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.
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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.
Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor was thunderously received on its opening night performance this past Saturday, November 12, and there is a lot to report. Under the direction of Tomer Zvulun, the opera has been updated to a time period when the men are constantly wearing military jackets, red sashes, and a blonde Lucia wears pink hoop dresses. The sets, which came to Atlanta via Opera Cleveland, were composed of concrete walls accented partially with stacked stone, which coupled with projected backgrounds helped define the space for the audience. Only for the fact that the stark setting allowed the director to lavish in some striking imagery (the final scene resembled watered down Edward Gorey, which I, a former goth kid, enjoyed) the need for this update escaped me. Other aspects of Zvulun’s production are likely to either wow or offend depending on the sensibilities. Scene changes were enhanced with samples of Sir Walter Scott’s novel projected against the curtain, and judging from the whispering around me this innovation grew tiresome as the evening wore on, especially for those unfortunate patrons trying to read what was presented to them in its entirety.
“Donizetti’s music is just trash and should be avoided. Every educated person knows this.” And thus began a heated argument between myself and an all-too-proper music major at the University of Georgia’s Music Library back in the late 90s; an incident which led to my being banned of this venerable facility for a full semester due to my animated, banshee-like defense of Italian music in the middle of the listening center. I suppose that, even then, I was not one to keep it down. I am reminded of the incident as the Atlanta Opera’s prepares to open its 2011-2012 with Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” this Saturday.
Opera is partly a sport of prestige, and to the untrained eye the line up of Opera Carolina’s production of Verdi’s “Il trovatore” promised much: An Italian tenor coming to international attention following a well publicized scandal, an up and coming soprano gathering exciting reviews for her Verdi roles, and a superstar mezzo-soprano of international caliber who has sung for dignitaries of state all over the globe. It is no surprise that the auditorium at the Belk Theater was well attended on the afternoon of October 23, a Sunday performance that would have otherwise suffered by the presence of the North Carolina Panthers playing at the stadium next door. Hell, I drove four hours to be there myself! Judging by the audience’s reception, a good time was had by most present, but the final tally on the performance is less encouraging: Opera Carolina’s “Il trovatore” joins the statistics of uneven performances of this testing opera, and though there were moments of beauty, the uneven cast threatened to drag the performance below the standards of good Verdi. And thus we will start with the least fortunate, and work our way up.
Fresh from our recent trip to Salt Lake City, we are on the road again, and this time to Charlotte, North Carolina for Opera Carolina’s presentation of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. The southern company’s high profile line up, which includes the renowned mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves in the role of Azucena, is enough to get newoutpost to fill up the gas tank and embark in a good old pilgrimage.
Beethoven’s Fidelio opened the 2011-12 season at Utah Opera last week on Saturday 8th, and newoutpost was present at the occasion, as well as the second performance on Monday 10th. We are happy to report that the performances receive high marks due to the efforts of an altogether great cast, though the visual direction of these presentations proved a little suspect.