Opera Feed

Matthew Aucoin's "Crossing" at BAM

by Steven Pisano

"Crossing" at BAM(All photos by Steven Pisano)

The Civil War may have ended more than 150 years ago, yet in many ways our country has never fully recovered. The recent protests over removing Confederate statues from public locations have shown just how shallow - and how hurting - the wounds from that episode in our history still are. To be sure, we've come a long way since the 1860s, but we are still a nation divided. Not Blue and Gray any longer, but Blue and Red.

If opera is generally thought to be drama writ large, then the Civil War could be considered the greatest opera in American history, with brother killing brother hand-to-hand, and thousands of soldiers dying in a single day. So it's interesting that the young composer Matthew Aucoin, in his 2015 opera Crossing, explores a more intimate side of the war through Walt Whitman's diary, in which he writes about volunteering as a wartime nurse tending to wounded Union soldiers. But while the setting is small, the themes in Aucoin's opera are timeless--love, faith, betrayal, life, death, transcendence.

Aucoin, 27, composes music of a very high caliber, writes his own literate librettos, and is one of the most respected young conductor/composers in the country. (Crossing, Aucoin's third opera, was written when he was only 25.) First performed at American Repertory Theater in Boston (Aucoin studied poetry at Harvard), Crossing is having its New York premiere this week at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the annual Next Wave Festival.

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A Berkshires Bounty: Opening Weekend at Tanglewood

Tanglewood - Feast of Music Jul 9  2017  3-33 PMLENOX, MA - I've been going to Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's longtime home in the Berkshires, almost every summer now for the past two-and-a-half decades. Those that have been to Tanglewood know that it is a special place, where the mix of manicured lawns, mountain vistas, and world class musicians make it one of the most satisfying places to experience music (not to mention some pretty elaborate picnics) in the world.

But, in all of those years, I've never made it up for the official opening weekend, which typically falls right after the 4th of July. Usually, these early concerts lean towards the pedestrian, featuring a flashy soloist performing under some second-tier conductor. (Tanglewood has actually been open since mid-June, mostly with a mix of pop and jazz concerts for the baby boomer set, including an annual appearance by local resident James Taylor.) 

This year, however, I was enticed by the early arrival of BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, who has expanded his presence at Tanglewood this year to some 10 concerts over four weeks. (11, if you count his participation in the Boston Pops' annual John Williams Film Night on August 19.) A promising development, to be sure, but with Nelsons about to take on the additional role of Kapellmeister (music director) of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, it remains to be seen if the trend will continue beyond this summer. 

Regardless, Tanglewood has always been about more than whomever's on the podium any given night. In addition to some two dozen concerts by the BSO in the 5,100 seat Koussevitzky Music Shed, a parade of world class soloists and chamber ensembles can be heard in the more intimate Ozawa Hall on most evenings. Then, there's the Tanglewood Music Center - Tanglewood's real raison d'être - which provides advanced training and performance opportunities for some of the world's top young musicians. In past summers, I've seen the TMC fellows perform everything from Wagner and Mozart operas under James Levine, to the U.S. premiere of George Benjamin's Written on Skin, in addition to chamber music and orchestral concerts. No matter where you turn, there always seems to be some kind of music happening at Tanglewood.

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Fresh Squeezed Opera Presents "Scopes" and "Prix-Fixe"

by Steven Pisano

20170616-DSC00185(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

You have to admire the courage of a composer of one-act operas. They probably have a better chance of winning Powerball or pitching for the Yankees than they have of staging a commercial run. Thank goodness, then, for the many small opera companies that have stepped in to produce these small-sized works.

Fresh Squeezed Opera is a small, but ambitious Nyc-based company founded in 2013 by Jillian Flexner, Maggie Rascoe, and Lee Braun. This past week at the IATI Theater, they put on two one-acts: "Scopes" by Spencer Snyder and George Gaffney, and "Prix-Fixe" by Kevin Wilt and Caitlin Vincent.

"Scopes," directed by Victoria Benson and conducted by Dean Buck, is about the famous 1925 trial we all read about in history class, with criminal attorney Clarence Darrow (Sean Patrick Jernigan) facing down orator and politician William Jennings Bryan (Joshua Miller) about whether it was legal to teach children about evolution in a state where the Bible was presented as literal truth. The reporting on the trial by journalist H.L Mencken (Melanie Leinbach) was a national sensation. The whole spectacle had the sensationalistic flavor of tabloid TV, despite the fact that TV hadn't yet been invented.

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"Three Way," a Trio of One-Act Operas about Sex and Love, at BAM

by Steven Pisano

"Three Way" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

After an American premiere at Nashville Opera earlier this year, the provocative trio of one-act operas, Three Way, with music by Robert Paterson and libretto by David Cote, has come to the Fishman Space at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this week, presented by American Opera Projects and featuring the American Modern Ensemble conducted by Dean Williamson.

In "The Companion," a single woman, Maya (Danielle Pastin), grows bored with her android companion, Joe (Samuel Levine), who she leases as her lover. Joe can make love all night and is ever so attentive to her every need, complimenting her, cooking her favorite food. What more could any woman want? Well, Maya wants love. But for that, Joe's software must be updated, so call in the tech guy (Wes Mason). The results turn out to be not exactly what Maya had in mind.

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