Madama Butterfly, Billy Budd to be presented by Central City Opera in 2019

The schedule also includes smaller works by Debussy and Poulenc

By Peter Alexander July 27 at 5:20 p.m.

While you were busy watching the operas, Central City Opera Company slipped some news into the program book.

CCO House by Ashraf Sewaiilam

Central City Opera House (photo by Ashraf Sewailam)

Page 10 of the deluxe 2018 season book lists the 2019 season, which will offer the opportunity to hear one of the most popular operas ever, as well as three works that are genuine rarities in the opera house. The latter include two smaller works more often classified as oratorios, and one major opera by a truly great opera composer.

The season will follow the pattern of recent years, with two large-scale productions in the Central City Opera House, and two smaller one-act works in more intimate venues in Central City:

* Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini
* Billy Budd by Benjamin Britten
* La Damoiselle élue (The blessed damozel) by Claude Debussy
* Litanies à la Vierge noire (Litanies to the Black Virgin) by Francis Poulenc

CCO Butterfly 2010 Yunah Lee.Chad Shelton

Yunah Lee and Chad Shelton in Madama Butterfly, Central City 2010

According to the Web site Operabase, Butterfly was the seventh most frequently performed opera in 2017–18, with 2,428 performances world wide. It was last performed by CCO in 2010. That production will be returning, but with a different director.

It was long been the ambition of CCO’s general/artistic director Pelham G. Pearce, Jr., to present all of the operas by Benjamin Britten in Central City. “Oh, I love Britten!” he says.

Of the Britten operas yet to be done at Central City, Billy Budd, which calls for a very large cast of all men and takes place on a British man-o’-war, would seem to pose the greatest challenge in the intimate Central City Opera House.

glyndebourne-billy-budd

Billy Budd at the Glyndebourne Festival

Billy Budd is at this point the biggest show we will ever have done inside the theater,” Pearce says. “I’m really excited about it. There are so many people in Billy Budd it’s just crazy, but it’s such a glorious work. I swear the roof is going to come off in that space!”

In contrast, the smaller works next year will feature female voices. “Because Billy Budd is all male, outside of the main stage we will be staging Debussy’s Blessed Damozel, which is all female” Pearce says. “And going along with that will be The Litany of the Black Virgin by Poulenc, also for all female voices.”

Offering two shorter works each year is a plan that Pearce has become attached to. “We do really well with these (shorter) shows,” he says. “And they provide a really great opportunity to show off young artists. So I’m pleased with them.

“It provides me the opportunity to play a little bit in areas of repertory that we normally don’t get into. There’s a whole lot of stuff that’s written that’s not a full evening in the theater, and that often gets neglected. So having the opportunity to play in that pond of work has been really a lot of fun for me.”

Pat.Pearce.2018

Pelham (Pat) Pearce

Pearce is especially happy to offer the two works for all female voices. “I have a thing about just women voices,” he says. “Blessed Damozel is a gorgeous piece that (Debussy) wrote when he was very young. He originally wrote it for just piano, which is how we’re going to do it. It’s glorious music, (and all) you’re going to have to do is walk into the church, sit down, and be immersed in the sound.”

He first heard Blessed Damozel years ago when he bought a recording. He had never heard it before, but, he says, “I put this on and said ‘My god, that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve heard in my life!’ So that’s been stuck in the back of my head for years. And now I have an opportunity to do it!”

Although the season has been announced, tickets are not yet available for 2019. Cast members and production details are generally announced in the fall, with subscriptions going on sale in December and single tickets in the spring preceding the summer season. Watch for further announcements on the CCO Web page.

 

Advertisements

Central City Opera one-acts offer fun, joy

Mollicone’s Face on the Barroom Floor, Handel’s Acis and Galatea

By Peter Alexander July 27 at 12:45 p.m.

Central City Opera is offering two one-act operas this summer, in addition to their two full-scale productions in the main opera house (Verdi’s Il Trovatore and Mozart’s Magic Flute).

Handel’s Acis and Galatea is receiving its first CCO production, while The Face on the Barroom Floor by Henry Mollicone was written for the company 40 years ago and was performed annually until a few years ago. It is being revived this year for its fortieth anniversary. Both shows are cast with members of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Artists Training Program.

FaceI may be the last person in Colorado who has not seen Face on the Barroom Floor, but if you find yourself in the same category, it’s too late this year; remaining performances of this modest 25-minute work are all sold out. The opera is presented in the Williams’ Stables, an intimate theater space across the street from the main Central City Opera House. And that is both the joy and the one drawback of the performance.

It is a joy, because everyone in the 90-seat Williams’ Stables performance space is close enough to interact with the singers. In fact, members of the audience are recruited to stand in as the barroom’s patrons for about half of the opera. But the drawback is that it is a small space, with a low ceiling, easily filled by operatic voices. Between pure volume and some imperfect diction, not all of the text can be understood.

williams-stables-central-city-colorado-BK4KWP

Williams’ Stables in Central City

That aside, the performance is great entertainment. It is a young person’s story, brim full of youthful passions, ideally suited for the young artists of the training program. The cast I saw had Gillian Hollis as Isabelle/Madeline, who becomes the face; Zachary Johnson as the hotheaded barman of past and present (Tom/John), and Martin Luther Clark as his sarcastic, skeptical rival for Isabelle/Madeline’s attentions (Larry/Matt). All were delightful.

Hollis was pert, pretty and bright-voiced in the central role—can we call it the title role? She sang with convincing expression throughout, capturing the audience’s sympathies as she tries to keep the testosterone-fueled macho outbursts of the men under control. Of course, sopranos often have to die in opera, but it must be a record that she, poor thing, is shot dead twice in about 15 minutes.

Johnson was the very image of the bartender, solicitous of the guests from the audience, then on alert both times Larry/John came into his bar. His voice is clear and strong, his acting effective and believable. In spite of his morally ambiguous role in both scenes, he remained a sympathetic character.

Clark has a solid tenor voice, with clear diction throughout; not a word was lost. He put across Larry’s sarcasm in the present-day scenes so well that one understood the bartender’s antagonism but not why Isabelle was with him in the first place. His fights with Tom/John were well done, by both actors and in both eras.

The small accompanying ensemble (piano, flute, cello) played well, the costumes are effective in both delineating character and distinguishing eras, the staging fitting. If you missed it, you may need to lobby CCO to produce it again; it is a Central City tradition well worth enjoying.

# # # # #

AcisHandel is a world away from the old West and Mollicone’s gritty barroom drama, but Acis and Galatea is another opera well suited to young singers. Populated by shepherds, nymphs and a monstrous cyclops from Greek mythology, it has the same central conflict as Face: two men fighting for a woman’s love. Performed before a house of 120 seats set up in an open rehearsal room of the Martin Foundry in Central City, Acis is as intimate as Face, with members of the audience invited the help during the performance.

In Handel’s “Pastoral Entertainment” (as it was billed in 1718), Acis and Galatea are deeply in love and pine for one another when separated. The cyclops Polyphemus desires Galatea, and in his raging jealousy he kills Acis. But just as the spirit of Madeline haunts the barroom in Face, Acis lives on in a stream so that Galatea can swim in his love forever.

Acis18_0005

Acis and Galatea cast, left to right: Chris Mosz (Damon), George Milosh (Acis), Matthew Peterson (Polyphemus), Graycen Gardner (Galatea), Benjamin DaCosta-Kaufman (Corydon). Photo by Amanda Tipton

Director Ken Cazan has cleverly updated the setting to a Woodstock-like ‘60s hippie haven, an effective modern analogue to the pleasure-seeking Arcadian world evoked by the pastoral poetry of Handel’s time. Lines such as “Love on her breast sits panting” and “When he returns, no more she mourns, but loves the live-long day” certainly suggest the era of “make love, not war.” Cazan even takes in the modern sense the words of the opening chorus: “Happy nymphs and happy swains, harmless, merry, free and gay, dance and sport the hours away.”

The set—a long, narrow platform that runs the full diagonal length of the hall—, the costumes by Stacie Logue, and the hippy-dippy manner of the five-member cast all support the transformation to the sixties. The music, however, is pure Handel, and some of his most gorgeous music at that—stylishly played and sung by the cast and a small orchestra under the able direction of Christopher Zemliauskas. It was a joy to hear.

Acis 18_0018

Graycen Gardner (Galatea) and George Milosh (Acis). Photo by Amanda Tipton.

The 18th-century English of the libretto does not lend itself to easy understanding by a modern audience. Texts such as “Ye verdant plains and woody mountains, purling streams and bubbling fountains,” and “Where shall I seek the charming fair?” are not easily grasped, especially when diction is compromised by elaborate twists and turns of the vocal lines, but the simple plot is easily conveyed through action.

The cast were all strong and well rehearsed, keeping ensembles together even when wide apart on the runway set and facing different directions. (A mirror at one of the room allowed them to see Zemliauskas even with their back to him.) Phrasing and sound were all fit well to Handel’s style.

Acis 18_0041

Matthew Peterson (Polyphemus). Photo by Amanda Tipton.

As Galatea, Graycen Gardner sang with a flexible soprano, handling leaps and flourishes with apparent ease. Her musicality and exquisite phrasing were a source of pleasure. George Milosh brought a light, lyrical tenor voice to the role of Acis. His command of the text was evident, as almost every word came through. Baritone Matthew Peterson coped well with the rapid coloratura lines of “the monster Polypheme,’ keeping his musical focus even while being wheeled up and down the set, standing on a chair. Chris Mosz and Benjamin DaCosta-Kaufman, the designated “free and gay” members of the hippy band, were effective in their smaller parts as Damon and Corydon.

The orchestra provided more than support for the singers. From a stylishly played overture to the closing chorus (“Galatea, dry thy tears, Acis now a god appears!”) they performed the Baroque score on the highest level—the more credit to conductor Zemliauskas, whose barefoot entrance, flashing peace signs to the audience set the scene as well as his leadership set the musical level.

Acis and Galateais a great opportunity to hear some little known, enchanting music by Handel. Tickets are still available for the performance at 8 p.m. Aug. 1.

CMF concert has four highlights, each presented with great polish

Augustin Hadelich a soloist to remember in the Barber Violin Concerto.

By Peter Alexander July 27 at 1:15 a.m.

The Colorado Music Festival presented a remarkable orchestra concert last night (July 26), even by their high standards, featuring four works composed in America, all of them worth hearing and all of them presented with great polish.

http://www.jaimehogge.com

CMF artist advisor Peter Oundjian (photo by Jaime Hogge)

The CMF orchestra was conducted by the festival’s artistic advisor, Peter Oundjian, who has devoted his programs this summer to music with American connections. Appearing with Oundjian was violinist Augustin Hadelich, whose performance of the Barber Violin Concerto would be a highlight on any program. But so were, each in their own way, the other three works on the concert.

Barber’s Concerto is unquestionably one of the greatest works by an American composer. No piece starts more enticingly, with music of seductive beauty. Hadelich was in command from the first note, playing with an incomparably sweet tone that easily carried to the back of the hall without a hint of harshness, then turning on a dime to skip through the concerto’s playful moments.

carnegie-hall-augustin-hadelich

Violinist Augustin Hadelich

The expressive beauty of his playing served him well in the second movement, a distillation of the late Romantic love of pure sound, with only occasional glimpses of the darker side of the 20th century. The finale, a famously virtuosic display of perpetual motion, went in a blaze of fireworks, zipping past without a single slip. In every facet of the concerto, Hadelich was a soloist to remember.

As if that were not enough, he came back for an encore, playing a Paganini Caprice just to show that no, his fingers are not tired. After the concerto, it was striking to hear the violin alone, every sound exposed. And it sounded just the way it looks on the page, every note right where it should be. The violinist who accompanied me to the concert whispered, “Perfect. That’s all you have to say.”

The concert opened with Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, a boisterous and entertaining work that showcases just about every section of the orchestra, including percussion. Weber’s charming early-Romantic ideas are run through Hindemith’s late Romantic filter, adding a lot of instrumental color, a lot of variation, and an occasional harmonic twist to make an attractive, audience-friendly concert piece. Oundjian’s performance loved the orchestral colors of the score and let them shine. It was all great fun, as it is meant to be.

After intermission, the orchestra’s string section returned for George Walker’s Lyric for Strings. Like Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which it resembles, this is a movement from a string quartet arranged for string orchestra. Walker uses the string instruments’ ability to sustain long musical lines, expand into a rich, deep texture, and play ethereal chords that drift into silence. The CMF players filled the hall with luxurious sounds.

Dr. Atomic Met

Gerald Finley as Oppenheimer in Doctor Atomic at the Metropolitan Opera

The final member of the quartet of fascinating pieces was the Doctor Atomic Symphony by John Adams, comprising music from Adams’ 2005 opera about Robert Oppenheimer and the first test of an atomic bomb in 1945. The opera compellingly captures the pressures and conflicts experienced by Oppenheimer and the other scientists of the Manhattan Project as the date of the first test approached, as well as the pressure felt and exerted by Gen. Leslie Groves, the Army’s commander for the project. (Doctor Atomic is currently being produced by the Santa Fe Opera. Learn more here.)

All of this is transferred into the Symphony, which contains music of ominous intensity. To my ears, this is one of the most dramatic, most powerful, and most effective new orchestral works I have heard in recent years, and it was played with great force and sheer virtuosity by the CMF orchestra. Individual solos—especially the trumpet’s eloquent interpretation of Oppenheimer’s aria from John Donne’s sonnet “Batter my heart, three person’d God”—were all played very well.

One of the central issues and greatest sources of conflict in the opera is weather, with thunderstorms threatening to cancel the long-awaited test. Perhaps it was coincidence, but the CMF performance was powerful enough that it seemed to stir up its own sudden thunderstorm that lasted beyond a long ovation.

Just like the actual test in 1945, the audience departure from the auditorium had to be delayed. But just as in 1945, the storm passed, and to all appearances the audience went home more than satisfied with what they heard.

CMF Orch.by Eric Berlin