Opera Feed

Kit

IMG_3935Occasionally, I use this space to reflect on the passing of a notable musician or composer, someone whose contributions deserve to be remembered long after they're gone. Today, I want to talk about my friend Kit Gill, who lost her long, hard-fought battle with cancer on Monday. Kit wasn't a musician - in her younger days, she was a fashion model and editor - but I've never met anyone who cared more deeply about music, or was more generous towards those who made it.

Kit loved all of the arts: music, dance, fine art, fashion. But opera was her passion, and she was a regular presence at the Met, as well as opera houses around the world. (She boasted of having attended 26 consecutive Bayreuth Festivals, which is a lot even for Wagner fans.) If Kit enjoyed a particular production, you could bet on seeing her at every performance, including dress rehearsals. 

In many ways, Kit was unapologetically old school. She had no cell phone, no computer: only a fax machine (!) and a landline. She would send me reviews the old fashioned way: by clipping them out of the paper edition of the Times and sending them snail mail. But, Kit was no fossil. She read widely, and pursued her own blend of radical (chic) politics, finding solidarity with everyone from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Kit had hundreds of friends and thousands of stories that rivaled those of Forrest Gump. There was the time she had the entire Bolshoi Ballet over to her 1820's farmhouse in the Berkshires for a vodka-fueled party after their performance at the Pillow. There were the late nights singing karaoke in SoHo with René Pape. Or weekends spent hanging out at Max's Kansas City with her friend Bobby Short. Or how the billionaire Edgar Bronfman - whom Kit dated after her divorce - would fly up to the Berkshires and land his helicopter on her croquet lawn. 

Improbably, I fell into Kit's rarefied circle of friends. We met in 2011 at a reception hosted by the Wagner Society - of which she was Vice President - at a restaurant near Lincoln Center celebrating the Met's new (and, according to Kit, loathsome) Ring cycle. I'm not entirely sure what Kit saw in me - perhaps she was excited at the prospect of recruiting someone who wasn't in their 70's, or wearing plastic horns. Before long, I was paying Kit regular visits at her richly decorated apartment on 5th Avenue, where she alternated between serving me glasses of wine (she didn't drink herself) and fighting to keep her dogs Happy and Nikki off of the upholstery.

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PROTOTYPE: David Lang's "anatomy theater"

by Annette Gold 

Anatomy theater
“Where is evil?” sings Baron Peel (the booming, authoritative Robert Osborne), described as a “distinguished anatomist of talent and experience” by his contemporaries. Peel knowingly responds, “You can’t hide it…you can’t stop it.” And then he plunges a knife into a defenseless naked woman.

“Post mortem, of course.”

Such is the mood of the 90-minute absurd romp that is anatomy theater: a piece that effortlessly bridges Gilbert & Sullivan and Philip Glass into a feminist, satirical piece worthy of any stage. Especially in today’s reawakening of populist control over women’s health, the statement that women deserve more than the benefit of the doubt (like, for starters, an opinion) belongs in neon, in patter, in repetitions, in themes of hyperbole.

The show began in the lobby – at first, admittedly, I thought it was a tired trick: extras dressed as 15th-century peasants directed guests to different parts of the lobby for an interactive preshow. Then, the murderess Sarah Osborne (growled by Peabody Southwell) was led in shackles through the crowd signaling the start of the show. We all filtered into the black box, an ideal venue for such a piece to resonate intimately, to find Sarah on a box below a noose. The audience took a moment to gawk and settle into their seats. The extras filled in the sides of the theater – their participation transformed the stark space into a medieval enclave; with eye contact easy and the fourth wall broken, the murderess’ desperation was quite palpable before a single note rang out.

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PROTOTYPE Festival: Breaking the Waves

by Annette GoldBreakingthewaves(All pics by Steven Pisano)

Following it's world premiere at Opera Philadelphia in September, the much-hyped Breaking the Waves had its New York City debut at the Skirball Center at NYU last Friday night as part of the PROTOTYPE Festival. Going into it, I was skeptical—would the piece be a salacious shocker with nudity and profanity, or would it be a revelation? The answer: it is bafflingly not greater than the sum of its parts, despite exquisite composing and lyrical, if not virtuosic, singing.

As a disclaimer, I’ll share that I haven’t seen the movie. I felt that would actually be better, since I wanted to experience firsthand what I had heard would be a very powerful story. Operas should have powerful stories. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to remain confused for most of the performance, due at least in part to the stuck, postured direction by James Darrah.

The opera seemed most free in the little moments of joyful characterization allotted to the doomed protagonist Bess, brilliantly sung by Kiera Duffy, whose Scottish accent and paradoxical gamine naïveté were never a burden. Composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek gift us with an all-male Greek chorus of sorts; it seemed Mr. Darrah could have left the posturing to them to highlight their contrast with the protagonists, a sort of ‘perspective of the masses’ versus that of the ‘other.’

That is not to say the piece was ineffective. It surely had shock value—Ms. Duffy was completely nude a handful of times, and her character’s husband, Jan, both bellowed and crooned by John Moore, was naked in enough positions to leave nothing to imagination. The nudity was obviously intended to be an important expository choice, but it felt gratuitous and gave us no insight about either character’s true desires. The inexplicable connection between the love interests was only more confusing as Jan exploited Bess’s kindness by encouraging her liaisons with every member of the chorus, accompanied by more nudity.

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The Richard Tucker Gala at Carnegie Hall

Netrebko dario acostaPhoto credit: Dario Acosta

The Richard Tucker Gala, arguably the most star-studded event of the American opera season, took place last Sunday at Carnegie Hall. The gala is a veritable barometer of the best singing in the opera world, and this year was no exception—headlining the program were prima donnas Joyce DiDonatoAnna Netrebko and Renée Fleming, in addition to the 2016 Richard Tucker Award winner Tamara Wilson.

Ms. Wilson easily proved her vocal mastery in her second selection, "Tu al cui sguardi onni possenti" from Verdi’s I due foscari. As she tossed off impossible roulades and cut through more than 100 instruments and choristers with pianissimo high notes, Wilson made Carnegie's bathtub-like acoustic cower under her vocal heft. Her other pieces were no less lovely—Wagner’s "Dich, teure Halle," a trio from Norma, and "Make Our Garden Grow" from Candide—each of which Ms. Wilson handled with finesse and command. She is a major new discovery for the opera world.

Wilson was in good company with reigning diva Netrebko, who was originally slated to sing a duet with her husband, tenor Yusif Eyvazov, until it was announced that Mr. Eyvazov would be unable to perform due to a broken foot. This turned out to be to the audience's benefit, as Ms. Netrebko added the verismo aria "Io son l’umile ancella" to the previously programmed "La mamma morta." Both pieces were riveting, conjuring images of the great Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi, combining Callas’ vocal drama with Tebaldi’s luxurious sound. Especially breathtaking were the final floated phrases, complete with pitch-perfect octaves and a final ringing morrà.

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