COOPERSTOWN, NY — I've seen David Lang's Pulitzer Prize-winning the little match girl passion on at least three separate occasions now, and while the music has never ceased to haunt me, I've always thought the heartbreaking Hans Christian Andersen tale about a girl who freezes while trying to sell matches on the street would be well served by staging.
Enter Glimmerglass Opera, which last week premiered its new staged version of little match girl at the Alice Busch Opera Theater in Cooperstown, as part of an evening-length program under the dubious header "Passions." There were some indubitably fine moments to Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, which opened the evening—particularly Jessica Lang's (no relation) evocative choreography—but I couldn't grasp any real relation between Mary's sorrow at Jesus' passion and the Andersen story. Enough with these false umbrellas!
The second half opened with the world premiere of Lang's when we were children, for a cappella children's choir. The text, a quote from St. Paul, took on an unexpectedly dark meaning in the mouths of these babes:
"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."
Photo credit: Glimmerglass Opera
little match girl followed, in a new version Lang wrote for Glimmerglass, amplifying the four SATB voices (soprano Lisa Williamson, mezzo-soprano Julia Mintzer, tenor Michael Porter, bass Christian Zaremba) with children's chorus. The staging, by Glimmerglass director Francesca Zambello, was beautifully simple, with gentle snow falling on the dimly lit stage. Victoria Munro, in a non-singing part, was deeply captivating as the little match girl, wide-eyed and shivering in her threadbare clothes.
Conductor David Moody ably led the orchestra and singers, and deserves credit for keeping the children in sync in this brand-new music. Unfortunately, he couldn't overcome some serious issues of pitch and phrasing with the four soloists, all of whom are participants in Glimmerglass' Young Artists Program. Granted, Lang places some unusual demands on his singers—broad vocal range, staccato repetitions, doubling on chimes, bass drum and other instruments—but an opera festival of this stature (see the cast for The Flying Dutchman, also directed by Zambello) should be able to do better.
More pics on the photo page.