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