MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Timelessly Timely: A Dark and Damning Rigoletto at Seattle Opera

137993-20190807-rigoletto-day01-seattleopera-sunnymartini-6925

Madison Leonard (Gilda) and Lester Lynch (Rigoletto); (c) Sunny Martini

Seattle Opera has just launched its new season under incoming General Director Christina Scheppelmann with a new Rigoletto production. Here’s my review:

Recounting one of the bleakest, cruelest narratives in the core repertoire, Rigoletto depicts a noirish world of sexual predation, misogyny, despotism, revenge, murder, and… horrifically bad luck. Should all this be approached as timeless tragedy, timely social commentary – or merely as a guilty pleasure akin to consuming a thriller?

continue

Filed under: directors, review, Seattle Opera, Verdi

The Memorable Women at San Francisco Opera Continue, with La Traviata and Turandot

_B5A8477-X3

Aurelia Florian as Violetta Valéry in Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Part two of my reviews of San Francisco Opera’s fall season is now posted on Musical America:

SAN FRANCISCO—Along with a sensational production of Elektra , San Francisco Opera’s lineup so far this season is spotlighting some of the art form’s most gripping female …

continue reading (behind Musical America‘s paywall)

Filed under: Puccini, review, San Francisco Opera, Verdi

New Take on Old Favorite: La traviata at Seattle Opera

trav

La traviata director Mika Blauensteiner, in rehearsal at Seattle Opera

This familiar story of Violetta, her love, and death is the world’s most-performed opera. With new staging that marks the North American debut of the German director Peter Konwitschny, Seattle Opera hopes to shed fresh light on Verdi’s 1853 masterpiece.

continue reading

Filed under: directors, Seattle Opera, Seattle Times, Verdi

Verdi at His Most Ambitious

My essay for San Francisco Opera’s program: Don Carlo, part of the final trio of operas in David Gockley’s farewell season:

“Don Carlos has really thrilled him. I think that this drama, instinct as it is with real passion, is just what he needs,” reported Léon Escudier, Verdi’s French publisher, after a trip to visit the composer in 1865.

He was sounding Verdi out on some possible topics for a fresh commission from the Paris Opéra. Another idea that aroused Verdi’s interest was King Lear—a project he had long hoped to realize—but Verdi opted for Don Carlos, a historical tragedy by Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805), as more suitable for treatment in the French grand opera style.

continue reading

Filed under: essay, San Francisco Opera, Verdi

Seattle Opera’s Nabucco Falls Flat

The cast and orchestra of Seattle Opera's Nabucco. © Philip Newton

The cast and orchestra of Seattle Opera’s Nabucco. © Philip Newton

My Bachtrack review is now live.
(I think I managed to catch all the autocorrects that
were turning “Nabucco” into “Nabisco.”)

On paper, Seattle Opera’s new production of Nabucco sounded enticing. General Director Aidan Lang generated buzz about the ‘innovative staging concept’ we should anticipate for the company’s first-ever presentation of Verdi’s third opera. Seattle Opera had meanwhile undertaken a rebranding effort that included a design facelift of its website to emphasise large, bold visuals — with billboard-style tags announcing Nabucco: ‘BETRAYED’ ‘TWISTED’ “EPIC’.

continue reading

Filed under: directors, review, Seattle Opera, Verdi

The Standard Rep at Santa Fe Opera: Summer 2015

Alex Penda as Salome; photo © Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2015

Alex Penda as Salome; photo © Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2015

Along with my Cold Mountain coverage, here’s the round-up review of three opera productions I wrote for Musical America, in the order in which they impressed me: Salome, Rigoletto, and The Daughter of the Regiment). (Sorry for the paywall, which prevents me from presenting the whole text here.)

SANTA FE — With the world premiere of Cold Mountain and the announcement of a newly commissioned opera about Steve Jobs by Mason Bates, Santa Fe Opera has been in the media spotlight over the past week. The company is also emphasizing its versatility in this summer’s three productions of familiar fare.

continue reading

Filed under: directors, Donizetti, review, Richard Strauss, Santa Fe Opera, Verdi

Nabucco Comes to Seattle

This weekend brings Seattle Opera’s first-ever staging of the early Verdi breakthrough. Here’s an introduction to Nabucco I wrote for Washington National Opera a few seasons ago:

Verdi composed more than half of his entire oeuvre for the stage in the mere dozen years between his debut opera and Rigoletto (1851), generally considered the turning point when “early Verdi” morphed into a fully mature master.

continue reading

And an audio preview I wrote for the same production can be found here.

UPDATE: My review has now been posted here.

Filed under: opera, Verdi

Verdi’s Don Carlo at the Met

My essay Verdi’s Don Carlo for the Metropolitan’s current revival of the Nicholas Hytner production:

The longest and most ambitious of Verdi’s works, Don Carlo seems to encompass multiple operas. Parading across its vast canvas is an array of richly characterized individuals who elicit the full range of the composer’s art; their particular relationships play out against an epic backdrop of conflicting social, political, and religious forces. Scenes of searing intimacy and familial turmoil are juxtaposed with grand spectacles that formidably display the power of church and state.

continue reading (pdf beginning on p. 40)

Filed under: essay, Metropolitan Opera, Verdi

Verdi’s Ernani at the Met

The Met’s production of Ernani is back on the boards. Here’s my essay for the Met’s program:

With Ernani, the fifth of his 28 operas, Verdi was able to exercise a degree
of control over the creative process that had been unprecedented
thus far in his career. Not only did he enjoy one of the key successes of
his early years as a result, but the experience also helped clarify his sense of the
untapped potential for a powerful new style of music drama hidden behind the
conventions of Italian opera.

continue reading (p. 39 of pdf)

Filed under: essay, Metropolitan Opera, Verdi

Rigoletto and Its Curse

The Jester</i.  George Henry Hall (1825-1913)

The Jester, George Henry Hall (1825-1913)


Since today the Met begins its summer schedule of HD broadcast encores with Rigoletto here’s an essay I wrote for San Francisco Opera on Verdi’s rethinking of the elements of melodrama:

Master of the theater that he was, Verdi liked to recall a childhood incident in which real life seemed to trump the most hair-raising effects imagined for the stage.

At the local church in his native village of Roncole, young Verdi found his attention naturally drawn to the music he heard during worship services. One day, while serving as an altar boy, he became so distracted from his duties that the priest celebrating Mass kicked him. The boy went tumbling down the steps of the altar and, humiliated by this abuse, at once muttered a curse that the priest be struck down by lightning. The vindictive wish became reality eight years later when the offending cleric was instantly killed by a thunderbolt.

As an illustration of the apparent effectiveness of a curse—all the more alarming for being unforeseen—this episode might have found itself right at home in Verdi’s operatic universe. The device of the curse (along with its corollary, revenge) is, after all, as commonplace in nineteenth-century opera as the elaborate car chases meant to set the pulse pumping in blockbuster action films.

Curses in one form or another figure prominently throughout Verdi’s operas. Think of the early breakthrough work Nabucco (which actually dramatizes a moment of divine retribution in the form of a lightning bolt), Macbeth, with its collective imprecation against Duncan’s murderer, the gypsy curse of Il Trovatore, or Simon Boccanegra’s thrilling Council Chamber finale.

continue reading

Filed under: essay, San Francisco Opera, Verdi

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

RSS Arts & Culture Stories from NPR