Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hamlet Met Saturday Matinee & High Definition Broadcast

Photo by Marty Sohl, Metropolitan Opera

Marlis Petersen in rehearsal as Ophelia in Hamlet at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City on March 16. She stepped in after Natalie Dessay withdrew from the production due to illness. Click here to see the video "Last Minute Soprano Saves the Opera."

The Saturday matinee broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera will be Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet. Classic 99.1 KFUO-FM will carry the broadcast beginning at 12:00 noon (CT). Approximate running time is 3 hours, 43 minutes, including one intermission.

A high-definition live transmission of Hamlet will also be presented at the AMC Esquire 7 Theatre on Clayton Road, The St. Louis Mills 18 in the St. Louis Mills Mall, and AMC Chesterfield 14 Cinemas in the Chesterfield Mall. Click here for ticket information.

From the Met's web site:
Two of Shakespeare's unforgettable characters come to life in Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser's new production. Simon Keenlyside is "stunning," delivering a "haunting portrayal" in the title role, the New York Times says. Marlis Petersen "brings a luminous voice and winning grace to her performance" of Ophélie. Thomas's score "could not have a better champion than the conductor Louis Langrée."
From Anthony Tommasini's March 17, New York Times review:
The opera is also a star vehicle for the right baritone in this punishing title role. Simon Keenlyside, the Ralph Fiennes of baritones, was the acclaimed Hamlet when this production was introduced, and he dominated the evening here. His singing was an uncanny amalgam, at once elegant and wrenching, intelligent and fitful. Handsome, haunted and prone to fidgety spasms that convey Hamlet’s seething anger and paralyzing indecision, Mr. Keenlyside embodied the character in every moment, and you could not take your eyes off him.

The soprano Natalie Dessay, this production's original Ophélie, was to have joined Mr. Keenlyside here. She withdrew from the entire run because of illness and was replaced by the German soprano Marlis Petersen. The opera world has been abuzz recently with reports of Ms. Petersen's whirlwind last-minute rehearsal schedule. She missed the dress rehearsal on Friday because she was performing in Vienna. The Met sent a coach there to work with Ms. Petersen, who flew to New York on Saturday, then endured a 30-hour period of costume fittings, stage rehearsals with piano and one abbreviated orchestral run.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Met's Fall 2009 Production of Janacek's From the House of the Dead Saturday Matinee

The Met Saturday matinee broadcast on March 20 will be a Fall 2009 performance of Leoš Janáček's From the House of the Dead. The broadcast will be carried by Classic 99.1 KFUO-FM beginning at 12:00 noon (CT). Approximate running time 1 hour, 40 minutes.

From the Met's web site:
With this new production, voted Europe's best opera staging for 2007, one of opera's great visionaries makes his Met debut. Patrice Chéreau, renowned for his legendary centennial Ring cycle at Bayreuth, directs Janácek’s drama of human resilience inside a Russian prison. "The penal camp is a different society, parallel to ours, but there are many similarities between the two," Chéreau declares. "Power, relationships, humiliation, passion—all those things exist in both worlds." Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen also makes his Met debut, and Peter Mattei leads the ensemble cast.
From Anthony Tommasini's November 13, 2009 New York Times review:
In composing voice parts for his characters, Janacek obsessively mimicked the rhythms and contours of the Czech language. Much of the vocal writing, sung here in the original Czech, sounds like pitched speech. To provide impetus and continuity, the orchestra churns away constantly beneath the vocal lines. Fragments of melody and rhythmic licks are fashioned into a collage like orchestral fabric. Ostinato figures are repeated endlessly.

On one level, the repetition conveys the drudgery and routine of prison life. Yet in another way — especially as conducted by Mr. Salonen with such visceral character and pungent textures — the repetitive riffs evoke the thoughts that get stuck in the minds of the prisoners: resentments, violent fantasies, feelings of betrayal, isolation and yearning.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Washington University Opera To Present Die Fledermaus on March 19 and 20

Gina Galati

By Liam Otten, Senior News Writer, Washington University Record

Over the last two decades Jolly Stewart has been a force in St. Louis opera. In addition to directing Washington University Opera, which she founded with her husband, John, Stewart serves as principal stage director for Union Avenue Opera and coordinates Opera Theatre St. Louis' Spring Training Program for talented high school singers.

In March, the Washington University Opera will celebrate Stewart's upcoming retirement with an "all-star" performance of Die Fledermaus (1874), the beloved operetta by Johann Strauss II (1825-99). The production will feature nine returning alumni -- all of whom now sing professionally -- as well as celebrated baritone Ian Greenlaw, teacher of applied music in Arts & Sciences.

Performances begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 19 and 20. Tickets are $18; $12 for seniors and Washington University faculty and staff; and $7 for students. Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Boulevard.

For more information, call (314) 935-5566 or email

"Last hurrah"

Prior to settling in St. Louis, both Stewarts enjoyed distinguished singing careers. Jolly, a Kansas City native, had appeared with Austria's Salzburg Camerata and the San Francisco Opera, among many others, while John’s extensive credits included Santa Fe Opera, Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera.

Yet in 1990, when they arrived in the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences -- Jolly as a teacher of applied music, John as director of vocal activities -- the university did not have an opera company. They decided to start one.

"We thought, 'this place needs to do opera,'" Jolly says with a laugh. "We started small and just grew from there."

The itinerant company -- which each year would consist of the 15-20 students in Jolly’s opera class -- staged its first production, of Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti (1952), in the modest ballroom of the 560 Music Building. Subsequent seasons would see performances in the Sheldon Theatre, Graham Chapel, Bixby Gallery, the Saint Louis Art Museum and finally Edison Theatre, where they’ve been for the last six seasons.

"For the most part, we’ve focused on 20th century opera," Jolly points out, noting recent productions of Jack Beeson’s Lizzie Borden (1965), Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring (1947) and Carlisle Floyd's Of Mice and Men (1970). "I’ve seen it as a mission to do works that audiences don’t get to see everyday -- and to give students a chance to learn things that will really stretch them."

On the other hand, "for this 'last hurrah,' we wanted to do something familiar and fun," she adds. "And of course we now have the luxury of drawing on so many professional singers."

Die Fledermaus (The Bat)

Set in glittering, fin de siècle Vienna, Die Fledermaus is a light-hearted revenge comedy centering on Gabriel von Eisenstein, a fast-living (if inconveniently married) man-of-means, who has just received a short prison sentence for abusing a police officer. Falke, Eisenstein’s friend, invites him to spend a last night of freedom at Prince Orlofsky’s masked ball, promising that, "all the ladies of the ballet will be there."

Meanwhile, Eisenstein's wife, Rosalinde, takes advantage of his absence to meet with Alfred, her own would-be lover. Things go awry with the arrival of Herr Frank, the prison governor, who, mistaking Alfred for Rosalinde’s husband, carts him off to jail. Further complications ensue when Eisenstein arrives at the ball -- which, it turns out, has been arranged as a practical joke at his expense.

"Once, returning home from a similar ball, Eisenstein abandoned Falke, drunk, on a park bench," Stewart explains. "The next morning he was found, wearing the costume of a bat, by a policeman, earning the ridicule of all Vienna.

"To get back at him, Falke plans Orlofsky’s ball and invites all the strategic people in Eisenstein’s life, including Rosalinde, who comes disguised as a Hungarian countess," Stewart continues. Thus Eisenstein, "who prides himself on being able to charm any woman,” begins the unintended seduction of his own wife.

"It’s saucy and flirtatious and a lot of fun," Stewart concludes. "Everybody loves champagne just a bit too much."

Cast and crew

The cast of 10 is led by tenor Clark Sturdevant, currently an artist-in-residence with Dayton Opera, as Eisenstein; and soprano Gina Galati, founder of St. Louis' Winter Opera, as Rosalinde. Also starring are Greenlaw as Falke; tenor Adam Cromer as Alfred; and Elise LaBarge as Adele, Rosalinde’s maid.

Rounding out the cast are Megan Higgins as Sally, Adele’s sister; Nathan Ruggles as Herr Frank; Debra Hillabrand as Orlofsky; and Philip Touchette as the prince’s valet. Tenor James Harr pulls double-duty as both Eisenstein's attorney, Blind, and his jailer, Frosch.

Jolly Stewart directs the performance, and John Stewart conducts. Sets and lighting are by Patrick Huber, a longtime collaborator who has worked with Jolly on dozens of shows, both for Washington University Opera and Union Avenue Opera. Costumes are by another longtime collaborator, Teresa Doggett.

Gina Galati

Friday, March 12, 2010

Shostakovich's The Nose Saturday Matinee Broadcast

The Metropolitan Opera presents Dmitri Shostakovich's 1930 The Nose as the Saturday matinee on March 13. Classic 99.1 KFUO-FM will carry the broadcast beginning at 12:00 noon (CT). Approximate running time 1 hour, 44 minutes.

Three critics for the New York Times discuss the music, the art and the literary threads of the Met's new production of The Nose here. Roberta Smith comments,
"For the most part I enjoyed "The Nose," both visually and musically. I was amazed at how modern Shostakovich sounded, maybe not in a totally good way. At times it almost seemed like very daring musical comedy. The score seemed full of wit and at times more than a little bathos, as when Kovalyov moped around after his nose."
Click here to view a trailer for The Nose, featuring animation by William Kentridge; Catherine Meyburgh, video compositor and editor.

From the Met's web site:
Artist William Kentridge defies genres with Shostakovich’s adaptation of Gogol’s story. "The opera is about the terrors of hierarchy," Kentridge says. "There’s a mixture of anarchy and the absurd that interests me. I love in this opera the sense that anything is possible." The new production is conducted by definitive Shostakovich interpreter Valery Gergiev. Acclaimed baritone Paulo Szot, who won a Tony Award® for South Pacific, makes his Met debut as the man who wakes up to discover that his nose has disappeared.

As a contemporary of Konstantin Stanislavski and Vsevolod Meyerhold, Shostakovich was a part of the Russian artistic movements of the early twentieth-century. Based on a story by Nikolay Gogol, "Nos" ("The Nose") Shostakovich’s operatic incarnation by the same name was meant to inject a modern freshness into Soviet opera. While the adventures of a wayward, personified proboscis seemed like "modern" and "fresh" material for opera, tolerance for these sorts of efforts were being quashed by authorities who supported the socialist agenda and Shostakovich’s first opera suffered greatly. After only 16 performances, it was withdrawn from the Malïy Theatre in Leningrad not to resurface—at least not in the Soviet Union -- until 1974.
From Anthony Tommasini's March 6 New York Times review of the Met's debut performance of The Nose:
Musically you are not likely to hear a more insightful, ornery and, when appropriate, achingly poignant account of Shostakovich’s still-shocking score than the performance the conductor Valery Gergiev drew from the Met orchestra and chorus and the large cast: some 30 artists, singing about 80 solo roles. It was a breakthrough night for the baritone Paulo Szot in his Met debut as Kovalyov, the beleaguered petty bureaucrat who awakens one morning to find his nose missing.

This unconventional opera, which Shostakovich wrote at 22, had its premiere in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) in 1930. The dissonant, brutal score was instantly condemned by Soviet authorities, and the work was not performed again in Russia until 1974. It is time to reassess this opera, and the Met deserves thanks for championing it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Puccini's Gianni Schicchi Presented by Winter Opera on March 13 and 14

Winter Opera Saint Louis will present Giacomo Puccini's Gianni Schicchi at Saint Ambrose Church, 5110 Wilson Avenue (on the Hill) on Saturday, March 13, at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, March 14, at 5:00 p.m.

Gianni Schicchi stars Andrew Stuckey in the title role and Winter Opera's founder Gina Galati as Lauretta. Gianni Schicchi is based on a character from Dante’s Inferno, and will be performed in Italian with English super-titles.

Edward Benyas, Music Director of the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra. will conduct.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ricardo Muti Conducts Atilla on Met's Saturday Matinee Broadcast

Ricardo Muti by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Ricardo Muti conducts Verdi's Attila on the Saturday matinee broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera. Ildar Abdrazakov sings the title role, joined by Violeta Urmana, Ramón Vargas, and Giovanni Meoni. Classic 99.1 KFUO-FM will carry the broadcast beginning at 12:00 noon (CT). Approximate running time 2 hours, 35 minutes.

From the Met's web site:
Champion of the Verdian tradition Riccardo Muti makes his Met debut with one of the composer’s rousing early operas. This story of civilization’s encounter with barbarism is explored in a new production by director Pierre Audi. Some of the brightest lights in contemporary design, including Miuccia Prada and the architecture team of Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron (the 2008 Beijing Olympics "Bird’s Nest" stadium), have created the costumes and scenery. "Our approach is to stay very close to the descriptions supported by Verdi: destruction, rubble, lagoon, forest, darkness -- all in a very naturalistic way," explain Herzog & de Meuron.
From Peter G. Davis' February 17 New York Times story:
When Riccardo Muti ruled Teatro alla Scala in Milan from 1986 to 2005, a telephone caller to the opera house’s business offices was greeted in style: the first sound on the line was a gorgeously arching melody played by the full orchestra. Opera fans could probably identify the composer -- Giuseppe Verdi — but they might have had trouble placing the tune. It comes from the brief prelude to his seldom performed opera Attila, which finally receives its Metropolitan Opera premiere on Tuesday.