The Washington National Opera’s production of William Bolcom’s operatic adaptation of Arthur Miller’s earthy play (premiered by the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1999 and staged by Frank Galati) shows the company’s commitment to remounting new American works after their premieres. The Chicago production, now being presented to D.C. area audiences by the WNO, also features three leads from the original production and the two arias added by Bolcom for the 2002 Metropolitan Opera premiere. The libretto had heavy input from both Miller and Arnold Weinstein.
Catherine Malfitano and Kim Josephson in A View from the Bridge,
Washington National Opera, 2007, photo by Karin Cooper
Set in the Italian neighborhood of Red Hook (Brooklyn) in the 1950s, A View from the Bridge centers around longshoreman Eddie Carbone (baritone Kim Josephson) and his over-protective and eventually destructive relationship with his adult niece Catherine (Christine Brandes), whom he raised, and her fiancé, Rodolpho (Gregory Turay), one of two cousins of Eddie’s tormented wife Bea (Catherine Malfitano) just off the boat from Italy. The work opens with a black-and-white projection of the Brooklyn Bridge encompassing the entire stage and the capable chorus singing “sometimes when the tide is right, you smell the Meditarranean air.” Brilliantly, the back wall slides were slowly changed to gently modify the audience’s perspective for each scene. For example, multiple vantages of the Brooklyn Bridge were first shown, followed by a panorama of the gritty neighborhood from above, and finally a view from the back window of an urban dwelling with laden clotheslines strung between buildings. The set, identical for both acts, incorporates the interior of the Carbones’ modest apartment and space for outdoor scenes. Changing between the two only required a new backdrop and lighting.
Bolcom’s score takes on the role of rigorously supporting the dialect-laden text at all times with changes of orchestration and angle in nearly every sentence. Does this place the music in a secondary role? In a 1999 interview with Roger Pines, Bolcom stated:
There will be certain episodes in which I will require less than the most beautiful bel canto kind of voice production, simply because it’s correct to the sentiment and the style of the sentence being said. I’m talking about things that have to be expressed in straight, Red Hook, 'rough neighborhood-in-Italy' kind of diction. But there will be places in the music where you can tell that I’m calling for more lyricism, and other places where it’s almost recitative. There are sections where I’ve decided to use pitched speech and other places where just the rhythms are indicated.The most intense musical moments involve basic upward intervals of an octave or more by the female singers. While Bolcom may not fully exploit the human voice, his score, as previously mentioned, consistently supports the libretto; however, the magic of opera lies in the text’s support of the music. Like Volpone at Wolf Trap last June, one left the opera thinking that the composer did a superb job accommodating a pushy librettist.
Eddie’s perverted infatuation with his young adult niece Catherine left him fatally jealous of the boyish good looks of her new beau Rodolpho (tenor Gregory Turay), an illegal immigrant cousin of his wife’s staying with them temporarily. Turay’s warm voice matched well to the aria “New York Lights,” in which Rodolpho dreams of singing on Broadway instead of working as a laborer in the shipyard. This aria infuriates Eddie, who brazenly dismisses Rodolpho as “a hit-and-run guy with bright lights in his eyes.” Rodolpho reassures Catherine that “it is you I love, not America,” just after refusing to take Catherine to impoverished Italy where the other cousin Marco (bass Richard Bernstein) has a wife and kids. Their survival depends on his American remittances – how interesting to see the immigration issue portrayed just a few generations ago.
Lucia Anderson, Opera with a Modern Voice (Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, November 8)
Tim Page, A Stunning, Though Bleak, 'View From The Bridge' (Washington Post, November 5)
T. L. Ponick, WNO's incomparable 'View' (Washington Times, November 5)
Tim Smith, Opera has a grand 'View' (Baltimore Sun, November 1)
Washington National Opera Rehearsal Journal Blog
When Eddie, drunk from imported Scotch taken from a cargo shipment, comes home early and catches the pair exiting the bedroom, violence ensues, with Eddie eventually locking lips with Catherine, and then Rodolpho. Eddie’s lawyer Alfieri (the superb baritone John Del Carlo) advises Eddie that “[Catherine] can’t marry you…wish her luck; let her go.” Alfieri also cryptically advises against turning the cousins in to the immigrations police. Though extremely effective, Bolcom’s use of orchestral silence at the murder was too generous a gesture toward theater. The exceptional chorus, who was often an eerie extension of Eddie’s conscience (“you got no friends, Eddie”) sings “this is the end of the story, goodnight.” The work ends on a soothing major chord followed by a plucked bass note.
Bass Richard Bernstein’s rendition of Marco’s dark aria “A man goes free on a ship called hunger” was especially moving. Catherine (Christine Brandes) was portrayed confidently, though she could have benefited from more expressivity in tone color; Bea’s exclamation “you know you can never have her, Eddie!” was striking, though Catherine Malfitano’s rich tone was more-often-than-not stuck in the throat, and her r’s were unnecessarily hard, even in dialect. Kim Josephson was increasingly excellent as Eddie, musically and dramatically, throughout the performance. Take the opportunity to experience this production, especially as rumors have reached the ears of Ionarts that this production could be La Malfitano’s last appearance on the operatic stage.
There are four more performances of A View from the Bridge, beginning tonight (November 8, 7:30 pm) and continuing through November 17. A limited number of $25 tickets are available through the Access to Opera Tickets program, for the November 8 and 14 performances only. These tickets must be purchased in person at the box office, starting at 10 am on the day of the performance.