Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fantasy Opera Update

Three years ago, I wrote a series of postings detailing the operas I would stage if I had all the money in the world. It was, of course, a list of operas I'd like to see. Here's an update on which of those works I've managed to see.

  • Ades, The Tempest. Seen on HD broadcast, heard some excerpts live at SFS (never reviewed the program). I continue to like this opera a lot. People like to pound on the libretto, which I think is quite a bit better than they do. If not for supertitles, would it be so disliked?
  • Birtwistle (The Minotaur, or any opera). I saw Gawain and Yan Tan Tethera in London and would like to see them both again. Gawain is deeply serious and surprisingly philosophical; YTT is the obvious entry-level Birtwistle opera. It is serious but also very charming. I mean, how many operas have a chorus of sheep?
  • Britten (anything except Billy Budd). I've seen the magnificent Peter Grimes at SFS and two productions of Turn of the Screw, while managing to miss two productions of The Rape of Lucretia.
  • Janacek, From the House of the Dead. Seen on DVD in the great Chereau production, conducted by Boulez. A great, great piece.
  • Strauss, Frau ohne Schatten. Seen at the Met and reviewed here.
  • Verdi, Falstaff. Seen again last year at SFO in a not-very-lovable Olivier Tambosi. I need to write this up.
  • Boito, Mefistofele. Seen last year at SFO; I need to write it up.
  • Dallapiccola, Il Prigioniero. Seen in concert in London, not yet reviewed.
  • Barber, Vanessa. Seen at West Edge; reviewed here.
  • Glass, Einstein on the Beach. Seen on tour and sensationally great; reviewed here for SFCV.


Henry Holland said...

Have you heard Birtwistle's The Second Mrs. Kong or The Last Supper? I love TSMK, the libretto by the novelist Russell Hoban is brilliant. TLS has some great choral writing, it's probably his most conventional opera. If you'd like copies of the recordings I have (both live bootlegs), e-mail me.

Elie Hampton said...


Why do you hate Monteverdi's operas so much?

L'Orfeo, Ulisse and Poppea are full of musical substance and emotional depth. I can't say the same thing about most of Birtwistle's operas.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Funny, I saw two Birtwistle operas in May and reached very different conclusions.

Henry Holland said...

I don't "hate" Monteverdi's operas, nor Handel's or Bellini's or Donizetti's, they just bore me to tears. I've heard all of those composers more than I care to remember, all the guys I hung around with in my early days as an opera fan literally thought that opera composition had died with Puccini and played that stuff at parties and social gatherings incessantly.

I've seen live performances of a piece by all of them, too, the Xerxes I went to at Los Angeles Opera was the equivalent of aural torture, four endless hours in my seat listening to aria after aria after aria etc. I only went because I had a crush on this guy, I only stayed because he had the car keys. :-)

My first opera recording bought: Peter Grimes. The next three: Die Soldaten, Lear and The Devils of Loudon. Doesn't sound like the type who's going to go "OMG! The coloratura runs in [name of aria] from [name of Bellini opera] are DIVINE!!!!", do I? :-)

I have no interest in singers as personalities or singing as a technique, I listen to opera for the orchestral side of things and for the structure, how a libretto is brought to life by music. It's not an accident that most of my favorite operas use the voice as just another instrument, no more important than the cor anglais or 3rd trumpet part. As I once heard Elektra described: "a tone poem with voice obbligato". :-)

Monteverdi, yes, his operas are crucial to the development of the art form, but I find the harmonies utterly predictable (how could they not after 35 years of listening to non-tonal music?), the orchestration wan and thin, the emphasis on the voice a no-go and the stories full of stock characters doing stock things.

Oh well.

As for Birtwistle, I wouldn't trade the last five minutes of The Second Mrs. Kong, where Kong and Pearl declare their love for each other despite the reality that it will never happen, while the music builds to a shattering climax, for every note written by those four composers.

kalimac said...

Well, I sure don't think opera composition died with Puccini. I think it's been thriving in the US since those days. I like The Ballad of Baby Doe, The Crucible, Akhnaten and Satyagraha, and, yes, Candide and West Side Story.