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New Opera Notes

Lou Harrison, composerLou Harrison, Young Caesar (Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times):

"Young Caesar" is outsider opera, not so much for its subject matter — which may have been controversial at its premiere at Caltech (of all places) in 1971 but which, in present-day San Francisco, has become a marketing ploy — as for everything else about it. Originally written as a puppet opera on a commission from Encounters, a then-new-music series sponsored by the Pasadena Art Museum, it was conceived as an entertainment that would marry Indonesian puppet theater, Chinese opera and some aspects of Western Renaissance musical theater.

The composer later filled out his percussion-heavy instrumental ensemble to make it something lusher and more string-based and tried presenting the work with live singers onstage with the puppets for Portland Opera. Much later, he turned "Young Caesar" into a full-fledged opera for the Lincoln Center Festival. First Mark Morris was to direct, then Bill T. Jones. Neither did. Lincoln Center, when administrations changed, lost interest. Harrison died without ever seeing "Young Caesar" produced.
Ricky Ian Gordon, The Grapes of Wrath (Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times):
The opera, like Steinbeck's novel, sprawls. At the performance Thursday night in the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, a few patrons did flee into the bitter cold after the second intermission. But at this, the third performance (the premiere was Feb. 10), the sense of excitement was unmistakable. [...] As far as I was concerned — and this is a minority opinion — the nearly four-hour opera was too short. Had Gordon and Korie been allowed to follow their original bliss and create a two-night or more American "Ring" cycle, I would have gladly returned for more. [...]

"Grapes of Wrath" is not a step forward in opera. But Gordon and Korie, through sheer conviction, and Minnesota Opera, through a brilliant production and cast, have found the timeless and timely essence of Steinbeck's epic. A co-commission with the Utah Symphony and Orchestra and a co-production with Houston Grand Opera and Pittsburgh Opera, the work will have a future. I hope the companies will be strong enough not to cut it but to let it grow.
Howard Shore, The Fly (Phil Gallo, Variety), co-commissioned by Los Angeles Opera and the Châtelet in Paris (based on 1986 film):
Scheduling issues prevented "The Fly" from inclusion in L.A. Opera's 2007-08 season, for which it had been slated. It was commissioned in 2004. "It has long been my dream to unite the worlds of film with those of opera, especially in Los Angeles," Domingo said in a statement prior to the news conference. "The Fly" will be an "unprecedented addition to the operatic repertoire. Any commission of an opera is a gamble, as has been proven throughout music history," Domingo added. "There is no scientific formula for commissioning, only one's instinct when one listens to a composer's already existing works." [...]

At an L.A. Opera press conference last month, Domingo mentioned that composer Daniel Catan had begun work on an opera version of "Il Postino."
John Adams, A Flowering Tree, U.S. premiere in semi-staged version by San Francisco Symphony (Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle):
But if the narrative arc and Adams' deliberate use of plainspoken, translucent textures are reminiscent of "Magic Flute," the two-act score buzzes with all kinds of other musical echoes as well. Sibelius and Richard Strauss (whose opera "Daphne" also treats arboreal transformation) are frequent reference points, but there are also touches of jazz and the buzzing rhythmic patter that is Adams' trademark synthesis of Stravinsky and Steve Reich. The most obvious reference point, though -- if only in their differences -- is "Doctor Atomic," Adams' 2005 opera about the making of the first nuclear bomb. Like Beethoven's symphonies, which come in matching, contrasting pairs, these two operas, written back-to-back, illuminate each other in their opposing qualities -- one a tale of death and doom punctuated by flashes of brightness, the other a gentle love story with troubling undertones.
Jake Heggie, Last Acts, February 29, 2008, Houston Grand Opera (Georgia Rowe, Contra Costa Times):
San Francisco-based Jake Heggie will unveil a new opera next year; the "Dead Man Walking" composer's "Last Acts" will receive its world premiere in February 2008 at Houston Grand Opera. Based on a play by Terrence McNally, the chamber opera is written for mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, with libretto by Gene Scheer; Heggie and Houston Grand Opera music director Patrick Summers will play the two-piano accompaniment for the opera's Houston run.
Houston Grand Opera also inaugurates a multi-year Britten cycle.

Philip Glass, Appomattox (San Francisco Opera, October 5, 2007, San Bernardino County Sun):
Glass says, "When I grew up in Baltimore, it was a segregated city. Then I saw it change. But it didn't really change. Some things changed. I grew up with all the Civil War stuff, and it was clear to me that the issues of the war were never really resolved. The story of the Civil War — the big American story, really — is race. ... I don't think we've solved our problems yet, but what I like about America is that we know we have them compared, to some countries. ... The biggest issue in the world is racism, whether it's in Iraq or Palestine, India, Russia or Pennsylvania. It's the biggest evil."
New opera is happening.


Anonymous said...

How wonderful! I love getting great news about new music via the bloggersphere, and this entry gave me quite a few happy "ah...aaaahhhh" moments.

Can I just add to this how excited I am that Dr Atomic will be featured in my inaugural season as a Chicago Lyric Opera subscriber!

Charles T. Downey said...

Tim, thanks for the nice comment. Yes, it's all great news, isn't it. Agreed about "Atomic," too: hopefully I will get to hear the opera finally at Chicago or the Met.