Friday, May 09, 2008

My two most recent Chinese fortune cookie “fortunes”:

With integrity and consistency, your credits are piling up.
Some pursue happiness; you create it.

Fritz was very gallant to say that he agreed with second one especially.


This has been a big opera week for me both as an audience member and professionally. It began on Sunday with the Boston Symphony’s complete performance of Hector Berlioz’s epic Les Troyens, based on Virgil’s The Aenead.

Troyens isn’t the longest opera in the standard repertory—at least three of Wagner’s are twenty minutes or so longer. But at four hours, with a huge cast, massive, magnificent choruses, ballet sequences, and a finale featuring the self-immolation death of Queen Dido of Carthage on a pyre built on the shore in sight of her lover fleeing by ship—well, it has a certain monumental presence that justified a 3pm starting time with a two hour dinner break between Parts One and Two.

The BSO assembled a great cast but the most impressive work was done by the peerless Tanglewood Festival Chorus and the orchestra, all of whom performed with sustained incandescence.


Tuesday, Opera Boston gave the last performance of the run of it’s third and last production of the year, Giuseppe Verdi’s early opera Ernani.

There’s nothing particularly subtle about this opera based on the play by Victor Hugo that ignited riots in the theater at the Paris premiere in 1830. The French love nothing more than a roaring good scandale in the arts (well maybe a great cheese made from unpasteurized milk, but a scandale in the arts, preferably with fist fights in the audience, is a VERY close second). Hugo threw the very first messy, exciting, “rule”-breaking manifestation of Romanticism in Paris’s face; Verdi responded thirteen years later with a score overflowing with melody, rhythmic energy, deep purple passions, and virtuoso turns for four major stars.

Opera Boston had four very good singers, if not major stars, and two of them already have some respectable Metropolitan Opera credits. Eduardo Villa has a big, muscular dramatic tenor to match his solidly impressive physique. It takes a while to warm up a voice that heavy but once he got going he produced some nice, and even some delicate, tone. Barbara Quintiliani, something of a local heroine, is a genuine Verdi soprano with big, shining top notes. They, along with Jason Stearns, whose warm baritone has a satisfying snarl for the big moments, and Young-Bok Kim, a suave bass, all had big, Italianate voices over which they had varying amounts of control from about 85 to 95 percent.

The production embraced the fact that Ernani is and can only be a very old-fashioned opera.
This was a deliberate director/design team choice, which they carried through successfully, and I thought it was a pretty smart way to go. The stage looked a lot like some of the old photographs from the 1910 Victor Book of the Opera. Costumes were rich and detailed, the singers stood and sang straight out to the audience a lot of the time although they had clearly been directed and had a good sense of character. It was a fun evening with some thoroughly decent singing.


All this week I’ve been preparing for Intermezzo’s production of Socrate by Eric Satie and A Last Goodbye by two of my MIT colleagues, composer Charles Shadle and librettist Michael Ouellette. We do a put-in of my sets and lighting design on Sunday with technical and dress rehearsals all week, leading to performances on Friday and Saturday.


Last night I drove four exits east on NH Route 101 to the town of Exeter and met with the owner/manager of the Ioka Theater, a World War I era theater/movie/vaudeville/burlesque house that’s transforming itself into a vibrant performance venue for music, foreign and art films, and a variety of mixed-genre rentals combining cinema, live performance and social events like wedding receptions and charity fund-raisers.

In the wake of the tremendous success of the Metropolitan Opera’s series of high-definition live telecasts the last two years, the Ioka’s presenting a series of recorded high definition video and audio performances of operas from three major Italian opera houses—La Scala (Milan), The Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (Florence), and the Teatro La Fenice (Venice). I was there to see the place and discuss doing introductions and historical background for the audience before each showing, with some further discussion and a question and answer session during the first intermission.

The Ioka dates to 1915 and has a nicely sized, rather high auditorium. The operas won’t be shown there, however, but downstairs in the cabaret, an intimate space with table seating, a bar, and state of the art everything in terms of sound and projection equipment. The effect will be like inviting a bunch—a big bunch—of friends in to watch the operas in an art deco living room setting on an enormous flat screen system.

The operas to be shown are:
La Scala: Verdi’s Aida and La Traviata; Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde; Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda and Puccini’s Il Trittico
Maggio Musicale: Verdi’s La Forza del Destino
La Fenice: Puccini’s La Rondine
Each opera is shown twice, on a Wednesday and on a Sunday ten days apart with all performances at 2pm, running from mid-June to mid-December.

The owner and I got along very well. I left him a copy of my resume, and we have an agreement that I’ll do the whole series. We talked terms: I get to have a drink or two and whatever food items I want from the bar gratis, a season ticket for all the operas that I can give to anyone I want, and all my gas expenses will be reimbursed. It’s a decent deal, one that gets my foot in the door toward what I would eventually like to do which is writing program notes and perhaps doing dramaturgy for one of the opera companies here in the state.

Speaking of which, tonight I’m off to Granite State Opera’s production of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte in Portsmouth, with a friend of ours playing first flute in the pit.

It's a sign of the times when you're negotiating for gas money.

Sounds like a nice little theatre, been going to NH all my life and I've learned more about the cultural goings on from you then I ever knew existed.
Your next fortune:

Your use of scare quotes has not gone unnoticed by the powers that be. Beware!

I think Barbara Quintiliani looks a little like Caroline Rhea in that picture.
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