08 September 2011

random previews: operatic

I’ll start off with what is sure to be a highlight: Ensemble Parallele is premiering a new chamber-opera reduction (prepared by Jacques Desjardin) of Harbison’s The Great Gatsby, 10-12 February 2012. I saw this opera at the Met and generally liked it quite a bit, though there was some major miscasting of the leads. So even without Ensemble Parallele’s dazzling track record, I’d be eager to see a different production.

San Francisco Opera made things easy for me this year by having a comparatively large number of operas I’ve never seen before, plus several I’ve seen too often, which made the choosing easy:

Heart of a Soldier, by Christopher Theofanidis (world premiere, so of course I haven’t seen it) – honestly I’m a bit dubious about the concept of a “9/11” opera, but we (meaning I) shall see.

Lucrezia Borgia by Donizetti, starring Renee Fleming.

Xerxes (Serse) by Handel: a lifetime of loving baroque opera, and I’ve never seen this one live! I missed last year’s production at West Edge Opera (formerly known as Berkeley Opera). I was busy with too many other performances, and then I lost the Internet and phone service for several days, making it difficult to buy tickets. Anyway the cast here is very good so I’d probably go again anyway: Susan Graham, Lisette Oropesa, David Daniels, Sonia Prina, Heidi Stober, Michael Sumuel.

Nixon in China by John Adams: I love this opera, and have never seen it live.

Attila, by Verdi.

As for SF Opera’s other offerings: the clear light of economic necessity restrained me, as it occasionally does, but of course I might get tickets if I hear a particular production is the greatest thing since sliced bread, or whatever the last great thing was.

Turandot is probably my favorite Puccini opera, but I’m tired of the Hockney production and I've seen too many weak casts in it; this Don Giovanni just doesn't spark me; Carmen has an intriguing cast (Kate Aldrich, Thiago Arancam, Sara Gartland, Paulo Szot) but, as with Turandot and Don Giovanni, I don’t know if I need to see another Carmen at this point.

I’m not sure what to do about The Magic Flute; as with the three operas I’ve just mentioned, I really have experienced it enough to last me for quite a while. Also, for some reason it will be sung in English; frankly it might be better to obscure some of this particular opera’s libretto. On the other hand, it does have Nathan Gunn as Papageno, one of his great roles, and I’ve never seen him in it live.

There’s also a Carmen for Families. The concept of a “family” Carmen has been making local opera fans (well, the ones I know) chuckle – personally, I’m holding out for the “family” Moses und Aron – and the squeaky-clean plot summary provided by the opera doesn’t help (“featuring the alluring Gypsy girl Carmen, the Spanish soldier who loves her and the brave bullfighter who wins her heart” – uh, I guess that all is, in some sense, accurate, but it does make it sound like a wholesome Danish ballet), but I think what’s really going on here – the dirty little secret at the heart of Carmen for Families – is that most nineteenth-century operas are simply too long for – I won’t say for modern taste, but for the exigencies of modern life.

The Unfamily Carmen runs about three and a half hours, which might be daunting for someone who isn’t already a devoted fan of the form, or even someone who just has to work for a living. (I mean, I love Carmen, and am particularly fond of the dawn music that opens the fourth act, but when considering whether to see it again I have to admit its length gave me pause; there are plenty of other new and unseen things going on to which I could give that chunk of time.) But in these days of restored cuts and scholarly revised editions, it really isn’t artistically respectable to say, “Look, we’re going to cut this because it drags and half of you have already seen it a dozen times anyway and you need to get to work tomorrow morning.” Carmen is done often enough so that it's safe to experiment with it, but the bulk of the San Francisco opera audience is clearly too dull and conservative for a radical re-imagining in the style of Peter Brooks’s Tragedie de Carmen. Hence we have Carmen for Families. That’s my take on it, anyway.

Speaking of radical operatic revisions and the clash between old art forms and modern needs, the afore-mentioned West Edge Opera has scheduled three productions centering on those tensions: Ariadne auf Naxos in late October-early November, a manga-style Magic Flute in March 2012, and in late July-early August 2012, the west coast premiere of Ezra Laderman’s Marilyn, which is about Ms Monroe, not Ms Horne.

I did have some thoughts about another trip to the mighty Met, but they’ve spaced out the things I’d like to see – basically, Satyagraha, Khovanshchina, The Enchanted Island (which sounds delightful), and Ernani – in a really inconvenient way. There’s also Nathan Gunn in Billy Budd, for only three performances, and Karita Mattila in The Makropolus Case, which she sang in San Francisco last year (blowing the rest of the season out of the water; my post is here).

Though I’ve seen both performers in these roles (Gunn sang Billy here in I think 2004; I tried to see him in Pittsburgh but he was sick for the performances I attended), they’d be worth seeing again – and can I just say I’m stunned that the Met hasn’t scheduled both these operas for livecasts? Both performers are approaching legendary in these roles, both are incredibly photogenic, both are fine actors, both operas are widely considered twentieth-century masterpieces and neither is well-represented on DVD, and . . . no plans to film either, apparently. I really don’t know who makes these decisions, and why. But then there are so many things veiled from me.

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