Wednesday, June 18, 2008
This is the Bocca della Verita—the mouth of truth—currently mounted on the wall of a small building facing the so-called Temple of Vesta in Rome. It’s reputed to be a test of honesty and the place to bring someone who’s to make a promise or swear an oath to you. The legend is that if someone swears a false oath while his or her hand rests inside the mouth, the marble jaws will snap shut as punishment.
Archaeologists are pretty certain that the Bocca originated in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) a little over 2000 years ago, represents a river god, and was one face on a large fountain with water pouring out of its mouth. How it wound up in Rome is much less clear.
Italians have always liked communing with stone faces. In Venice during the Renaissance, you could denounce someone anonymously to the inquisition by dropping a note into a stone lion’s mouth mounted on a wall of the palace. Various other stone or bronze faces served as mailboxes to inform against tax cheats and other kinds of lawbreakers.
Opera Boston has established itself in an astonishingly short time as the city’s premiere opera company. It managed this by not underestimating the audience’s intelligence while the older, seemingly better established Boston Lyric Opera lost a considerable chunk of its subscription base by declaring it was going to produce only the “top 20 operas” all the time, canceling a contracted world premiere and what was to have been its first production of a work by Leos Janacek in the process.
However, the music scene in Boston is varied and pretty sophisticated; Opera Boston sold out contemporary and unfamiliar operas in strong, imaginative productions while BLO lost audience with its recycled standards. Now there’s this:
Boston gets new opera from old legend
By Jeremy Eichler
Opera Boston will present the world premiere of an opera by Chinese-American composer Zhou Long. "Madame White Snake," based on a millennium-old Chinese legend adapted by Brookline librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs, will be given four performances at the Cutler Majestic Theatre beginning in February 2010 and will travel to Beijing later that year.
"Madame White Snake" is co-commissioned by Opera Boston and the Beijing Music Festival. It represents the first main-stage opera commission for the local company and the first American partnership for the festival. After the Chinese premiere in October 2010, the opera may be performed in Shanghai and in Boston's sister city of Hangzhou, where the ancient legend is set. Robert Woodruff, former artistic director of the American Repertory Theatre, will direct the production. Soprano Ying Huang and male soprano Michael Maniaci will be among the cast conducted by Opera Boston music director Gil Rose.
"I think it's an acknowledgment of the adventurous audience we have at Opera Boston, and a testimony to their appetite for interesting work," said Opera Boston general director Carole Charnow by phone. The budget for "Madame White Snake" is projected to reach $2.2 million, roughly equivalent to the company's entire operating budget for a typical season. Charnow says fund-raising efforts have begun, and State Street Corp. has pledged its sponsorship. The mayor's office is assisting with publicity and contacts in Hangzhou, says Julie Burns, director of the Mayor's Office of Arts, Tourism & Special Events.
Zhou, 54, came to this country in 1985 and teaches at the conservatory of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He and his wife, Chen Yi, are prominent members of a generation of émigré Chinese composers who lived through the Cultural Revolution and have emerged as an animating force in contemporary classical music. This will be Zhou's first opera.
The idea for "Madame White Snake" actually originated with Jacobs, a Chinese-American attorney with no experience working in opera. Growing up in Singapore, she often heard the Chinese Opera versions of the Madame White Snake legend, about a demon who transforms itself into a woman and falls in love with a mortal man. Speaking by phone about her English-language libretto, Jacobs said that despite its mythic origins, "This is really a story about choice, brought down to a human psychic, emotional level."
Jacobs first showed Zhou the libretto over a dinner meeting early last year in New York City. He too had grown up with the legend and was immediately attracted to the subject, he said by phone: "I already felt the melody as I read."
The wit and wisdom of George W. Bush
I glance at the headlines just to kind of get a flavor for what's moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read the news themselves. (September 21, 2003)
Tony--yes, Peck and Hepburn, very romantic. The day I got to the face I was a little scared to put my hand in--I've, ahem, stretched the truth here and there in my life.
Ted--write it! You have a great porn novel in you just from your blog archives! Do you know Alex of The Great Cock Hunt? He got a book deal to adapt his blog entries into a linear narrative and is now a published author.