FanFaire 1999

The Metropolitan Opera's final season winds down with an interesting trio of season premieres: Carlisle Floyd's Susannah - a contemporary opera well on its way to becoming an American classic, Handel's Giulio Cesare - a baroque classic, and Alban Berg's Wozzeck - considered the first truly modern classic of the operatic repertory.

Although Susannah has seen numerous performances in Europe and America since its Florida premiere in 1955, this is the Met's first production of the work - with an all-American dream cast, of course: Renee Fleming, Jerry Hadley, Samuel Ramey, and John McVeigh/Anthony Dean Griffey. Floyd's opera, contemporary but not atonal, is set in the American South about a woman wronged by intolerance and malicious town gossip - a modern analogy of the biblical Susanna, which is also the title of an oratorio by Handel whose Giulio Cesare is thought to be his greatest opera, certainly his most popular. This wonderful production (which casts Jennifer Larmore as Cesare, Sylvia McNair as Cleopatra and Stephanie Blythe as Cornelia) calls attention to the rise in recent times of counter-tenor voices, in contrast to a dearth in previous decades of male singers in castrati roles, of which David Daniels (cast here as Sesto) and Brian Asawa (as Tolomeo) are today's leading practitioners. (The works of Carlisle Floyd will be featured in a future FanFaire issue as will the emergence of counter-tenor voices.)

The final season premiere on April 17 is reserved for the work that revolutionized 20th-century opera, Wozzeck by Alban Berg. Hildegard Behrens brings her legendary dramatic and vocal skills to the role of Marie, a signature role which she has sung in many productions at the Met and other great houses. She is joined by Franz Grundheber who, though likewise a veteran as Wozzeck, is singing the title role for the first time at the Met. (The Vienna State Opera production, with Behrens and Grandhuber in the lead roles, is available both on CD and video, shown at left. Click image to buy the video.) Wozzeck is revolutionary for many reasons: it is the first atonal work to become part of the operatic repertory, although like most controversial landmark works it took some time getting there; it is an opera less of plot than of psychological drama not of the high and mighty but of lowly mortals; the opera unfolds within a strictly designed musical and dramatic structure characterized by symmetries within symmetries and Wagnerian in its musical continuity and use of leitmotifs - elements which the experts find most exciting but which are not readily apparent to the untutored ear. Which is perhaps one of the reasons why to this day, though it has some lyric moments and despite its dramatic power this modern staple of the repertory remains, in Hildegard Behrens' own words, a step-child of opera. She sings the role again later in the year in a reprisal of San Francisco Opera's 1990 production. By which time there will be more on Wozzeck in FanFaire.

So far, San Diego Opera's 1998-1999 international season has been scoring a 10. Its delightful Falstaff which opened the season was followed by a stirring, must-see-again production of Carlisle Floyd's Of Mice and Men, which highlighted the enormous vocal and dramatic talent of the young American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey (who sang the same role at the New York City Opera, and Little Bat in another Floyd work, Susannah, at the Met which, incidentally, used sets built by the SDOpera Scenic Studio).
The company's new production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, set in a turn-of the-century beachfront resort not unlike San Diego's famed Hotel del Coronado, was a hit with the locals, yes perhaps because they could relate to the scenery, but more likely because it was a stunning period production that worked, while adding some novelty to Mozart's always enjoyable music. Dare we surmise Mozart himself would have approved?

The company's next offering, Hansel and Gretel, by the German composer Engelbert Humperdinck (the original who lived from 1854 to 1921, NOT the British pop star of the '60's) is another sure hit, despite the familiarity of the dark fairy tale of childhood by the
Brothers Grimm. The production purposely makes a "politically correct" but definitely not heavy-handed statement on various aspects of child abuse - in a setting made superbly magical by the wizardry of set designer Maurice Sendak; thus the work becomes immensely enjoyable not as sociology but as music theatre. Needless to say, the cast and the orchestra were all part of the magic. SDOpera's Hansel and Gretel - it wakes up the child in you! It is MUSIC worth seeing. It runs until April 18. Go!!!

Then, see you at The Masked Ball?

(Photos Courtesy of San Diego Opera)

FanFaire 04/12/99

Newsbytes 11/18/98 Newsbytes 01-02/99

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