Must See Modern Opera
by Christie Connolley
In days of yore, opera companies would announce their seasonal offerings consisting of tried and true favorites with nearly every company systematically performing Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro or Puccini’s La Boheme without exception. There would be a healthy sprinkling of Verdi, usually the perennial favorite La Traviata. Occasionally, for companies with big ambitions and pockets deep enough to mount Wagner’s vision for Gesamtkunstwerk (a term Wagner used to explain the total synthesis of the arts in his operas) you might have seen Der fliegende Hollände (The Flying Dutchman) on the list. That is how it has been for decades, the dependable stable of classics by Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, Puccini, Rossini, Donizetti, and Bizet all at an opera house near you.
But times are changing and more frequently major opera companies are performing and even commissioning new and modern works by living composers. John Adam’s opera detailing Richard Nixon’s trip to China, which premiered in 1987 is now de riguer in most operatic circles. Also widely performed, as far as contemporary operas are concerned, are Mark Adamo’s Little Women based on the literary classic and Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking. Of course, with new and modern opera comes new and modern subject matter such as Mark-Anthony Turnage’s take on the salacious life of Anna Nicole Smith or the new opera which is most notable for boundless profanity, Jerry Springer: The Opera.
There are over ten major American opera companies featuring contemporary operatic offerings during the 2012 -13 season. This look toward the future of music is transforming opera houses from musical museums that honor only compositional sacred cows of bygone eras into living, breathing operatic incubators. Get out your calendars and order your tickets to be a part of this musical revolution.
Boston Lyric Opera Annex
Composer: James MacMillan
Librettist: Michael Symmons Roberts
This year the largest company in New England, Boston Lyric Opera will present the US premiere of James MacMillan’s Clemency. The libretto, by poet Michael Symmons Roberts, is drawn from the biblical book of Genesis, but presented in a modern day setting. The piece presents religious, philosophical and existential quandaries, all packed into a forty-five minute chamber opera.
Clemency will be conducted by Boston Lyric Opera Music Director David Angus and featuring baritone David Kravitz as Abraham and soprano Christine Abraham as Sarah.
Composer: Lori Laitman
Libretto: David Mason
Sung in English
For the first time in the company’s history, Opera Colorado will present a new work, a world premiere in fact. The Scarlet Letter, based on Nathanial Hawthorne’s great American novel will have its world premiere performance with this season. The new production celebrating the company’s 30th anniversary will be directed by Beth Greenburg and conducted by Dean Williamson.
As in the literary favorite the famous trio of characters is woven throughout the story, Hester Prynne portrayed by soprano Elizabeth Futral and a duo of hotties, baritone Morgan Smith as Dr. Chillingworth and tenor James Valenti as Arthur Dimmesdale (James Valenti? Mayor of hottietown? Yup, just secured my ticket).
San Francisco Opera
Gospel of Mary Magdalene
Composer & Librettist: Mark Adamo
Sung in English
The controversial figure, Mary Magdalene will be the subject of San Francisco Opera’s World Premiere production of Mark Adamo’s third full-length opera The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. In announcing the commission Adamo explained, “The piece draws on the Gnostic Gospels, the Canonical Gospels, and decades of biblical scholarship to reimagine the story of the New Testament through the eyes of its lone substantial female character.”
Kevin Newberry directs an extraordinary cast featuring mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke in the title role, tenor William Burden, soprano Maria Kanyova, and baritone Nathan Gunn (if Valenti is mayor then Gunn has to be Governor of State Hotness).
Composer: Philip Glass
Librettist: Libretto by Philip Glass in association with Shalom Goldman, Robert Israel and Richard Riddell
Akhnaten is the senior on this list of spry, young operas. Having already made its world premiere debut at the Staatsoper Stuttgart in in 1984. However, Philip Glass is one of the most prolific and important composers of this generation and unfortunately, his operas are staged all too seldom. So this bold production by the Indianapolis Opera wins a nod here.
According to Glass, Akhnaten completes a trilogy of portrait operas, which include Einstein on the Beach and Satyagraha (about Mohandas Gandhi) that Glass composed beginning in the 1970’s. “Akhnaten, Gandhi and Einstein – three men who revolutionized the thoughts and events of their times through the power of an inner vision. This, then, is the theme of the trilogy. Einstein – the man of science; Gandhi – the man of politics; Akhnaten – the man of religion. These themes (science, politics, religion) are, to an extent, shared by all three and they inform our ideological and real worlds.”