Following the successful Parisian debut of his Lucie di Lammermoor at the Theatre de la Rennaissance in August of 1839, Gaetano Donizetti moved swiftly to establish himself in the nineteenth century’’s most prestigious musical capital by announcing four additional premieres in the city of lights. While two of these, L’Ange de Nisida and Le Duc d’Albe, where ultimately abandoned (L’Ange is incidentally scheduled to receive its premiere this July at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden) the remaining works made their way to the stage. At L’Opera, the composer refurbished his Poliuto within the confines of grand opera convention under the new title Les Martyrs, which coupled with the tragedy of Lucie, further underlined the composer’s facility in the dramatic realm. Between them, however, he offered a work of contrasting light-hearted and dazzling verve, which debuted at the Opera Comique in February of 1840. This was La Fille du Regiment, an opera that not only served to showcase the composer’s versatility in both tragic and comedic subjects, but also peddled his unapologetic argument to the French audience to embrace him as one of their own. Despite the initial critical reception (with my school-days hero Hector Berlioz leading the pack,) the opera became a mainstay in Paris and Francophone regions, receiving multiple presentations at the Comique and hallmarking traditional patriotic holidays such as Bastille day. The opera’s current outing at the Atlanta Opera, which your friends at newoutpost were fortunate to experience in its second presentation on Tuesday February 17, serves the company as a veritable palate cleanser between the brooding Byronic drama of Wagner’s Der Fliegende Hollander and Bizet’s savage Carmen. By all accounts, the company has done much to restore the piece back to its original scale and presented the work as the light, frothy affair it was intended to be.
On Saturday November 4th, the Atlanta Opera opened its 38th season by unveiling a new production of Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman”. “The Flying Dutchman,” or “Der Fliegende Hollander,” is the only Wagnerian work that the Atlanta Opera has staged in its thirty eight year history, and as we walked out of the auditorium following Friday night’s performance, your friends at newoutpost could not contain the flood of thoughts that we humbly offer here as the introduction to our write up.
We want to frame what follows by proclaiming that, as residents of this city for the past twenty seven years, we consider the Atlanta Opera our home, and we want to see it grow into the fantastic arts institution we know it can become. This is Atlanta’s third stab at producing Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” in the past 15 years, and already the feeling of dread that the company is unlikely to dig deeper into the Wagnerian repertoire has already begun to set in. Be it due to economic constraints, the operas duration, union restrictions, or whatever the case may be, it is a sad fact that many bets would be lost if the Atlanta Opera were to suddenly stage any other selection from the great composer’s canon. Many quietly fear that the pattern of the past twelve years, the recycling of the standard repertoire sprinkled with odd excursions into esoteric operas to somehow claim variety will continue, and a recent visit to another regional company underlined the impression as being shared by more than just locals. In conversation with a rather cheeky member of the administrative staff who, upon learning our city of origin, smirked and said “Atlanta? I hear they do a lot of Don Giovannis there!” we realized that there was enough truth in the statement to make the burn sizzle.
Back in 2003, when scheduling issues forced the company to leave its home at the Fox Theater, the company found itself moving to the nearby Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic center. Opera patrons of that period will recall a barn like venue, not constructed with the acoustics in mind to flatter the operatic genre. The company survived the change for four years, and under the leadership of its new artistic director, Dennis Hawthorne, it relocated once again (in a mildly controversial move) away from the city limits to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center. Following the Cobb venue’s inaguration as the Atlanta Opera’s new home with Puccini’s Turandot, even there naysayers were pressed to accept the acoustic functionality of the new venue. Thus, the Atlanta Opera audience adjusted, and accepted its new suburban home through the hardships of the recession, a reduction in seasonal presentations, and another change of artistic guard with the institution of its new artistic director Tomer Zvulun. To commemorate this decade of transition, the Atlanta Opera looked back to that auspicious move back in 2007, and closed its 2016-17 season this past weekend with another presentation of Puccini’s Turandot to celebrate this milestone.
This past Sunday, Opera Carolina made a significant leap forward in the southeastern operatic scene by unveiling its staging Puccini’s unjustly neglected masterpiece, La Fanciulla del West. While the opera has enjoyed a healthy amount of attention at the major operatic hubs periodically, it has been considered a high gamble for regional companies, which routinely overlook it in favor of its assumingly less chancier siblings (Tosca, La Boheme and Madama Butterfly). While its very staging makes Opera Carolina’s Fanciulla an event not to be missed, the company deserves great credit for bringing the opera to Charlotte through a production of great beauty which also marks the company’s first international collaboration. Following these performances, it will travel to the New York City Opera and then cross the Atlantic, where it will grace five Italian theaters including the Teatro di Giglio, and the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari. In keeping with this Italo-American spirit, the opera’s cast as well as the creative team is comprised exclusively of American and Italian born talent, lending the proceedings an additional degree of authenticity.
Last Saturday night, as the audience readied itself for the Atlanta Opera’s opening performance of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale for the first time in the company’s history, the ante was unexpectedly raised. Following his customary salutations and the announcement of next season’s offerings, General Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun reported on the indisposition of the evening’s Ernesto, tenor Ji-Min Park, and confidently predicted an overwhelming success for his cover, Argentinian tenor Santiago Ballerini. A brief investigation of the insert hastily included in the program notes reminded us of Mr. Ballerini’s debut the previous year as a memorable Tybalt in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette while then a member of the company’s young artist program, in addition to an important debut with the Caramoor Festival as Fernand in Donizetti’s La Favorite. Caramoor’s concert format would essentially make Mr. Ballerini’s substitution as Ernesto as his professional onstage debut in a principal role. Thus, before the maestro had made his way to the podium, an even greater sense of occasion had permeated the evening.
Absent from its stage for 22 years, Verdi’s Macbeth returned to the New Orleans Opera this past weekend for two performances (November 11 and 13 to be exact), and as it came to pass, your friends at newoutpost just happened to be in town on unrelated business. What better way to cap the most outrageous and distasteful election cycle in our lifetime than to simmer in the dark world of Macbeth? In fact, we had to see it twice. This marks newoutpost’s first operatic venture in New Orleans, a city with a celebrated operatic history (Patti, Sontag, they were all here) and hard hit by the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Eleven years later, we’re happy to report that the company has made significant headways out of the shadows, and its 2016-17 season marks the return of the company’s tradition of offering four operas per season.
The Atlanta Opera opened its 2016-17 season this past Saturday October 8th with a delightful presentation of Mozart’s singspiel Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail. Though the opera does not enjoy top tier status in the international repertoire, it has been championed by the Atlanta Opera company twice before, and the opera’s 2006 production even marked the company’s first (and to this day, only) pre-recorded broadcast for local radio. For the present run, the company has assembled a delightful (if uneven) cast and a production that brings the opera to life in a gracious and charming way. The company should also be credited for reaching out to those in need, for as a gesture of solidarity towards our coastal neighbors facing the harrowing threat of Hurricane Matthew, it welcomed refugees seeking shelter in our city to the performance at no charge. We can only hope that those facing hardships were able to find momentary repose in Mozart’s magical score.
Following the tremendous success of their first operatic collaboration Silent Night, the team of Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell are at it again, offering a riveting operatic adaptation of Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate. The opera debuted in Minnesota in 2015 to great enthusiasm, and premiered regionally at the Austin Opera this past Saturday, September 17 to thunderous ovations. Though Condon’s novel has attained a certain renown through the years, The Manchurian Candidate lives in the minds of the common American mostly through two film adaptations, and while not aiming to dismiss the valiant efforts of one Meryl Streep in the 2004 version, we are happy to report that the opera tends to hail the earlier film in tone and structure most.
To close its 2015-16 season, The Atlanta Opera tipped its hat to French Grand opera and unveiled a star-studded production of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette this past Saturday. While all opera is dependent on singers of not only extraordinary technical pedigree but also of a musical understanding of how language informs declamation, Grand French opera relies on the latter more heavily so, making Romeo et Juliette notoriously difficult to cast. The Atlanta Opera’s first production, which hailed back to 2007, is fondly remembered as an uneven yet valiant effort at revealing the work’s hidden charms. The company’s current effort shares a similar evaluation.
On the evening of March 4th, the Washington Concert Opera closed its 2015-16 season with a wildly applauded performance of Donizetti’s grand opera “La Favorite”. Central to the performance’s success was the work of maestro Antony Walker, who remains a tireless champion of the Bel Canto repertoire represented through this unjustly neglected piece. His love for the works of Donizetti in particular, which are routinely vilified by the cognoscenti as unworthy, is particularly disarming, and from the first note of the overture onwards his faith in the dramatic possibilities of this score was palpable. Indeed, through the combined forces of the Washington Concert Opera Orchestra and Chorus he realized the score with the respect and reverence often reserved for Verdi’s middle and later periods. It was a veritable shame that maestro Walker denied us his take on the opera’s extended ballet sequence. By the by, he smartly opted to forgo the familiar, yet deeply flawed Italian translation of the opera in favor of the French original. In the process, he made a compelling case for the reassessment of the opera’s dramatic appeal, as well as reinstating a decidedly French aesthetic which more closely reflect Donizetti’s original conception of the piece when it debuted in Paris in 1840. Lucky for all, maestro Walker surrounded himself with an inspired cast of young artists capable of achieving his vision.