).
  • The Abduction from the Seraglio. This was set in the 20s with beautiful deco sets and costumes.
  • Phillip Glass's Akhnaten. The music was beautiful but it moved very slowly.
  • Wonderful Town in concert. Faith Prince was Ruth and Nikki James was Eileen. @Chris L went with us as well.

They also did Tosca and Macbeth. I'm not great at reviews either. Sorry.

Next season they are doing:

  • Carmen
  • The Peal Fishers
  • Nabucco (starring Placido Domingo)
  • Candide with Kelsey Grammer as Pangloss (Chris will come to that one as well)
  • Orpheus and Eurydice featuring the Joffrey Ballet
  • Rigoletto

There will be two recitals: Audra McDonald (yay!),  which Chris will attend and a 50th anniversary concert for Placido Domingo.

Chris L

Quote from: AmyG on Aug 01, 2017, 10:59 am
  • Wonderful Town in concert. Faith Prince was Ruth and Nikki James was Eileen. @Chris L went with us as well.

I probably don't even have to say that Faith Prince was great, but Nikki James, who TV viewers know from shows like The Good Wife and BrainDead, was adorable. She's not only charismatic, but God can she dance.
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?

fjlumia

Unfortunately, the Met tickets are outrageously expensive and NYCO went belly up.  The last opera I was was La Boheme at the movies.  it was the Zefferelli production which is wonderful.  Its the only one in which the second act makes sense.  The cafe is below and indoors and above is part of the street.  Others have kept them outside which is stupid since it is a COLD Christmas Eve.  The first and 4th act set is also great.

Thanks to UTube I saw the Zefferelli production of Turandot which was lovely.  There was a recent PBS viewing of the Pearl Fishers which was superb. The recent Otello was so so.  Renee Fleming was wonderful but the tenor was the Berlin wall!.  I saw Jon Vickers do it bare-chested!  He looked like a warrior.

Would have loved to have seen Grapes of Wrath.  NYCO did Dead Man Walking which was quite good.  They also did Evangeline base on a novel which may have been true.  It was also good.  Blickstein's Regina was not up to the Hellman play and Adams' Little Women was a bore.  The 5 women all had the same vocal range and none had any distinctive melody.  One never knew who was singing!

My taste in opera is plebeian.  I like Puccini,Verdi, Motzart, Rossini, Bizet and occasional newer ones, like Dialogue of the Carmelites.  Also like Boris Gudanov,   Some like the Love of 3 Oranges is just fun.  Saw Vanessa which is reported to be a "great opera".  Hated the story and the music.

Still have many more I would love to see.  Eugene Onegin is available on utube, as is the Las Vegas version of Rigoletto which works!  The recent Met production of La Traviata without furniture and all women dressed as men, was terrible. Violetta had to die laying on the bare stage!  Ridiculous.  I don't mind new ideas about opera but they have to have some thought involved to make sense.
stu


fjlumia

I should mention the first operas I saw.  I saw Turandot with Birgit Nielson and Tosca with Tito Gobbi.  Both were Met productions playing in Chicago.  Tosca was magnificently staged. Gobbi wore shoes with little red heels to show he was devilish!  The finale of Act One was so well staged that it was overwhelming with Scarpia singing how he will seduce Tosca and all the clergy entering climaxing with the cardinal blessing Scarpia as the music crescendo ed.

I have my friends to thank for dragging me to my first opera and my first ballet.  They opened my eyes and my vistas.

Bookman George

I am later with this than I meant to be - sorry!

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis - 2017 season

Hester Jean / Connie listed the shows above. I will add my thoughts.

I thought The Grapes of Wrath was epic and moving in many scenes. I was not at all familiar with the original, longer version, so I can't compare the two. And I not read the novel since I was in high school, which is over 50 years ago now. I did see the Henry Fonda movie at some point in the late '70s. So I did not recall much beyond the basic story line of the Joad family.  Musically, there were many moments of great beauty - some fine ensemble singing (not unusual at OTSL, since the chorus is made up of young artists) and fine solo work, particularly from Tom, Ma, and Rosasharn. The most striking scene was the death of Noah, the older son, which was mimed behind a scrim, with Ma sitting stage right, holding a baby, and remembering her son as an infant. The soup kitchen was used as a sort of framework for the opera - the set remained on the stage the whole time - but it was not really part of the action most of the time.  The opening scene was actually set in the soup kitchen, where the idea of the dust bowl was introduced. At the end of the scene, all the people in the kitchen picked up a plate and blew on it, creating little puffs of dust all over the stage. It was a simple, but vivid, expression of the desperation of the area. The cast used chairs and tables and benches to create the various set pieces to tell the story, particularly the old truck they drove to California. It all worked very well, theatrically. I would recommend that anyone who loves opera and has a chance to see a production try to do so - it really was a fine evening, both musically and dramatically.

The Trial was also stunning theater. Musically, all the real interest was in the orchestra, which played Glass's music beautifully. (OTSL uses the Saint Louis Symphony in the pit, so the orchestra is always first rate.) I was speaking to one of the singers, Keith Phares, one evening before I saw The Trial, and he said not to expect any lyrical singing, and he was right. But the accompaniment was lush and lovely, as well as typically Philip Glass, so I did not notice mind the lack of vocal splendor from the singers. The piece was played on a stark set - a square set diagonally on the stage, and raked - with the upstage wall providing some doors and windows the cast could use to observe and comment on the action. Most of the singers played several roles, and they were all on stage almost all the time, watching when they were not actually part of the scene. It brought home the idea of the oppressive state bearing down on the main character. It all seemed disturbingly apt to our current situation, if I may be allowed a political observation. Glass calls it a comic opera, and it was surprising funny. A very powerful production.

Titus, the Mozart, was the outstanding musical event of the season. There are six singers: two sopranos, two mezzos (both trouser roles), a tenor, and a bass-baritone. The chorus is used sparingly. All the singers in this production were splendid. To me, the two mezzos were absolutely perfect. It is hard to beat gorgeous Mozart arias and duets, sung at this level of artistry. The opera is rather static - it is in the style of Opera Seria, which was on its last legs when Mozart composed Titus. So there is a lot of characters standing around expressing how they feel and not all that much actual action. But the singing was so glorious that I didn't mind at all. The production was effective. Over the stage hung a huge eagle. As Titus's world collapses, so did the eagle, until it was in pieces on the ground. There were a few strange acting choices - whether made by the director or the singer, I don't know. The soprano singing Vitellia, who is at the center of all the characters, took a sort of flippant demeanor that seemed inappropriate sometimes. It did get some laughs, but really did not reflect the seriousness of the libretto. Perhaps others didn't mind it as much as I did.

That leaves Butterfly. It was the first opera I ever loved, and I know its every note. This was a serviceable production. I too disliked the set, which looked cheap. The house was represented by a single rectangular structure that revolved as needed, and had sliding screens that made it seem vaguely Japanese. Behind the house rose a "mountain" made of fabric. There were no tree branches, no garden, no sense that the house overlooked the harbor. I was wondering how they were going to gather the flowers for the flower duet (my absolute favorite moment in the opera) and the solution was most unsatisfactory. Suzuki and the boy went offstage and returned with what appeared to be pillow cases, and they emptied the contents in heaps on the stage. The reviewer for the newspaper said it looked like nothing so much as yard waste, and she was absolutely right. The singing was mostly fine, especially the baritone who played Sharpless. As Connie mentioned, the Butterfly is now singing the role all over the place. She has a large, beautiful voice, and there were many highlights to her performance. But she never, for a second, seemed to be a naive 15 year old. That might be less of a problem in a larger house, but at OTSL, the audience is very close to the stage and it seemed incongruous. I did not like the tenor at all. I thought his voice was simply not pretty, though I have to admit he was smarmy and unlikeable. I have seen far better productions of the opera, including the one Connie mentioned with Kelly Kaduce, which had me in tears, something I thought would never happen at any performance of Butterfly again in my life time.

And Union Avenue Opera:

They perform in a church, which has been revamped to have a pit and a small, but workable, stage. Within the limitations of the space, they have done some remarkable operas. The best before this season were Dead Men Walking and Doubt, both of which were outstanding. Their production of Albert Herring this July is now at the top of my list of things I have seen there. It is one of my favorite operas, and I love the way the cast of about 13 can represent the whole town of Loxford. In this production, Christine Brewer (who still lives in the small Illinois town where she grew up) was by far the big name, but she was simply part of the ensemble. Everyone in the cast was wonderful. The setting was beautiful, the costumes lovely. This production was every bit as good as the one I saw at Opera Theatre during their first season (1976) which is saying something, because that production caught the eye of the BBC and they came to St. Louis to record it when Opera Theatre repeated it two years later. It was broadcast in England and the US.

I will go to the second of Union Avenue's productions tomorrow night: Carousel. The first time they have done a B'way musical, though they did a very good Porgy and Bess, in conjunction with the Black Rep, a local theater company, a few years ago. I am looking forward to Carousel. I love the music, although the story does get a bit creaky toward the end.  I will report on it later.

Hester Jean

Quote from: Bookman George on Aug 03, 2017, 10:31 pmI will go to the second of Union Avenue's productions tomorrow night: Carousel. The first time they have done a B'way musical, though they did a very good Porgy and Bess, in conjunction with the Black Rep, a local theater company, a few years ago. I am looking forward to Carousel. I love the music, although the story does get a bit creaky toward the end.  I will report on it later.
I have more to add, but it will have to wait.  BUT I am ushering tomorrow night, so I will look for you!

Hester Jean

Quote from: AmyG on Aug 01, 2017, 10:59 amThat season sounds amazing @Hester Jean! I especially would have loved to see Grapes of Wrath and The Trial.

I did the LA Opera season with a friend last year and I'm going this coming season as well. The highlights last season were...

  • Tales of Hoffman. Our Hoffman was Vittorio Grigolo. He was great. I think Hoffman is my favorite opera -- so far (I haven't seen them all  ;) ).
  • The Abduction from the Seraglio. This was set in the 20s with beautiful deco sets and costumes.
  • Phillip Glass's Akhnaten. The music was beautiful but it moved very slowly.
  • Wonderful Town in concert. Faith Prince was Ruth and Nikki James was Eileen. @Chris L went with us as well.

They also did Tosca and Macbeth. I'm not great at reviews either. Sorry.

Next season they are doing:

  • Carmen
  • The Peal Fishers
  • Nabucco (starring Placido Domingo)
  • Candide with Kelsey Grammer as Pangloss (Chris will come to that one as well)
  • Orpheus and Eurydice featuring the Joffrey Ballet
  • Rigoletto

There will be two recitals: Audra McDonald (yay!),  which Chris will attend and a 50th anniversary concert for Placido Domingo.

And your season sounds great!  ;D   Our Joseph K from The Trial, Theo Hoffman, is going to be in your Carmen.

Hester Jean

Quote from: Hester Jean on Aug 04, 2017, 11:25 am
Quote from: Bookman George on Aug 03, 2017, 10:31 pmI will go to the second of Union Avenue's productions tomorrow night: Carousel. The first time they have done a B'way musical, though they did a very good Porgy and Bess, in conjunction with the Black Rep, a local theater company, a few years ago. I am looking forward to Carousel. I love the music, although the story does get a bit creaky toward the end.  I will report on it later.
I have more to add, but it will have to wait.  BUT I am ushering tomorrow night, so I will look for you!
I just realized you wrote this on Thursday, but I read it on Friday, so we were there separate nights!
I thought Carousel was very well done.  I could have used less distraction on stage during the Overture. 

Hester Jean

Quote from: Bookman George on Aug 03, 2017, 10:31 pmI am later with this than I meant to be - sorry!

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis - 2017 season

Hester Jean / Connie listed the shows above. I will add my thoughts.

I thought The Grapes of Wrath was epic and moving in many scenes. I was not at all familiar with the original, longer version, so I can't compare the two. And I not read the novel since I was in high school, which is over 50 years ago now.

And I'm even later at responding back! I can't seem to break a quote up, so I'm going to do this in chunks.
Strangely enough, before I even knew what this season was going to be, I had reread The Grapes of Wrath and read The Trial.  The book club I was in, but dropped out of, was going to read Grapes and I thought I'd go ahead and reread.  The Trial I have been wanting to read since The Eyre Affair and had just got around to it. Both much easier than Shalimar the Clown :-[