Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Richard Strauss' Elektra Met's Saturday Matinee

The Saturday matinee broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera on December 26 will be Elektra by Richard Strauss. Classic 99.1 KFUO-FM will carry the broadcast beginning at 12:00 noon (CT). Running time will be approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Elektra will be conducted by Fabio Luisi and will star Susan Bullock in the title role and Deborah Voigt as Chrysothemis.

The fine folks at the ClassicLive web site say:
Elektra is a one-act opera by Richard Strauss, to a German-language libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal adapted from his drama of 1903—the first of many such collaborations between composer and librettist. It was first performed at the Dresden State Opera on January 25, 1909, and remains a part of the standard operatic repertoire.

There's a very interesting discussion of Elektra, complete with videos, at the web site The Awl. Seth Colter Walls, Choire Sicha, and Matthew Gallaway compare the impact of Elektra to punk rock, and argue that Richard Strauss "is one of the most important composers of the 20th Century. In the manner of say, Picasso, he paved the way for the atonal dissonance and 12-tone scales that would come to define progressive music for the next 100 years or more."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Les Contes d'Hoffman This Saturday's Opera Matinee

Photo: Joseph Calleja

The Metropolitan Opera's Saturday, December 19, matinee broadcast will be Jacques Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman. Classic 99.1 KFUO-FM will carry the broadcast beginning at 12:00 noon (CT). The running time will be approximately 3 hours, 35 minutes.

According to the Met web site:
Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher (South Pacific) directs this new production, returning after the triumph of his Met Barber of Seville (seen live in HD in the 2006–07 season). Offenbach's fictionalized take on the life and loves of the German Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann is a fascinating psychological journey. Met Music Director James Levine conducts Joseph Calleja in the tour-de-force title role. Anna Netrebko is the tragic Antonia and Alan Held sings the demonic four villains.

The Saint Louis Art Museum will present the live, high-definition performance transmissions in the Museum Auditorium. Doors open 30 minutes before showtime. Tickets are $22 ($15 Members of the Saint Louis Art Museum, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Metropolitan Opera, New York, and children 12 and under), and are available by calling 314-534-1111.

The SLAM web site notes:
The Museum Auditorium seats 480 people. The screen is approximately 12 feet by 22 feet, and the opera broadcasts will be received in high-definition via satellite. The auditorium uses a widescreen, high-definition projector at 1080i. The sound system is Dolby 5.1 digital surround. Those seeking the best sound experience will want to obtain seats in the center rear of the front section
The Met helpfully points out that "the Live in HD production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann will not include the partial nudity seen in the stage production."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Metropolitan Opera Presents Il Trittico

Saturday, December 12, is the first Saturday matinee broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera for the 2009-2010 season. KFUO 99.1 FM in St. Louis will be carrying the broadcast of Il Trittico, by Giacomo Puccini, beginning at 11:30 a.m.

Il Trittico has a running time of nearly four hours, and this production stars Patricia Racette in all three one-act operas that comprise Puccini's ambitious operatic triptych. According to the Met's web site, "Jack O'Brien's spectacular production also features Stephanie Blythe, reprising her acclaimed interpretation from the 2007 premiere run. The stellar cast also includes Željko Lucic and Alessandro Corbelli, who returns to the title role of Gianni Schicchi."

Interview with 'Amahl' Director Tim Ocel

Operatic Saint Louis recently interviewed Tim Ocel, stage director of Union Avenue Opera’s holiday production Amahl and the Night Visitors. Ocel’s directing credits include work at diverse venues such as Opera Theatre St. Louis, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Sacramento Theatre Company and Boston Lyric Opera. He has also served on the faculty of the University of Kansas-Lawrence, directing several mainstage operas. Amahl and the Night Visitors marks his first production with Union Avenue Opera.

Operatic Saint Louis: Amahl and the Night Visitors has become a beloved holiday piece since its television debut on NBC in 1951. What qualities and themes of this piece resonate with you as a viewer and director?

Tim Ocel: Whether I’m directing or as audience member I always like a good, clear story and Amahl is extremely clear and simple. The music is quite touching and very appropriate for the dramatic situations. The dramaturgy of the libretto is smart.

Thematically, I love the idea that people are given a second chance. Whether you can call that specifically “redemption” I’m not sure; the Amahl story isn’t as clearly a redemption story as A Christmas Carol. But anytime someone is given a second chance, I’m overjoyed. And the Kings are journeying to visit a child who will give a message of peace to the world. I like that. (Whether we listen to that message is another story.)

OSL: Another Menotti opera, The Saint of Bleecker Street, deals with spirituality and miracles just as in Amahl. How do you think Menotti’s Italian-Catholic background influences the Amahl libretto, if at all?

TO: It’s definitely there—the Catholicism—and the Italian emotion. I suspect there is a bit of borrowing of form and formula from Italian verismo operas, particularly Cavalleria Rusticana. “All that gold” has a similar arc to “Voi lo sapete” and the same passion. Both Santuzza and The Mother in Amahl have the same vocal range and are sung by both sopranos and mezzos. The opera also seems influenced by de Sica’s film The Bicycle Thief (1948).

There is pageantry both in the Journey of the Kings and in the March of the Kings into the hut and there is a good sense of mystery throughout; pageantry and mystery are certainly elements of the Catholic Church. And faith.

Both in The Saint of Bleecker Street and Amahl the “choir of angels” close harmonies that Menotti employs are very moving. They pull at you. This is Italian opera, musically and emotionally, though he writes with English text.
Patrick Blackwell (Balthazar), Robert Boldin (Kaspar), Robert Garner (Melchior) and Holly Wrensch (Mother) in rehearsal

OSL: Menotti’s score never lacks for tuneful, accessible arias and ensembles. Among them, do you have any particular favorites?

TO: Hands down my favorite piece is the quartet sung by the Kings and the Mother “Have you seen a child”. Its placement in the middle of the opera and its dramatic importance makes it the musical and emotional heart of the evening. I like the descending theme, the harmonies, the poetry, and the dramatic conflict. The Kings are in harmony; the Mother is in turmoil. It rips me up.

OSL: Do any of the arias or ensembles pose a particular challenge staging-wise?

TO: Since the opera was written for the TV Studio, the biggest challenge in this live staging is to keep the boy Amahl in focus and engaged in the action but also in a position in which we can hear and understand what he’s saying. It’s interesting that the boy who hobbles around on a crutch most of the evening is the one with the most action.

The above-mentioned quartet is difficult to stage because it’s poetically based. It’s difficult for the actors to find a thru line. Is this the concertato? Why do they keep repeating? Are they listening to each other or not? We’ve tried to figure it out.

OSL: Menotti expressly states in the vocal score that the role of Amahl must be sung by a young boy. This challenges a production team to find musically proficient, charismatic young singer-actors. What did UAO look for most importantly in casting the alternating Amahls?

TO: It really does need to be a boy playing Amahl to work dramatically. The most important quality was a good voice; coupled with savvy musicianship—someone who can count and is good with rhythms; the role has it’s difficulties. And he does shoulder the opera all by himself at times. We also wanted a boy who could be expressive and move naturally; an actor!

OSL: How has it been to work with Ricky Johnson and John Schultz [pictured above], the two boys singing Amahl?

TO: They’ve been great. Both of them learned blocking quickly and then adapted rapidly as I would change it; they have good questions, they’re good company members, and they are both disciplined and attentive. They also seem to enjoy being on stage and, for the most part, understand the task of telling a clear story. The acting is coming along. They are learning to listen on stage, which is the hardest thing an actor can do. They’ve developed a nice rapport with Holly and the guys—but particularly Holly Wrensch, the Mother. Amahl and his Mom are a little team in this life and at the beginning of the opera the team is falling apart, and Amahl pulls the team back together. He loves her and cares for her. Holly’s been wonderful with them; she’s very genuine.

Operatic Saint Louis: What would your “sales pitch” be to those still unsure about attending this holiday production?

Tim Ocel: Even if you aren’t in a Christmas mood, you should come hear this small, lovely story. The production is simply told and beautifully sung. You really won’t be disappointed. And for those of you with kids this would be a very good intro to opera for them since its main character is a 10 year-old boy and the piece is short—50 minutes/no intermission.

Amahl and the Night Visitors runs December 11, 12 and 13. Performances begin at 8pm Friday/Saturday and 3pm on Sunday. Tickets range $25-$47; $15 for children. For tickets & more information on the opera, call Dana Stone at 314.361.2881 or visit

Washington University Opera Scenes

This weekend, Washington University Opera presents its Fall Scenes program with abridged versions of Beaumarchais's Figaro story, both with Rossini's The Barber of Seville and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Graduate and undergraduate voice students from the WU Music Department perform the roles you know and love. Jolly Stewart, director of WU Opera stages the scenes. John Stewart, director of Vocal Activities, conducts. Sandra Geary accompanies on piano.

Fall Scenes run Friday, December 11 & Saturday, December 12 at 8pm in the Karl Umrath Hall Lounge, next to the Danforth University Center on the Danforth Campus of Washington University. Scenes performed in English. Admission is free.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Amahl and the Night Visitors" Opens This Weekend

Union Avenue Opera presents Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors for the first time this weekend. Journey back in time to the Middle East during the first century, and meet the young, crippled shepherd Amahl, and his mother. One mysterious night, a knock at their door reveals three kings on a long journey. Will Amahl’s mother’s dream of a better life for her disabled son be answered? Discover the kings’ wondrous generosity and Amahl’s selflessness as a miracle ensues.

UAO’s Artistic Director and Conductor Scott Schoonover has collaborated with stage director Tim Ocel—known for his work at OTSL, New Opera St. Louis and the University of Kansas—to present this holiday favorite. The crew also includes Allyson Ditchey (stage manager), Jennifer Medina (choreographer) and designers Tina McCartney (costumes), Jonathan Loesch (sets) and Patrick Huber (lighting).

Ricky Johnson and John Schultz alternate the role of Amahl (Johnson on Thur/Sat; Schultz on Fri/Sun). Mezzo-soprano Holly Wrensch, last seen as Filipyevna in 2003’s Eugene Onegin, sings the role of Amahl’s Mother. Making his Union Avenue Opera debut, Tenor Robert Boldin sings King Kaspar. Baritone Robert Garner, most recently seen as Count Almaviva in 2006’s Le Nozze di Figaro, sings King Melchior. Bass-Baritone Patrick Blackwell returns after his engagement as Ferrando in this summer’s Il Trovatore to sing King Balthazar. Tenor Philip Touchette, last seen as the Fortune Teller in Lakmé will sing The Page. A chorus of local singers and dancers rounds out the cast.

School groups are invited to attend a FREE Student Matinee production on December 10 at 10am. Fox Charitable Performing Arts Foundation and the Boeing Employee Community Fund sponsor this event. Seating is limited. Inquire with the company for availability.

Amahl and the Night Visitors runs December 11, 12 and 13. Performances begin at 8pm Friday/Saturday and 3pm on Sunday. Tickets range $25-$47; $15 for children. For tickets & more information on the opera as well as the Student Matinee, call Dana Stone at 314.361.2881 or visit

Friday, December 4, 2009

KFUO To Broadcast 'O Pioneers!' Tomorrow

Classic 99 KFUO FM will broadcast Barbara Harbach's opera O Pioneers! tomorrow, Saturday December 5th, as part of its weekly program Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.

O Pioneers! was given its world premiere staging this past October at the Touhill PAC at UMSL. St. Louisan soprano Gina Galati leads the cast as Alexandra; soprano Ann Hoyt sings Marie, tenor Thomas Wazelle sings Emil; tenor Robert Boldin sings Carl; baritone David Dillard sings Ivar; baritone Ian Greenlaw sings Frank. Maestro Scott Schoonover conducts.

The broadcast begins at 12:30PM Central on 99.1 FM.