Posts Tagged #mnopera

Little-known Gem Kicks off Opera Season

Friday, October 5th, 2018 | Permalink

Some fine musical works are initially overshadowed by more illustrious creations by the same artist. For example, “Michelle” and “NoWhere Man” from the Beatles’ 1965 Rubber Soul album are excellent songs that were far more famous than “In My Life” which Rolling Stone magazine listed as the 23rd greatest song of all time in 2004.

A similar case can be made for Giacomo Puccini‘s opera, La Rondine. Perhaps the least known and performed of his mature works, its troubled creative origins and indifferent premiere reception relegated it to anonymity compared to La Boheme and Turandot. But the Minnesota Opera’s final dress rehearsal Thursday evening revealed an opera brimming with nostalgic love music and modern (for 1916) dance rhythms such as the tango.

Parisian high society at Magda’s apartment.

Dismissed by one critic as “bad Lehar” for its “lilting waltz tunes, pop-styled melodies, and nostalgic love music, La Rondine contains one of Puccini’s more accessible and melodic scores which befits the heroine Magda’s dilemma. This Parisian courtesan’s encounter with a naive young poet reawakens her desire for a life filled with genuine affection (the life she wants) versus a successful and secure existence in the highest realms of Parisian society (the life she has). Magda’s conflict might resemble Violetta’s in Verdi’s La Traviata, but the decision she makes isn’t adulterated by the melodramatic complication of tuberculosis.

The cast provides splendid singing and nuanced interpretation to their roles regardless. Celine Byrne is glorious as Magda in revealing the pathos and longing for a life she can never have. Leonardo Capalbo is equally fine as her beleaguered and bewildered young lover. Levi Hernandez (Magda’s protector, Rambaldo), Lisa Marie Rogali (Magda’s flirty maid Lisette) and Christian Sanders (the cynical poet, Prunier) provide excellent counterpoints both musically and thematically as secondary characters. The rest of the cast embody hedonistic Parisian society during the First World War with sonic gusto.

La Rondine may be derivative and a bit under-formulated (Puccini was rewriting the third act at the time of his death), but its glorious score and soaring arias make the five presentations (October 6, 9, 11, 13-14) more than worthwhile viewing for opera and music lovers alike. Congratulations to you, Minnesota Opera, for taking a chance in my lifetime to kick off the 2018-19 season with this under-appreciated gem.

Rigoletto May Not Be for Everyone

Friday, March 16th, 2018 | Permalink

What entertains opera audiences today is the same as it was in 19th century Italy or 18th century Austria. The orchestration and vocalizations in, say, Lucia di Lammermoor or Don Giovanni are as thrilling now as the evenings of their first performances.

What differs is in the plotting. Born out of the cultural mores and sensibilities of their times, the plot lines of these operas contain dramatic conventions and holes in motivation that are unacceptable and/or offensive to modern audiences. A current of this occurs in the Minnesota Opera’s new production of Giuseppe Verdi’s classic, Rigoletto (March 17, 22, 24-25, 27, 29, 31, 2018).

This disjunction in values is nowhere more pronounced than in the Duke of Mantua’s beautiful aria in the third act, the famous “La donna é mobile.” As sung by the opera’s philandering authority figure, the song is more a projection of male vanity than a pronouncement on female fickleness. And while the duets between Rigoletto and his daughter, Gilda, are tender and heart-felt, his characterization of her as an innocent angel under his (unwanted) fatherly protection confines her to a room only he can enter. Rigoletto’s attitude toward authority figures might be somewhat justified by the ruffian behavior of the duke and his courtiers, but it doesn’t soften the impact of his bitter and calculating hiring of a professional assassin to avenge his honor.

What salvages all of this boorishness, bullying, and backstabbing is the beauty of Verdi’s music. This is where the Opera’s creative team shines. Conductor Michael Christie’s orchestra, leads Olafur Sigurdarson (Rigoletto), Marie-Eve Munger (the ill-fated Gilda), and Joshua Dennis (Duke of Mantua) soar with the music to make the passions that motivate it palpable and believable. The other cast members, particularly those serving in the duke’s retinue and chorus, provide superior sonic and emotional support, as always. The lighting and costume design, especially the colorful masks in Act II, serve its dark actions well, as do the economical if sometimes confounding (doorbell on a courtier’s back?) scenic design.

Some of this disjunction may be attributed to Verdi’s source material. Musical historians claim Victor Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse suffered the same bureaucratic censure that afflicted Verdi’s opus. But regardless of its source or the cultural circumstances surrounding it, Rigoletto’s controversial attitudes towards contractual murder and treatment of women in an age of anti-gun and Me Too movements cannot be denied. As with any work of art, however, final judgment must rest in the eyes and ears of the individual. Attend a performance and decide yourself if beauties of music and style outweigh the affronts imposed by convention and stereotype.

Don Pasquale: Bumbling in Hollywood

Saturday, October 7th, 2017 | Permalink

Re-imaginings of old operas sometimes work; many times, they don’t. When the Metropolitan Opera set Richard Wagner’s Parsifal in Nazi Germany, for example, the depravity in the second act resonated with contemporary audiences but the spiritual majesty in finding the Holy Grail in the third did not.

The Minnesota Opera’s production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Don Pasquale witnessed on Social Media Preview Night (October 5, 2017) needn’t worry about upsetting anyone’s moral convictions, however. Subtitled “A Toast to Tinseltown,” this version pulls all the comedic stops in celebrating the opera buffa on which it is based.

But resetting a mid-19th century Italian opera in 1950s Hollywood creates a problem. Do the operatic conventions based upon the stylized shenanigans of commedia dell’arte fit into the mores of Hollywood’s Golden Age? The answer: surprisingly well.

Casting the eponymous main character as a fading film star a la Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn provides some amusing film clips of his failures to recapture old glory that accompany the overtures preceding each act. And re-imagining Norina in the conniving servant’s role as a sultry starlet renders the egotistic Don’s marital comeuppances funnier and more believable.

However, the plot of the Don’s cutting off his lovesick nephew’s allowance to sire a proper heir addresses the economic concerns of Risorgimento Italy instead of the Babylon of Hollywood. Anyone with a passing acquaintance of pre-nuptial agreements and equal property settlements knows the paradise of eternal sunshine and plastic surgery pays little shrift to the financial plights of impoverished lovers.

Despite the plot’s unlikelihood, the performers capitalize upon the comedic potential in their characters. Craig Colclough makes a sprightly, foppish, yet sympathetic Don Pasquale. Andrew Wilkowske plays the role the conniving Doctor Malatesta to an over-the-top T. And David Walton (the pining Ernesto) and Susannah Miller (Norina/Sofronia) combine to create an empathetic pair of lovers. All of them (particularly Miller and Walton in the love duet) and the supporting players and chorus make this perhaps the most melodic of Donizetti’s operas.

If you go expecting a satire on Hollywood, you might be disappointed. If you enjoy beautiful music, colorful sets, and a frothy romantic farce that uses the mythos of Tinseltown to spoof the foibles of advanced middle-age, you’ll experience a laugh-filled evening of entertainment. Performances take place on October 7, 10, 12, 14-15, 2017. Enjoy!