Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Pearl Fishers and Turnadot

You don’t just go someplace when you go to the opera—the opera takes you someplace!.   

But while Opera  transports,  it is hardly an accurate travel guide.

Consider the latest two treasures from the Met Live Simulcast.

Bizet’s Les PĂȘcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers) set in Ceylon.

Puccini’s Turandot  set in Peking, China.

Since neither Bizet nor Puccini had traveled to the Orient,  logical to bypass any resemblance to reality, and set the scenes in ancient times, creating the  proper atmosphere of mystery and magic necessary for these rather outlandish stories.  

Both Bizet and Puccini it might be noted did set other operas very specific to time and place. Carmen is set in Serville while Tosca is possibly has the most detailed of any opera.

Although  the historical events are out of order in Tosca,  but there is no question about the scenes being  well known tourist spots in Rome. This was not only the beginning of opera verismo, but taking it down to the fine print.

But let’s go back to the beaches of Ceylon that would lure one to go beachcombing to the South Seas where one would hear beautiful singing by a goddess-priestess in the background.   Or  up to staircase in China that might have inspired Busby Berkley dance screen extravaganzas.

Both of these operas defy arguments which historical interpretations of Carmen and Tosca generate.  But while Carmen, (the cigarette factory girl/revolutionary gypsy) and Tosca (the star diva of the Roman stage) are both larger than life characters, they have could be real women in similar events of their time period.  

But Lelia and Turnadot?

While the Met’s lavish tech-y creation of Les PĂȘcheurs de Perles in a modern setting with details from wrist watches to tsumani waves would have been as foreign to Bizet as the ancient setting which he places his opera, and while the friendship-jealousy of the two men is as new as it is old, and while a crowd gathering to punish adultery by death is not far from our daily news, there is still something  about this Lalia, a goddess-priestess, that remains the stuffing  of fantasy.

This production has been well described in the reviews but to add my opinion to this —the opera has been waiting for this presentation, one that it deserves!   One that moves you into another space of the imagination, something that travel guides teases.

In the meantime, let’s go to the opera movie!


Tosca moves from  the chapel in the church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale in Rome on the afternoon of 17 June 1800, to  a  chamber in the Farnese Palace on the evening of 17 June 1800, to a country villa on the night of 17 June 1800,  to  Scarpia's apartments in the Castel Sant'Angelo before the dawn of 18 June 1800, and to the chapel at the Castel Sant'Angelo and a platform on the roof of the castle at dawn on 18 June 1800.

Not only does Tosca go to the church of Sant’Andrea, she goes to a specific chapel, that of the Barberini Chapel.  

If you  want to go check it out in person, see this site for details:

Thursday, January 7, 2016


What is on the stage at an opera is supposed to be grand. Save the personal chat for  the Intermission.  

But the Met Simulcast production of Il Trovatore blurred that boundary when Dmitri Hvorostovsky came on stage at the Met  this past October.

The audience clapped and cheered until Dmitri finally broke from his villainous baritone role of Count di Luna,  and let his sexy grin slip through.  The celebration was over his presence on stage while undergoing treatment for a brain tumor.  The curtain call on the production was also fabulous with flowers pelting the stage for Dmitri.

The intermissions brought  added touches of the personal when Anna Nebrebko introduced her adorable son (who was asking his mom when were they going home.)  

Dolora Zajick, whose  her first appearance  as Azucena was 25 years, with Pavarotti as Manrico, was asked what was that like? She answered, “I lived.”

So it continues—   these spots in a Met Simulcast, that go behind the scenes during intermission, opera notes enhancing  for newbies and enchanting  the diehard fans. 

I know a  review of an opera should be about the performance itself.  How did it measure up as a work of art and its production execution?   While details of the set and stage are certainly worth noting, what Met Simulcast does is take you behind the scenes during the intermission and show you what is involved, sometimes with the director or costume
designer or set crew being interviewed.

  It is one thing to read a  review that it is all pretty impressive.   But if you believe that writers should “show not tell’ — It is possible for you to see for yourself during these Intermission highlights.   

So that said,  what do you  talk about in intermission?


Bizet Les PĂȘcheurs de Perles (January 16)
Puccini Turandot (January 30)
Puccini Manon Lescaut (March 5)
Puccini Madama Butterfly (April 2)
Donizetti Roberto Devereux (April 16)
Strauss Elektra (April 30)
 All live events take place on Saturdays. Starting times vary with each performance but are usually between noon and 12;55. In addition to the live events, “Encore” (rerun) broadcasts maybe be added at later dates. 

  Tickets available online via FathomEvents.com or at the participating theater box office, 


APPOMATTOX-World Premiere of revised version, New Produtcion of
Philiip Glass/Christopher Hamptom’s opera at the Kennedy Center-November 2015

The Washington National Opera’s Artistic Director Francesco Zambello commented in her program notes that Diaglogue of the Carmelites  on her emotions regarding this opera  based on her visit to the burial site in Paris of 14 Carmelite nuns who were  slaughtered eduring   the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, on July 17, 1794.

The recent production of Appomattax had a similar resonance for me, albeit of  different places and times.

Let me divert from being a critical reviewer and explain.  The  opera which has been revised, is now in two acts.  The first is set in the week in 1865, before the Civil War is officially concluded by Grant and Lee at Appomattax Court House.  The second act  is set 1965, when the Lincoln White House is now Lyndon B. Johnson’s domain and the issue is the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

The two acts are like the front and back of a book,and what is in between in a 100 years
is a story that does not go to a peaceful end.  

For me, the two acts were startling— like two different parts in my life.  No, I was not alive
in 1865!  but I lived in one of the main arenas of the Civil War, where four battles were

 What I saw as a child  I saw photographs from the 1860’s  of my home town that looked remarkably unchanged  in post WWII USA. While Americans celebrated Victory in Europe and Japan, the remains of destruction of the Civil War were still to be found with bullets in my school yard, the site of  the Battle of Fredericksburg.  It was a town with two Civil War cemetaries,
one for the Union and one for the Confederates, a town with separate bathrooms and water fonts and waiting rooms for white and black.

In 1965, I entered Act II when  I moved to DC.  I  came to know some of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement.  As a theater critic, I am used to seeing people I know on the stage.  Seeing people I knew —and some whom I marched with  —portrayed on an opera stage at this production of Appomattax was another level of experience.  

But I digress.  The opera has received both wide praise as well as side comments. I find it difficult to do either because of what it was about my personal history that I brought  to this premier revision performance.

Many operas have historically gone through revisions in subsequent productions but Appomattax’s revision is being dictated by history itself.   The stories on television news—50 years after the Civil Rights Act—are waiting to take their places on  stage as Act III



Santa Fe Opera-August 2015

It certainly looked like  Father-Daughter week at The Santa Fe Opera -August 2015.

 While  Cold Mountain is the Odyssey tale of Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier/deserter  coming home to his love Abby,  the father-daughter relationships are blatant.
Abby has moved to Cold Mountain because of her father’s wish. Enter Ruby, as her
helper and friend, whose abusive father re-appears as a threat to the two women, alone
on the mountain as the war is ending.

Rigoletto centers on perhaps one of the most famous father-daughter relationships in opera,
(even though Verdi might be noted  for presenting other father -daughters  like Amonasro and,Aida).  Rigoletto is a  father who does everything to save his daughter Gilda from the world and its lechers,  One  bad decision after another ends in  ultimately tragedy for both. 

But it was Salome that took the theme to Freudian realms.  There is no doubt in this
production that Salome is still longing for her natural father, who has been killed
by Herod, who abuses her, in the very spot where he killed her father, and where
he now imprisons John the Baptist. 

The Daughter of the Regiment—my goodness—how many fathers does a girl need!

Side note; there were no fathers or daughters in Mozarts  La Finta Giardubuera, but Mozart
it  has been noted had a thing about his father.