Moby Dick: Prima Balena of Opera
The First Whale of literature made a subliminal operatic debut with the Dallas Opera in 2010. By subliminal, I do, in fact, mean that Jake Heggie's splashiest smash hit of the same name as Herman Melville's greatest novel doesn't call for the appearance of the book's white titan onstage in any visible sense. That makes the outlandish idea of transferring Ishmael's story from prose line to vocal line a little less... outlandish. So, why did I choose it for this feature? Think about it... How many people do you suppose conjure the words, 'epic disaster on the sea,' when stewing over the next opera they might consider attending? The difficulties the director and designer encountered during the process of mounting the acclaimed original production were complicated enough without the D., itself. I'm more than a little impressed at the work done by Leonard Foglia, who found a way to make the thrill of a chase on broad waters come to colorful life using projections (not unexpectedly) and other media (i.e. decorated ladders to generate the illusion of men in boats). The obvious seeming impossibility of the whole idea (an idea suggested by Heggie's famous friend and collaborator, playwright Terrence McNally) was pointed out well in advance of the initial performance by the Dallas Opera during the conference wherein they commissioned a work from Heggie that, according to their proposal, would center on a subject of the composer's choice. Their response to the words, Moby Dick, was, "Anything else?" The whole thing wound up making a surprisingly stable and practical spectacle of itself, however, as Heggie convinced them it would, solidifying Heggie's reputation as one of the foremost opera composers of the new millennium and shackling fresh opera fans at each of its revivals. Sure, Ishmael doesn't open the opera with his iconic first line, and his name, for whatever reason, has been changed to Greenhorn (erm?), but I don't think Melville's story of a hyper-intelligent whale and his ill-equipped adversary has ever been so delightful (wink).
For years now we've all been pleasantly uncomfortable watching Jack Torrence trying kill his wife onscreen, but now he's going at her on the opera stage. The Shining isn't the first opera to be based on a novel by everyone's favorite modern wizard of terror, but according to reviews of the sold-out Minnesota Opera premiere, it's definitely the scariest. That's right, opera newbies. You can now get the same experience in a seat at a concert hall or opera house as you can with a ticket to "Blair Witch." Stephen King, himself, rather eloquently panned the 1980 Kubrick film's script and casting, but voiced no qualms about Mark Campbell's libretto. According to Operavore, he approved it within days of reading the final draft, and since then the Minnesota Opera seems to have proven to audiences once and for all that opera truly does teem with modern possibilities by topping this creepy offering with enough musical and visual trimmings to make the hearts of even those who know the story well bust open. Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, Paul Moravec, has been praised as "a masterful musical dramatist" (Opera News) for his by turns romantic, suspenseful, and terrifying score.
Have you ever walked into an opera house with your kids and sat down for a performance with a view to escaping from the world of HBO and AMC? If you have, I'm sure that at least once or twice after a finale you've spent the drive home wondering in certain disappointment if you've just seen an opera or a sung and staged episode of Game of Thrones. Happen to be on a hunt for kid-friendly operatic entertainment? Mozart's ever-famed fairy tale (title unnecessary) won't be the first option to come to mind for much longer. The Sarasota Youth Opera will present the American Premiere of Dean Burry's The Secret World of Og, based upon the bestselling Pierre Berton children's book, on November 12, 2016. Watch and listen as a family of people-in-development descend into a world where the only word known to anyone (goblin/gremlin/gnome creatures all over the place) is 'og.' Kidnapping, a little action a la Loch Ness, and child endangerment are a couple of things parents should be aware of, though anyone who's been to see a Pixar film knows these little no-nos can be a lot more fun to watch on a screen (or a stage) than they are to read on paper-- figuratively.
During the years between 1900 and 1930, opera composers were among many who started losing patience and reserve as the seeming fall of the world began. Expressionism and realism burst onto the artistic scene, each a side to a well-preserved and now widely cherished coin that represents the basic essence of modern classical music. Leos Janacek (pronounced YAHN-uh-CHEK, for those who, like me, don't speak Czech) assisted in its creation for around half a century, carving his name into heads (realism) and tails (expressionism), along with the names of his most celebrated operas. On heads, we find among other black pepper grains of daily life a drowned infant and a suicide. On tails, we find something a little weirder... for opera, at least: Vixen Sharp-Ears, a fox with a love for life in the wild who escapes the conditions of domestic petship only to wind up on her wannabe owner's wall. I suppose that if your kids like crying during Disney movies, you could give a family night at a performance of The Cunning Little Vixen, the very opera of which Sharp-Ears is the star, a whirl. It's a story about love, loss, a marriage necessitated by gossip among forest animals, and the natural cycle of life. There's plenty to love if you're like me and have wished that a little more than sustained injuries were the collective result of all the action in "The Fox and the Hound."
And by "it" I mean Harry Potter, the opera... or, rather, Harry Potter, Parts 1 and 7, the opera... Either way, I have no video footage of it to post. With the help of some very short and bright-eyed Potter-crazy members of the cast, costuming and set design for the 75-minute one-act was completed with all the necessary finishing touches-- including some clever makeup on the nose of the Academy's Voldemort, Serkan Kocadere-- for the May, 2015 premiere. I guess it's not too weird, but I know none of my pop culture glutton pals have expected scenes from the first and final installments of the 21st Century's most popular fantasy series to be adapted for the opera stage. Opera-loving Ravenclaw that I am, I suppose I couldn't ask for much more, could I? Or...? Okay, so I'm not too happy that the initial run of performances took place in Turkey (far away from any theatre within driving distance from my hermit hole), nor do I think it's purely cynical of me to wonder if the Western World will ever see it at all in view of J.K. Rowling's charitable request that all of the opera's box office earnings be used for the benefit of children in need. Perhaps there is a company out there that is willing to provide necessary assistance to a few hundred precious underage have-nots and can spare the costs??? Anyone (Cough... Met Opera)? Anyone???
I haven't posted in a long while, I know. I hope to make up for lost time with higher quality posts in the very near future and a newsletter to make every Lucia and Tosca out there wanna die over and over again. I know that personal circumstances are personal. You guys, my awesome readers and fellow opera crazies, are worth as much time as I can put into my work here. Keep being amazing, buds! I'll do my very best to post regularly henceforth.