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THOMAS MAY on the arts

Handel’s Witty, Urbane, Subversive Art: Staging Partenope

Thomas May:

One more chance to see this Partenope production: on Sunday afternoon. If you’re in the Bay Area, try to catch this — it’s worth it.

Originally posted on MEMETERIA:

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My new essay for San Francisco Opera, where Christopher Alden’s award-winning production of Partenopeopens this week.

Handel’s Witty, Urbane, Subversive Art: Staging Partenope

Even adjusted for inflation, his operas are now doing far better box office (255 years after his death) than he could have ever wished at the height of his career.

No doubt George Frideric Handel — as the German-born Georg Friedrich Händel rebranded himself in his adoptive hometown of London — would have relished the irony. Only a sensibility finely attuned to the ironic could have created the delicious blend of erotic longing and satire that defines his treatment of Partenope.

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Afternoon Delight

Regenbogen

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Dazed, Confused, and Lovestruck: Twelfth Night at Seattle Shakespeare

Jay Myers as Orsino and Allie Pratt as Viola. Photo by John Ulman.

Jay Myers as Orsino and Allie Pratt as Viola. Photo by John Ulman.

“Why, this is very midsummer madness!” exclaims Countess Olivia in the middle of Twelfth Night — just as the whirligigs of the plot against Malvolio start cranking away. Olivia’s normally uptight steward has been set up to believe his boss is suddenly overcome with uncontrollable passion for him and is putting on a display that makes for one of the most outrageously funny scenes in all Shakespeare.

But Malvolio’s (David Quicksall) crazed behavior is easily matched by the antics indulged in by Olivia herself (Elinor Gunn) in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s deliriously unconventional new production, which opened this past weekend and which plays through Nov. 16 at the Center Theatre at Seattle Center. Visiting director Jon Kretzu approaches Twelfth Night as if it were a vastly elaborated version of the nocturnal spell cast in the Bard’s decade-earlier A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Just about everyone seems to wander about in a woozy haze of confused, mismatched desire.

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Filed under: directors, review, Shakespeare

The Rake’s Revels: Don Giovanni Parties It Up in Seattle

Photo (c) Elise Bakketun

Photo (c) Elise Bakketun


Here’s my Bachtrack review of the current Don Giovanni revival in Seattle:

Mozart’s drama about the legendary rake’s egress launches the first season under Seattle Opera’s new general director, Aidan Lang. However, the production originated here in 2007, and the current revival had of course been scheduled well in advance. In other words, it makes no statement about the new Lang era but is instead a reverberation of the Speight Jenkins years.

This production mines the comic possibilities inherent in the essentially picaresque, stop-start narrative pieced together by Da Ponte. The Overture, with its apocalyptic opening section introducing a cheerful, buffa main course, has always posed a musical conundrum, the solution to which, as in Tristan und Isolde, remains deferred until the end of the opera. Yet in Seattle’s McCaw Hall, those foreboding first chords have the effect rather of parentheses, of a statement that’s easily shunted aside until the topic comes up again, in rather nonsequitur fashion, during the grand finale.

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Filed under: Mozart, review, Seattle Opera

Purcell Meets Bartók in LA

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Tonight brings the opening of Los Angeles Opera’s curious pairing of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with Bluebeard’s Castle by Bartók.

The Australian-born, Berlin-based director Barrie Kosky (intendant at the Komische Oper Berlin) has brought his staging of the double bill for Oper Frankfurt to LA.

In a recent Opera News profile, Kosky explained the connections he’s come to see between these two one-act operas:

“Both pieces are about arrival and departure in different ways. Both operas have a couple and the complexities of love in different ways as the central element of the pieces. And the third thing is, both pieces have a degree of sadness and melancholia running through them.”

Here’s a very brief introduction to the evening by LA Opera’s CEO Christopher Koelsch:

Filed under: Bartók, directors, opera

Life with the Stars

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Filed under: photography, Stravinsky

The Death of Klinghoffer

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Tonight John Adams’s opera The Death of Klinghoffer opens at the Met. Here’s the full program as a pdf, including my program note.

And here’s another introductory essay I wrote for the Met.

Filed under: American opera, John Adams, Metropolitan Opera

Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light

The Los Angeles Master Chorale launches their season this Sunday evening with a performance of Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light accompanying the silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc. Here’s my essay for the program:

Transparent Yet Unknowable: The Fascination of Joan of Arc

“The fashion in which we think changes like the fashion of our clothes,” writes George Bernard Shaw in the lengthy preface to Saint Joan, the play considered by some to be his masterpiece. Shaw adds that “it is difficult, if not impossible, for most people to think otherwise than in the fashion of their own period.”

Figures like Joan of Arc hold an enduring fascination because of this tension between their seeming closeness and their distance — a distance that isn’t measured just by history but by their difference from ordinary patterns of social expectation. And artists in particular have been keen on bridging the gap and portraying a Joan who tells us something about the human condition as we ourselves experience it, here and now. They intensify our desire to identify with her across the centuries.

Composer Richard Einhorn describes his deep admiration for the film by Carl Theodore Dreyer, The Passion of Joan of Arc, which inspired him to write Voices of Light. The film, says Einhorn, is a work of art that makes Joan uncannily present to contemporary audiences: “Watching this film, we forget we’re watching a silent film, we forget the technique and we get caught up entirely in the intensely human, passionate, tragic, yet deeply inspiring story of Joan. She truly was one of a kind.” Ultimately, he views Joan as “a woman who was both extremely transparent and utterly unknowable.”

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Filed under: choral music, composers, essay, film

The Death of Klinghoffer at the Met

Thomas May:

Reposting this since the opening is just few days away.

Originally posted on MEMETERIA:

ENO-Klinghoffer

Here’s my recent essay for the Metropolitan Opera’s Season Book on the most controversial opera of the season:

Behind the Headlines
In the world of opera, it’s common for a new work to take some time to establish its place in the repertoire. Just think of Così fan tutte, written in 1790 but largely ignored until the mid-20th century, or Les Troyens, which didn’t reach the United States until more than a century after its composition. A generation has passed since the 1991 premiere of John Adams’s second opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, but for the most part the work is still known solely by its controversial reputation. Apart from that original production, only two other full stagings have been seen in the U.S., and both of these took place within the past three years (at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2011 and Long Beach Opera in spring 2014).

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Dahlia Lounge

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