Wednesday, November 28, 2012

MET "Live in HD" Dec 1, 8 & 15

An exciting three Saturdays are in store for music lovers around Roanoke. The Met "Live in HD" returns Dec 1 to the Whitman Auditorium of Virginia Western Community College
( Join me at 12:30 before the 12:55 curtain for an "opera insights" talk about this classic and traditional "period" production that has been a Met staple championed for years by the likes of James Levine.

Mozart's ultimate grand opera, La Clemenza di Tito launches the December HD fest. Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro are the most popular of his Italian operas. The Magic Flute is the most delightful of the crown jewels in Mozart's incredibly productive final year of 1791 (which also saw the sublime Clarinet Concerto and the fate-filled unfinished Requiem). La Clemenza di Tito may be the grandest achievement of that amazing year. It closed in Prague "with tremendous applause" the very night Die Zauberflöte opened in Vienna. One of the critics of the day wrote, "the music stamps the composer of it as the greatest musical genius of the age." Contemporaries would have thought W.T. Parke's remark an exaggeration; little did any of them know his praise was an understatement.

Here's an image of the autograph score:

Below, I've copied the synopsis from the MET website.(

The title character is one of the greatest tenor roles Mozart wrote, making it one of the great tenor roles of the 18th century. The triangle at the heart of the plot is completed with Mozart's greatest "trouser" role: Sesto. Sesto (sung by a mezzo) is both friend to Tito and in love with Vitellia, the daughter of the deposed emperor. Tito is the benevolent son of her father's enemy, making Vitellia one of those fiery "drama queens" hell-bent on revenge.

One of the highlight's of Mozart's vocal writing is the aria for Sesto near the end of act 1, "Parto, parto, ma tu, ben bio," written for the mezzo with basset clarinet obbligato. The clarinetist for whom Mozart wrote his beloved concerto, Anton Stadler was in the pit for Tito, since the composer wrote one of his most virtuosic instrumental solos expressly for him. In addition to several arias and duets being encored, Stadler received as much of an ovation from the premiere audience as did the singers. Opera has always been a paradigm for artistic collaboration...

Here is a silhouette of Stadler and an image of an 18th century basset clarinet.

Act I
Rome, first century AD. The Roman emperor Tito is in love with Berenice, daughter of the king of Judea. Vitellia, the former emperor’s daughter, feels that she should hold the throne herself and asks her young admirer Sesto to assassinate Tito. Though he is a close friend of the emperor, Sesto will do anything to please Vitellia, so he agrees. When Sesto’s friend Annio tells him that Tito, for reasons of state, will not marry Berenice, Vitellia becomes hopeful again and asks Sesto to put off the assassination plot. Annio reminds Sesto of his own wish to marry Sesto’s sister Servilia. The two men affirm their friendship.

At the forum, the Romans praise Tito. The emperor tells Annio and Sesto that since he has to take a Roman wife he intends to marry Servilia. Diplomatically, Annio assures Tito that he welcomes his decision. Tito declares that the only joy of power lies in the opportunity to help others. When Annio tells Servilia of the emperor’s intentions, she assures him of her love.

In the imperial palace, Tito explains his philosophy of forgiveness to Publio, the captain of the guard. Servilia enters and confesses to the emperor that she has already agreed to marry Annio. Tito thanks her for her honesty and says he will not marry her against her wishes. Vitellia, unaware that Tito has changed his mind, furiously insults Servilia and asks Sesto to kill the emperor at once. He assures her that her wish is his command. After he has left, Publio and Annio tell Vitellia that Tito has decided to choose her as his wife. Vitellia desperately tries to stop Sesto but realizes it is too late.

Sesto has launched the conspiracy and set fire to the Capitol. Full of shame, he runs into Annio, evades his questions and rushes off. Servilia appears, then Publio, and finally Vitellia. They are all searching for Sesto and believe that Tito has died. Sesto returns, looking for a place to hide. He is about to confess his crime but is silenced by Vitellia.

Act II
In the palace, Annio tells Sesto that the emperor is still alive. When Sesto confesses his assassination attempt but refuses to give any reason, Annio advises him to admit everything to Tito and hope for forgiveness. Vitellia rushes in, begging Sesto to flee, but she is too late: a fellow conspirator has betrayed him, and Publio enters with soldiers to arrest him. Sesto asks Vitellia to remember his love.

The Roman people are thankful that the emperor has survived. Tito struggles to understand the conspirators’ motives and doubts Sesto’s disloyalty. Publio warns him against being too trusting. When it is announced that Sesto has confessed and been sentenced to death by the Senate, Annio asks Tito to consider the case compassionately. The emperor will not sign the death decree until he has had the chance to question Sesto himself. Alone with Tito, Sesto assures him that he did not want the throne for himself, but he hesitates to implicate Vitellia. Tito, not satisfied with this explanation, dismisses him. Sesto asks Tito to remember their friendship and is led off. The emperor signs the decree, then tears it up: he cannot become a tyrant and execute a friend. He cries out to the gods, saying that if they want a cruel ruler, they have to take away his human heart. Servilia and Annio beg Vitellia to help save Sesto. She realizes that she must confess her crime rather than accept the throne at the price of Sesto’s life.

In a public square, Tito is about to pronounce Sesto’s sentence, when Vitellia appears and admits that she alone is responsible for the assassination attempt. The bewildered emperor explains that his intention was to forgive Sesto anyway. He finally decides to pardon all the conspirators. The Roman people praise Tito for his kindness and ask the gods to grant him a long life.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Don't miss the Met's Tempest, Nov 10!

The Met has a mini-site dedicated to its new production
of The Tempest, one of the most important new operas
to come along in recent decades -

A post about our recent "Masques of Orpheus" program
devoted to "Tempests, Ghosts & Mad Queens" has a primer
on some of the familiar quotes, speeches & songs
in Shakespeare's autumnal masterpiece (and a personal
favorite among the Bard's great plays).

I hope inquiring minds (and ears!) will come
out to hear the drama and see the music of this
"brave new world" of an opera Saturday, Nov 10
at 12:55. Come early for a discussion on
composer Thomas Adès and his opera with me at 12:30.

The Tempest is the talk of the classical music world
and the eventful cultural scene of NYC!
Just 8 years old, this opera has already had several
productions across Europe, and at Santa Fe opera -
Multiple productions for a new work is a rarity,
and is but one example of both Adès' prodigious gifts
and his opera's stage worthiness.

And his music is fabulous - it's unlike anything the Met's done -
it is at once wholly original and yet full of arias and ensembles that have
a ring of familiarity. The role of the "Airy spirit" Ariel is
sung by a stratospheric coloratura soprano in what must be
among the most demanding roles ever written. The British critic
and author Tom Service writes, "There is no more vertiginous part in
the operatic repertoire."

Caliban's aria in Act 2 - "Be not afeard" - is as hauntingly beautiful as any
tenor aria of the last 40 years. And he is one of 4 lyric tenors in the cast.
The "reconciliation quintet" in Act III is ravishing. The score - from the opening storm to the the ethereal closing duet for the Island's natives - Ariel and Caliban -
is "rich and strange" as Shakespeare's own music. I have been listening
to both the premiere recording from Covent Garden and the Sirius XM
radio broadcasts, and I find the work more compelling with each listen.

This weekend's production is the highlight of the Met "Live in HD" season
for me personally, as I love exciting new works. I crossed paths
with Maestro Adès while I was a young artist at the Aldeburgh Festival
in the UK almost 10 years ago. His career as both a composer and pianist
was really taking off in Europe. He was starting to conduct
not only his own works but also those of his colleagues.
It's only natural that he be considered the successor to Benjamin Britten, another
composer / conductor / pianist who specialized in operas and vocal works
(and composed the most famous English language Shakespeare opera of
the 20th century - A Midsummer Night's Dream).

Amy and I have followed Adès ever since & heard his orchestral works
played live at the likes of Carnegie Hall. Sir Simon Rattle and the
Berlin Philharmonic are among his champions.

He is a bona fide genius, a prodigy & a fascinating individual.

Here's an excerpt from an interview with Adès on the Met's mini-site devoted to The Tempest. The composer is talking about his opera as a kind of musical globe, conceived and executed with the aim of symphonic unity.

Why Do You Describe This As A Symphonic Opera?
"The music has its own internal logic of relationships that doesn’t just do what it wants to do because the characters suddenly decide to go somewhere. It’s a little bit hard to explain. It’s a tissue that’s woven in. Everything is related in the music, and it does create a sort of whole. And I think that’s what symphonic thinking is. All the elements create a view of the world that’s a sphere."

What Other Operas Are Symphonic?
"I’d like to say Pelléas et Mélisande. I think Lulu is another example where everything in the piece is articulated in the music, and in a very jointed way. The opera is like a body, with limbs and arms and bone structure and all this sort of thing. It’s not just a story with music. It’s something that exists above and around the through the story. The music is not just an accompaniment, I hope, more an embodiment."

We hope to see you Saturday at Virginia Western's Whitman auditorium
for an exciting afternoon of a great new opera!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tempests, Ghosts & Mad Queens? What do they mean?

What, in the "great globe itself," does a title like "Tempests, Ghosts & Mad Queens" mean?

Any opera lover will recognize at least one of the layers of the "Mad Queens," for the repertoire is full of mad scenes for unhinged sopranos - both mad, angry, scorned, hell-bent and otherwise.

Ghosts have been frequenters of dramatic stages since ancient greece. They come in as many varieties as the coloratura-firework-flinging-arabesques of the aforementioned Queens.

And Tempests - from the great floods, Homer & Virgil's maelstroms to Shakespeare and beyond - have fired our collective imaginations and presented myriad opportunities for creative exploration.

The "great globe itself" is one of many familiar quotations from Shakespeare's great play, The Tempest, and 3 vocal chamber works setting Shakespeare are at the heart of Opera Roanoke's "Tempests, Ghosts & Mad Queens" program this weekend. Our guest host from the Spirit World, Edgar Allan Poe, will try to put these pieces in context, lover of Shakespeare that he was (and is)! But here's a quick primer.

Famous songs & quotes form The Tempest:

Where should this music be? I’ th’air or th’earth…

Full fathom five thy father lies...| Nothing of him that doth fade | But doth suffer a sea-change | Into something rich and strange...

Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows…

But you, o you,| So perfect and so peerless, are created | Of every creature’s best…

Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises… |...that, when I waked, | I cried to dream again…

In a case of "meaningful coincidence" The Tempest features a Masque - a "play within the play" if you will. Here are some of the lines from within that Masque:

What harmony is this? | Marvelous, sweet music…

You are three men of sin …

Our revels now are ended… | The cloud-capped towers… | the great globe itself…
We are such stuff as dreams are made on…

O brave new world…

Let us not burden our remembrance w | A heaviness that’s gone

Other interesting observations, from our eccentric friend and romantic scholar,
H.L. McCrea:

The Tempest is full of visions & dreams, phantasmagoria, “magic” and “madness.” It is also an archetypal journey through exile and trials to a homecoming, another variation on the "eternal return" or the "return of the hero - ine / exile..."

The exiled & deposed king Prospero is a student of alchemy, "magic" or the so-called “occult arts” and has become a sorcerer. Shakespeare thus spins out a filament of an esoteric thread reaching back to the ancient world, and reappearing dramatically in the romantic era of Poe, Byron, Coleridge, Goethe, Novalis and Nerval...

Frye says this play is a paradox of reality & illusion in drama... like the dream... from Euripides to Pirandello... It is a story of moral & spiritual rebirth… rituals of initiation…baptism…ancient mystery dramas

The Tempest contains a central Masque and is like the masque in its use of elaborate stage machinery and music...

One theory holds that Shakespeare's play was modeled on a Virginia-bound ship wrecked in the mysterious Bermuda triangle...

Frye concludes his excellent introduction to The Tempest (The Pelican Shakespeare edition by comparing Shakespeare's play to Mozart's ultimate fantasy.

"The Tempest in short is a spectacular and operatic play, and when we think of other plays like it, we are more apt to think of, say, Mozart's Magic Flute...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tempests, Ghosts & Mad Queens this weekend!

We launch our new series, The Masques of Orpheus this weekend! Here's a sneak peak at the program:

Tempests, Ghosts & Mad Queens:
A Masque for voices, players and dancers…
Featuring Opera Roanoke’s Young Apprentice Artists
November 2: The Jacksonville Center for the Arts, Floyd, 7:30 pm
November 4: The Waldron Theatre, Roanoke, 7 pm

Named after the original singer-songwriter-composer, the Greek bard Orpheus is considered one of the ancient founders of music itself. The Masque was an early form of “festive entertainment” featuring “singers, dancers, actors, poets and players.”

Opera Roanoke’s Masques of Orpheus is a new series of innovative programs of entertainment featuring a variety of music and theatre, poetry and dance.

from Sweeney Todd
by Stephen Sondheim (b. 1930)
Prologue: The Ballad of Sweeney Todd

from The Magic Flute
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Opening scene: Zu Hilfe! Zu Hilfe!
Tamino, Three Ladies

Aria: Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen
Queen of the Night

Duet: Papagena! Papageno!
Papagena, Papageno

from Candide
by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
Aria: Glitter and be gay

from The Tales of Hoffmann
by Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)
Entr’acte and Barcarolle

from The Medium
by Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007)
Monica’s Waltz and The Black Swan

from Three Shakespeare Songs
by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Full Fathom Five
The Cloud Capp’d Towers

Be Not Afeard
by James Lego (b. 1990)
*World Premiere Performance

Epilogue: The Ballad of Sweeney Todd

Our dynamic artists will be decked out in gothic costumes and make-up to fit our Halloween theme. Edgar Allan Poe will be our guest host from the beyond in this original evening of music, theatre, dance & poetry not to be missed!