Atlanta closes its 2012-13 season with a double whammy. On the eve of the unveiling of its season closer (Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri”), the company officially announced the appointment of its new General and Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun, following the awkward resignation of Zurich General Director Dennis Hanthorn last July. The news came as a big relief to the local opera scene, as the lack of steady artistic vision would have spelled disastrous to the company as it enters its 35th season. Mr. Zvulun thus becomes the fourth Artistic Director to steward the company, and if his work as a director is any indication, his reign promises to bring striking visual productions of tried and true selections from the standard repertoire. If the lineup for next season is any indication, it is also likely to ensure repeats of the same twenty operas the city has been resigned to memorize for the past 34 years. Since your friends at newoutpost are barely middle class and would love to avoid those pesky travel expenses, we are rooting for our home city’s opera company and wish Mr. Zvulun the greatest success.
Conductor Eve Queler has a particular affinity for Verdi’s early masterpiece “I lombardi”. She also has a way of sniffing out the right mix of talent for this opera: The first go about featured the then reigning diva of Italian opera Renata Scotto, singing alongside the 24 year-old Jose Carreras. In the late 80s she revisited the work, pinning the legendary Carlo Bergonzi against the talents of a baby Aprile Millo, then the hottest Verdi rookie in the world. For this performance, Ms. Queler has once again found four outstanding principles to bring to live this gorgeous early Verdi gem, including the pairing of two AVA graduates who have been the talk of the American opera scene as of late. What ensued on the evening of April 8th was the equivalent of an operatic block party.
On April 7th, amidst the noise of a rowdy outdoor concert held by students of George Washington University sipping into the halls of Lisner Auditorium, the delightful baton of conductor Antony Walker led the orchestra and chorus of the Washington Concert Opera in a performance of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. I say delightful because, while some conductors have been known to dismiss the conducting of bel canto repertoire as an unsavory gig, maestro Walker seemed to relish with delight as he waved to his orchestra throughout the duration of the performance. There were even moments where he seemed to be doing a can-can as the orchestra exploded under his command. It is this love of music making that keeps Washington Concert Opera in the newoutpost calendar, forcing us to be on the constant lookout of travel deals to our nation’s capital.
The Atlanta Opera unveiled its production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” on March 2, and newoutpost was present for the second performance on March 5th to report on the proceedings. In opera we always hope for, but do not expect, perfection, and this Traviata was no exception. What we heard was an outstanding triumph coupled with a near disaster. Excited? Lets begin!
February 2013. An icy nor’easter has taken over the North Eastern United States, causing millions to remain indoors in fearful hibernation. But it matters little, as newoutpost reports this bulletin from Sarasota Florida, where a balmy 85 degrees seems the norm. The purpose of our visit, of course, concerns the opening of Sarasota Opera’s Winter Festival season, beginning with the company’s debut of Puccini’s timeless Turandot in conjunction with Bizet’s rare work, Les pecheurs de perles. For the sake of keeping our business organized, we will first focus on Sarasota’s efforts towards the Puccini work, which we witnessed on two occasions.
Amidst buzz on the recent departure of its artistic director, Dennis Hanthorn, the Atlanta Opera opened its 2012-2013 season with Bizet’s Carmen to an enthusiastic reception on Saturday, November 10. The evening was led Carl and Sally Gable Music Director Arthur Fagen, whose polished baton emphasized the vitality and sparkling qualities of this familiar score. A clever leader, he understood the proclivities of his singers, and allowed them to luxuriate their lines when inspired without ever becoming a detriment to the dramatic gestures dictated by the score. He was also a match to the complexity of the piece, and successfully anchored the company in the most intricate sections, even managing to realign the massive act two finale when the ensemble got a tad out of sync.
The 2012-2013 season at Opera Southwest gets under way this week with what promises to be a historic run of Rossini’s unfairly neglected “Otello”. In spite of a grueling rehearsal schedule, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Anthony Barrese took a breather to share some thoughts on this work, and how it makes for a perfect season opener in Albuquerque.
The 2012-2013 season at the Minnesota Opera marks the 50th anniversary of the company, and it opened last September with five performances of Verdi’s Nabucco, which played to packed houses throughout its run. In many ways, the quality of this presentation signaled how far this company has come: From its fringe beginnings to its current standing as one of the most important operatic destinations in the United States. In terms of cast and production values, any opera house in the world would be hard pressed to better Minnesota’s efforts.
Atlanta is no stranger to Mozart’s great opera, Don Giovanni. The work was brought to the city seven times by the Metropolitan Opera Tour between 1954 and 1978, the impressive list of heavy hitters back then included George London, Cesare Siepi, Eleanor Steber, Leontyne Price, Nicolai Gedda, and Lisa Della Casa, just to mention a few. The Atlanta Opera proper first mounted its first production of Don Giovanni at the Woodruff Arts Center in 1993, and it is here where I can count myself as one with a personal remembrance of the luminaries of that first cast: Dean Peterson as Don Giovanni, Kip Wilburn as Don Ottavio, and Brenda Harris’ spectacular Atlanta Opera debut as Donna Anna. The company staged the work for the second time in grand fashion at the Fox Theater in 1998, and many still remember the more racy elements of that production. The mind’s ear remembers best Eugene Perry as Don Giovanni, Matile Rowland as Donna Anna, Brian Jauhianen as the Commendatore, Pamela Kucenic as Donna Elvira and Philip Cokorinos as Leporello. The last staging of the opera undertaken by the company took place in 2004, this time at the Civic Center with a lineup that almost merged the casts of the prior two productions (Dean Peterson reprising his Don Giovanni, Brenda Harris now as an exemplary Donna Elvira, Jeff Morrissey as Masetto, and the wonderful Leporello of Phillip Cokorinos). This new production of Don Giovanni thus marks the company’s fourth effort in mounting what many have ruled as one of, if not the, greatest opera ever written. Sadly, judging by the opening night’s performance on April 28, the values of the current presentation ranked below those of the company’s past efforts; and this was not due to the flexible baton of maestro Arthur Fagen, or the bare simple sets provided by Lyric Opera of Kansas City. Rather, the performance was undermined by a general clumsiness in Richard Kagey’s direction and an extremely uneven cast.
There is no doubt in my mind that Eve Queler loves Wagner’s opera, Rienzi. Watching her receive a well deserved ovation as she ascended the podium on January 29th to lead the forces of the Opera Orchestra of New York, it struck me that this was the conductor’s fourth open case for this Wagnerian rarity, making her an unofficial champion of a piece that even Wagner himself turned his back against after he established his career. Following the performance, one could only be grateful for her insistence.