Here’s how you can create your own opera festival:
four rare operas in one week, and now home to rest
by Mort Levine
With eight delightfully diverse operas shown
this season at local movie theaters live and direct from
the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, one
might well think that’s enough of an opera fix. The
Met season includes 28 different works, and thus there
is a lot left on the plate for any hungry operaholic.
Skimming the Met’s calendar shows that within
a single week one might enjoy three of the rarer offerings
and in the same time frame take advantage of
a unique presentation by the Opera Orchestra of New
York. They do three interesting works annually, almost
never done fully staged, which outstanding singers
wish to do without fully learning the roles.We thus
were able to enjoy a fine concert version of Puccini’s Edgar with top flight singers from the Met and other
world wide venues.
The other three gems of the repertory which
were magnificently presented on the Met stage included Satyagraha, Philip Glass’s landmark tribute to
Gandhi; The Gambler, a gripping Prokofief take on a
Dostoyefsky tale; and Ernani, offered for the first time
in nearly 25 years, an early Verdi of great dramatic
and melodic vigor.
By pure serendipity, these four operas represent
four different eras of opera history and luckily they
were seen in their chronological order. Ernani premiered
in 1844; Edgar, Puccini’s first complete opera
in 1889; The Gambler, Prokofiev’s first opera debuted
in 1929; and Satyagraha, Glass’s second in 1975.
Each showed strong evidence of its creator’s future
work and deserved prominence.
The vocal talents in each of the productions
were world class. Marcello Giordani, one of the top
Italian tenors, proved totally capable in the title role of Ernani but also a couple of days later was outstanding
in the title role of Edgar. In Ernani his soprano love
interest was Sondra Rodvanovsky, who happened to
have two other pursuers for her hand, baritone Thomas
Hampson and veteran bass Ferrucio Furlanetto. The
melodrama was energized by the three male leads.
In Edgar, Giordani again was augmented by
three other excellent performers. In this somewhat implausible
plot, has a rival, robust baritone Stephen
Gaertner. The two female leads included Jennifer Larmore,
an experienced talented mezzo with a beautiful
voice that didn’t quite match the power of her rival,
the wide ranging soprano Latonia Moore, who continually
reached the rafters of Carnegie Hall. Larmore
was Tigrana, an aptly named siren who dooms men
to a life of debauchery whereas Moore was the high
minded and pure Fidelia who gets knifed by Tigrana
in the grisly opera climax.
Individual voices and aria set-pieces in The Gambler and Satyagraha were less important
than the total ensemble, a characteristic of 20th century opera.
Much of the cast in the Russian work came along
with Conductor Valery Gergiev from his Mariinsky
theater in St. Petersburg. Tenor Vladimir Galouzine
was the protagonist Alexei, a young tutor whose attraction
to Polina, sung by Olga Guryakova, drives
him to a gambling compulsion and madness.
The Gambler is staged in a casino which finally
is symbolized by a gigantic surrealistic roulette
wheel on which Alexei finally spins out of control
having broken the bank with money showering the
stage. One of the singers taking the role of a gambler
is Kirk Eichelberger, whose fine bass-baritone highlighted
a number of Opera San José productions in
Satyagraha is a Sanskrit word which means the
force of truth. The Glass opera is entirely in Sanskrit
but with projected translations periodically on the
back of the stage. The action is not in a linear mode
of a coherent narrative. Instead, it is a series of scenes
in which important aspects of Gandhi’s work, mostly
in South Africa before going back to India, are highlighted
with dramatic action. Poet Constance DeJong
did the libretto by extracting segments of the sacred
Hindu poem, the Bhagavad-Gita. Each of the sung
words hits on a note which combines with the minimalist
musical form of Glass in the 70’s, and produces
a hauntingly hypnotic kind of languor in the audience.
This production is spiced by a staging which
employs supersized puppets created out of simple
materials like sticks, newsprint and scotch tape. The materials suggest the poverty of the masses Gandhi was attempting to rally.
The Gandhi role was portrayed with great effectiveness
and dignity by Richard Croft. His tenor voice
reached its vocal heights with a final aria based on a
simple ascending scale repeated 30 times. It climaxed
a 3 hour and 45 minute performance which saw the
audience burst in some of the loudest cheers and applause
we’ve experienced in an opera house. A magical
night of music drama.
New York in April is a pleasant time to visit.
The ample offerings in theater, concerts and museums
all make for a very full schedule. But then springtime
here at home has a wide range of outstanding cultural
offerings. Hardly time to rest up.
(SJOG Newsletter May, 2008 Issue)