Opera Feed

"Aida" by Regina Opera in Brooklyn

by Steven Pisano

  20180505-DSC05174(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Now wrapping up its 48th season, the Regina Opera company in Brooklyn performs in the auditorium of a school, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Academy of Brooklyn, in Sunset Park. It is not a gold-encrusted  palace of theater and music like the Metropolitan Opera or the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. The singers do not have exclusive recording contracts with major labels. The scenery is not bigger than the buildings in most small towns.

And yet...just off the busy 59th Street subway station of the N and R trains, the Regina Opera company is currently presenting a knockout production of Giuseppe Verdi's massive warhorse, Aida. There are no elephants, no legions of slaves, no massive life-size temples in the desert. But what there is is simple but effective staging, a lively orchestra, and above it all, uniformly glorious singing. It is a solid treat for the ears from beginning to end, and if you are an opera lover, or only a Verdi lover, it is well worth  travelling to see it, as it only plays two weekends as part of the 2018 New York OperaFest.

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Heartbeat Opera's Modernized Versions of "Fidelio" and "Don Giovanni"

by Steven Pisano

  20180508-DSC03043(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Heartbeat Opera is one of a number of smaller opera companies seeking to maintain traditional opera as a vital force in the twenty-first century by reimagining works from the canon in edgy new ways that mirror the electric productions of contemporary operas put on by the likes of the Prototype Festival, Opera Philadelphia, and Nashville Opera. It is as if the folks at Heartbeat view Mozart, Donizetti, Beethoven, and so on, as being every bit on the current scene as David T. Little, Missy Mazzoli, Kevin Puts, and other contemporary opera-composing stars.

That can be a very exciting endeavor, producing traditional operas less as historical artifacts and more as essential works that still have meaningful relevance to today's binge-watching audiences. At the same time, for purists, it can be akin to heresy. Traditionalists are accustomed to turning a blind eye toward nips and tucks that trim bloated works from the past, but Heartbeat Opera goes further. Not simply content to apply window dressing to accommodate modern tastes and attention spans, they wrestle old operas onto the table, dissect them from the inside, then put all the parts back together in a way that sometimes stays true to the original and other times veers far astray. In many ways, the result is less an interpretation than a collaboration across time--the composers and librettists from two centuries ago paired with the theater artists of today.

As part of the 2018 New York OperaFest now playing through June all around town, Heartbeat Opera is presenting Mozart's Don Giovanni and Beethoven's Fidelio at the Baruch Performing Arts Center. Both productions feature stellar young casts in exciting, stripped-down productions that burn brightly both musically and theatrically.

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"Intolerance" by the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall

by Steven Pisano

American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

In the early 1960s, memories of Fascism and Nazism were still fresh in the collective memory of Europe. In Italy, the hateful, xenophobic government of Benito Mussolini had left deep scars on the nation, and the composer Luigi Nono, in a commission from the Venice Biennale, tried to confront these memories by writing his first opera, Intolleranza (Intolerance), dedicated to his father-in-law, Arnold Schoenberg. Last Thursday, the American Symphony Orchestra and Bard Festival Chorale, under the direction of music director Leon Botstein, revived Intolleranza at Carnegie Hall

In the story, a migrant yearns to return to his homeland from where he has been working in a mine. Along the way, he encounters social protests in the streets, he is wrongfully arrested by the police, and he is thrown in prison and tortured. His desire to simply return home transforms into a zealous passion to fight for a better world, against bureaucracy and governments and social hate. He escapes prison, and along with a woman companion, finally makes his way to the river that borders his homeland, but the river swells over its banks and swallows everything - including the migrant and his companion.

It is a story with many resonant ties to our modern world, where millions of refugees have fled from war across Europe, and where in our own country we still are firmly under the sway of the fears engendered by the attacks on September 11, from which were about as far as World War II was for Nono in 1961 when he composed Intolleranza.

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"Written on Skin" at Opera Philadelphia

by Steven Pisano

"Written on Skin" at Opera Philadelphia(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Proclaimed an instant modern masterpiece when it premiered almost 6 years ago at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, George Benjamin and Martin Crimp's opera Written on Skin recently received its American premiere at the increasingly edgy Opera Philadelphia under the direction of William Kerley and the musical direction of Corrado Rovaris.

Originally produced in an earthy and rugged style, which was videotaped and released on DVD, the opera has been reimagined in a more sophisticated, almost futuristic staging by Tom Rogers, who also designed the costumes. Loosely based upon the story of Guillem de Cabestany, a Catalan troubadour who lived at the turn of the 13th century, the narrative can be interpreted in different ways.

The basic thrust is that a rich landowner commissions an artist to create a celebratory illuminated manuscript of his life (making sure his enemies are depicted in Hell). The man's wife is excited by the possibilities that the book presents, and begins a sexual relationship with the artist. But because the illuminated manuscript tells all, the landowner soon reads about his wife's betrayal in the book's pages. Enraged, the landowner hunts down the artist, carves out his heart, and serves it as dinner to his wife, who then leaps to her death from a balcony when she learns what she has devoured.

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