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.

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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

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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.

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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.”

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Bass Kevin Langan brings 40 years of Sarastro to Central City

Sometimes his career “just happened,” but he’s been lucky

By Peter Alexander July 24 at 4:05 p.m.

Bass Kevin Langan, Sarastro in this summer’s remarkable production of Mozart’s Magic Flute at Central City Opera, brings a little bit of experience to the role.

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Kevin Langan is performing in his 20th production as Sarastro, at Central City Opera

It is his 20th Sarastro over a 40-year career, starting with a performance at the Indiana University Opera Theater when he was a student.

That was a particularly remarkable production, since among the cast were singers who went on to performances at the Metropolitan Opera, the Glyndebourne Festival, the Chicago Lyric Opera, the Santa Fe Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, La Scala, the Salzburg Festival, the Bavarian State Opera, and other major opera houses. Many are conservatory or university faculty today. (I resist the temptation to name some for fear I will forget others, and they all have had serious careers.)

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Kevin Langan and Sally Wolf earlier this summer in Central City (photo courtesy of Kevin Langan)

One I can name: soprano Sally Wolf, who sang the Queen of the Night in 1977 and married Langan a few years later. Both Langan and Wolf have performed at CCO over the years, although only Langan is cast this summer. They just celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary while in Central City.

I knew Langan and Wolf when we were all graduate students at Indiana U., and I attended that performance in 1977. I don’t remember it in detail, having heard many Flutes since then, but Langan does. After hearing the performance in Central City last week, I sat down with Langan and asked him to reflect back on his 40 years of singing Sarastro, and talk about his interpretation of the role. Interestingly, he says it has not changed much since 1977.

“When I first saw Magic Flute (it was) at the Metropolitan Opera around 1977, right before we did it at IU, because I wanted to get an idea of what it was like,” he says. “The German basses who used to do it at the Met were usually big voices that sang loud, and I thought that’s the way you’re supposed to do Sarastro. Over the years as I did it and worked on it, I decided no, Sarastro should be sung like an (art song) singer would sing it, like you were going to sing Schubert or Schumann.”

Langan names one singer as a model for his approach. “I never saw him live, but I liked the way he sounded on records, and that’s Ludwig Weber,” he said. Weber was an Austrian bass who sang leading roles in Europe from the 1930s, including roles at the Royal Opera Covent Garden during the Second World War and the Vienna State Opera in the 1950s. (You can hear Weber here.)

“The music is not bombastic. That’s the way Mozart wrote it. I don’t think he writes fortissimo once for Sarastro, barely even forte. The more times I did it, I would go to conductors and say ’I don’t want to just go up there and hammer it out, I want to do it like a song.’ And the conductor this time around [André de Ridder] said, ‘Perfect. That’s exactly how I want to do it.’”

Like the Queen of the Night, Sarastro’s part consists largely of two major arias: O Isis und Osiris, sung to the priests of his temple, and In diesen heil’gen Hallen, sung to Pamina. “They’re lessons,” Langan explains. “The first one is a lesson about the gods, and In diesen heil’gen Hallen is a lesson to Pamina, who’s been just devastated by her mother (who asked her to kill Sarastro and rejected her when she refused). It shouldn’t be (sung) out to the audience, it should be to her, and the audience is privy to these two people talking.

“That’s my approach to the role, no matter what production values you give it. I don’t want to make him a blowhard—I want him to be friendly. And that’s the way I sang it at Indiana.”

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Poster for the Houston Grand Opera production designed by Maurice Sendak

Langan has been thinking back about his career, partly for a potential memoir of his years in opera. He has sung with many of the greats of the operatic stage over the years, including Leontyne Price, Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland and Cesare Siepi, to name a few, so he has a lot of memories to draw upon. And of all the Magic Flutes he has sung, two stand out. Interestingly, he remembers them more for their production designs than their musical interpretations.

One was designed by children’s author Maurice Sendak, created originally for the Houston Grand Opera and later performed by other companies around the country, including Opera Colorado in 1999. That one was like performing inside a story book, Langan said.

He and Wolf both performed in a production designed by the English painter David Hockney. Originally created for the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1978, that one also toured around the country. Langan and Wolf sang in the Hockney production in San Francisco in 1991, and a DVD of the production from the Metropolitan Opera was released in 2000.

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Langan backstage with designer Zandra Rhodes (photo courtesy of Kevin Langan)

Those are not the only productions he remembers, though. Another favorite was a production designed by Zandra Rhodes, a clothing designer from the “Swinging ‘60s” in London. “I looked like Don King with orange hair,” Langan recalls. “I had a bright orange outfit, and she herself always had purple hair. We had a lot of fun with that show, but it was more about the visuals.

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Langan in costume as Sarastro at Calgary Opera (photo courtesy of Kevin Langan)

“I played Sarastro as an Indian chief in Calgary. We were all a tribe of Indians and I was their chief. That was fun. And there was Zack Brown’s production that we did in Washington, where I was in a white gown, bald, very elegant. That was cool—I almost look like I’m out of Star Wars!”

Looking back, Langan feels lucky, because he was never asked to do Sarastro in a production that was too crazy. “I don’t think I ever did one that was really ridiculous. I’ve done some pretty whacked-out shows, but not Flute. I was pretty lucky.”

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Langan (left) as Sarastro at the San Francisco Opera in 1991, with Ruth Ann Swenson (Pamina) and Jerry Hadley (Tamino) (photo courtesy of Kevin Langan)

And that’s the last point that Langan wants to make, especially for young singers: His career may look like it was all well planned, going from one Sarastro to another, singing other great bass roles including Osmin in Abduction from the Seraglio, Timur in Turandot, King of Egypt in Aida and The Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlos. You might think that’s just the way he planned it, but that’s not really the case. Some of it was luck.

“I had a lot of things happen to me that were unusual for a young singer,” he says. “Going to San Francisco so young, and working with all these great singers. (But) I had no idea what was going to happen next. It was an odyssey. Things just happened. And that’s one thing about a career, you have no control over it. It takes you on a trip.”

As a lifelong fan of the Beatles, whom he credits for his first interest in singing, Langan can’t resist one more comment. “I say John Lennon’s line, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’ That is so true.”

Langan will continure in the role of Sarastro at Central City Opera through Aug. 5. Tickets are available here.

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Kevin Langan outside the Central City Opera House (photo courtesy of Kevin Langan)

Dramatic Trovatore, strikingly original Magic Flute in Central City

Both operas run in repertory to the first week of August

By Peter Alexander July 17 at 4:05 p.m.

Central City Opera opened a powerful, dramatic production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore Saturday (July 14) in their intimate and historic opera house.

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Il Trovatore: Ashraf Sewailam (Ferrando), Lindsay Ammann (Azucena) and ensemble. Photo by Amanda Tipton.

Intimate is not just a descriptor; it is a significant reason for the production’s impact. With it’s rousing choruses, virtuoso arias, violent passions and gruesome deaths, Il Trovatore meets all the expectations of grand opera, fit for the grandest houses. And yet Central City proved that thoughtfully presented, it can thrive and land a powerful punch in a smaller house. In this space, the music is loud; occasionally I thought it could have been scaled back, but grand opera is meant to overwhelm the emotions. This is a Trovatore to remember.

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Il Trovatore: Jonathan Burton (Manico) and Lindsay Ammann (Azucena). Photo by Amanda Tipton.

Director Joachim Schamberger’s creative production design uses projections—he is also a video designer—to visually expand the limited space of the Central City stage, making a unit set serve effectively as gypsy camp, a palace garden, a gloomy dungeon. Scenes mimed on a bridge above the back of the stage helped fill out the action, much of which is described after the fact. These scenes were effective supplements to the narrations of past events, but at other times distractions from the singers on the main stage below.

Schamberger’s direction served the drama well. The convoluted story of switched babies, misfired revenge and long-nurtured hatreds can be confusing, but the direction, including some well calculated pieces of stage business, the mimed scenes, the acting of the cast, and texts that were projected between scenes all served to clarify the story.

The cast featured top-rank singer-actors. In the title role, tenor Jonathan Burton had a powerful Italianate sound, ideal for the role. From his plaintive offstage serenades to his violent fight scenes with his rival DiLuna, to his climactic cabaletta near the end he handled the vocal demands handily. He carried the lyrical lines effectively, and sang the climatic high notes with a strong, ringing sound. There is no genuine love duet in the opera, but his tenderness in the quieter moments with Leonora was expressive.

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Il Trovatore: Michael Mayes (DiLuna), Jonathan Burton (Manico), Alexandra Loutsion (Leonora) Photo by Amanda Tipton.

As Leonora, Alexandra Loutsion has the power from top to bottom to handle one of the most difficult soprano roles in the repertoire. Her sound was most beautiful in softer passages, but when pushed in volume or intensity she developed a wobbly vibrato that slightly muddied some lines. The fearsome coloratura was dispatched with surety and aplomb.

Baritone Michael Mayes warmed into the role of DiLuna vocally, but was dramatically a force of nature throughout. His characterization, both physically and vocally, conveyed DiLuna’s mad obsession with Leonora compellingly. His brooding anger gave depth to his character and to the drama. At times, the intensity of his passion was vocally over the top, and I thought the music would have been better served by a more modulated, lyrical handling of some phrases.

The character whose obsession drives the drama is the gypsy Azucena. In this searing role, mezzo-soprano Lindsay Amman rose to the big moments in her part, but was fitfully effective elsewhere. Her voice has the dark, smoky quality for the part, but transitions to the lowest notes were not always graceful. Azucena is, frankly, a monstrous character—she throws her own baby in the fire and raises the brother of the man she despises largely to seek revenge by seeing either of them kill the other—and a daunting challenge to any singer. Amman was carefully directed, and often conveyed Azucena’s fury, but at other times was not crazed enough next to the violent passions of the other characters.

Ashraf Sewailam, a CU graduate and well known to Boulder audiences, was a commanding Fernando, as he should be. From his sudden appearance at the very beginning, where he has one of the best scenes ever written for a secondary character, his deep bass sounded strongly. His well dramatized interactions with DiLuna strengthened both characters.

I should spare a word for the chorus, which was superb. As well as an opera for big voices, this is a choral opera, with the Anvil Chorus and the Soldiers’ Chorus of Act III only the two best known moments of many. I loved seeing the gypsy women pounding the anvils in the second act. I’m not sure that fits the medieval setting of the opera, but it was a great moment, and seemed to be relished by the actors.

Dana Tzvetkova’s neo-medieval costumes matched the production well, delineating the characters without any fussy affectations. John Baril led an effective performance, supporting the singers and keeping the performance moving at full tilt. Apprentice artists Michelle Siemens, Zachary Johnson and Fidel Angel Romero, and studio artist Griffen Hogan Tracy were all pleasing in their smaller roles.

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The summer’s other major production in the Central City Opera House is a radical and fascinating re-imagination of Mozart’s Magic Flute. This strikingly original interpretation deserves a careful response.

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Magic Flute: Katherine Manley (left, Pamina) and Joseph Dennis (right in tan suit, Tamino), with Kevin Langan (center, Sarastro) and ensemble. Photo by Amanda Tipton.

Director Alessandro Talevi conceives of the opera’s fairy-tale plot as seen through the eyes of children, specifically the three boys who serve as the opera’s spirit guides. In a pantomime during the overture, the three boys are shown in a Victorian-era bedroom dominated by a grim portrait of the boys’ mother—the Queen of the Night.

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Magic Flute: Two boys from the Colorado Children’s Chorale and the dollhouse theater. Photo by Amanda Tipton.

Downstage right, and onstage throughout the opera, is a dollhouse theater with cutout characters the boys are playing with. Sent to bed by three stern servants—who become the three ladies who serve the Queen of the Night—they sneak back to the theater for after-hours play. Everything that happens from that point until just before the end comes from their imaginations, as symbolized by characters coming in and out through the bedroom fireplace.

This conception accomplishes several things. For one, it makes the magical aspects of the story seem natural as the product of boys’ imaginations. This solves, for example, the problem of how to portray the later trials by fire and water. Usually rather lame—sweet music played by the flute while two singers walk in front of colored projections—this is here shown as the boys playing in their theater. For modern viewers, this scene makes more sense as a child’s game than as reality.

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Magic Flute: Will Liverman (Papageno) with Tascha Koontz, Kira Dills-DeSurra and Melanie Ashkar (three ladies). Photo by Amanda Tipton.

Talevi’s interpretation also makes more palatable the misogynistic aspects of the text. Pre-adolescent boys would naturally expect a hero to have women fawning over him and a chosen mate who needed his guidance. In other boyish innovations, Tamino’s sidekick Papageno rides an ostrich and Sarastro, the philosopher king of Mozart’s and librettist Emanuel Schickaneder’s Masonic-inspired plot, becomes the father the boys wish they had—the ringmaster of a wondrous carnival.

Talevi also aims to explain the supposed confusion in the original story, that the Queen of the Night starts as a good character and Sarastro evil; then they switch places, with the Queen becoming evil and Sarastro good. This reversal has never bothered me, since the libretto makes it clear that part of Tamino’s quest is learning to see the truth about both characters.

For Talevi, the subject of The Magic Flute is growing up. Tamino symbolically, and the boys more literally, reject their punishing mother and grow into adults over the course of the opera. This change is made manifest in the production, and Talevi’s sense of theater makes it especially touching at the end

As written, there is a great deal of silliness in The Magic Flute. This production adds silliness on top of silliness, which may not be to everyone’s taste, but which the Central City audience clearly relished Sunday afternoon (July 15). The silliness does have one drawback: it detracts from the moments that Mozart and Shickaneder took more seriously. Particularly discomfiting were the two arias sung by Sarastro; the texts are those of a philosopher, not a ringmaster.

Obscured in the reinvention is the fact that The Magic Flute was part of a long Viennese operatic tradition of questing heroes and comic sidekicks. Mozart and Schickaneder simply superimposed Masonic ideals on that template. They were both Masons, as were many of Vienna’s leading citizens, and there is every reason to believe that their audiences took the opera more seriously in 1791 than we are likely to in 2018. Sarastro’s texts were not bland bromides at a time when the Enlightenment ideals underlying our Declaration of Independence were still fresh.

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Jeni Houser (Queen of the Night) and Katherine Manley (Pamina) Photo by Amanda Tipton.

But whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the production, Talevi is to be applauded for taking a fresh look at the opera and pursing his conception to its logical conclusion. Ultimately, he has taken the opera’s message seriously, and given us a serious new way of looking at it. If you go, don’t be afraid to think!

The cast is generally strong. As Tamino, Joseph Dennis has a pleasant voice that was sometimes pinched in the upper register, particularly earlier in the evening. Pamina was portrayed by Katherine Manley, who expressed her character’s fluctuating emotions—melancholy, love at first sight, joy, despair—very effectively.

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Fidel Angel Romero (Monastotos) and Katherine Manley (Pamina) Photo by Amanda Tipton.

Jeni Houser’s Queen of the Night commanded all the heights and leaps of her notorious part. Will Liverman was especially outstanding as Papageno, vocally solid and funny. Ashraf Sewailam was an imposing Speaker of the Temple, full voiced and effective. Apprentice artist Fidel Angel Romero provided all the villainy required for the role of Monastatos.

Disclosure: When Kevin Langan sang his very first Sarastro 40 years ago, I was in the audience and reviewed his performance. I am certainly not objective, but I enjoyed his continuing command of the role and his adaptation, after so many years, to the unfamiliar notion of Sarastro-as-ringmaster. For the record, this is his 20th  production as Sarastro.

Apprentice artists Tasha Koontz, Kira Dills-DeSurra and Melanie Ashkar were pleasing in every way as the Three Ladies. Studio artist Véronique Filloux was cheerful and bright-voiced in the tiny role of Papagena.

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Joseph Dennis (Tamino) with three boys from the Colorado Children’s Chorale. Photo by Amanda Tipton.

The boys from the Colorado Children’s Chorale were onstage more than any other singers, and they carried off their parts with enthusiasm and energy. One of my favorite moments is when they appear alongside Tamino, costumed as a Victorian explorer, in the uniforms of Boy Guides, map in hand, but they were delightfully in tune with both music and concept throughout. Conductor André de Ridder lead the very solid orchestra with finesse and style.

Both Il Trovatore and The Magic Flute continue in repertory in the Central City Opera House  through Aug. 3 and Aug. 5 respectively. Tickets may be purchased through the CCO Website.

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Central City Opera House interior

A mix of operas large and small drives the season at Central City Opera

The method in artistic director Pelham Pearce’s madness

By Peter Alexander July 5 at 10:50 a.m.

Pelham Pearce, general/artistic director of Central City Opera (CCO), insists, “there is method to my madness!”

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Central City Opera House (photo courtesy of Central City Opera)

The madness is expecting audiences to attend opera high in the Colorado mountains. And the method involves a mix of big pieces and small pieces, famed operas and unknown operas, with first-rate casts and imaginative productions. For the 2018 season, Pearce says, “you’ve got Handel, Mozart, Verdi and Mollicone. It represents a broad swath of styles.”

The formula devised through trial and error is to present two major productions in the historic Central City Opera House — this year, Mozart’s Magic Flute and Verdi’s Il Trovatore — and two shorter works in smaller venues — this year, Handel’s Acis and Galatea and The Face on the Barroom Floor by Henry Mollicone, a work that was written for CCO 40 years ago.

The season opens Saturday (July 7) with the Magic Flute; Il Trovatore opens a week later (July 14). These productions run in repertory until Aug. 5, with the shorter works being presented over a span of 10 days, July 25–Aug. 3.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Central City Opera Summer 2018

The Magic Flute by Mozart/Emanuel Schikaneder
André de Ridder, conductor; Alessandro Talevi, stage director

2:30 p.m. July 11, 13, 15, 17, 21, 25, 29; Aug. 2, 5
8 p.m. July 7, 19, 27, 31
Central City Opera House
Performed in German with English supertitles.

Il trovatore by Verdi/Salvadore Cammarano
John Baril, conductor; Joachim Schamberger, stage director

2:30 p.m. July 18, 22, 24, 28; Aug. 1, 3
8:00 p.m. July 14, 20, 26
Central City Opera House
Performed in Italian with English supertitles.

Acis and Galatea by Handel/John Gay, Alexander Pope, John Hughes
Christopher Zemliauskas, conductor; Ken Cazan, stage director

8 p.m. July 25, 28; Aug. 1
5 p.m. July 26
Martin Foundry, Central City
Performed in English

The Face on the Barroom Floor by Henry Mollicone/John S. Bowman
40thanniversary production
Michael Ehrman, director

1:15 p.m. July 25, 28, Aug. 1, 2 3
Williams Stables Theater, Central City
Performed in English

Tickets for all productions

 

 

Boulder Phil sells out West Side Story 10 days in advance

Orchestra ends 60th-anniversary season on a high April 28

By Peter Alexander April 18 at 10:40 a.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic has announced that their concert performance of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story on Saturday, April 28, has sold out 10 days in advance.

westsidestoryThe orchestra’s 60th-anniversary season has already been a success at the box office, leading to a modest expansion of next year’s season. When announcing the 2018–19 season April 6, Katherine Lehman, the Boulder Phil’s executive director, observed that “We have been extremely successful with ticket sales, and we’re ending the year particularly well this year.”

The sellout of West Side Story adds success to success. “This is thrilling news for us,” Lehman says today. “We can’t imagine a better way to bring our 60th-anniversary season to a close than to share West Side Story with a sell-out crowd!”

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Michael Butterman will conduct the sold-out West Side Story in Concert with the Boulder Phil

Boulder Phil has sold out a few performance in Macky Auditorium in recent years. Besides the Sunday Nutcracker performances with Boulder Ballet, these include several performances with Cirque de la Symphonie. Another sellout was the Boulder performance of the “Nature and Music” concert in March, 2017, that was subsequently performed in the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Performances by the orchestra with ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukaro in 2017 and violinist Sarah Chang in 2013 both sold out the day of the performance. The current production of West Side Story marks the first time in recent years that Boulder Phil has sold out a concert 10 days in advance.

The performance, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Bernstein’s birth, is a presentation of the Boulder Phil in collaboration with Central City Opera. Boulder Phil music director Michael Butterman is conducting, with stage direction by Robert Neu, and a cast selected in audition by Butterman, Neu, and Central City Opera artistic director Pelham Pearce. The orchestra will be seated onstage, with action occurring on the front apron of the stage, and on a platform erected behind one side of the orchestra.

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San Francisco Symphony: West Side Story in Concert (photo by Stefan Cohen)

A few years ago, this performance would not have been possible. It has been popular for many years for orchestras to perform live with a screening of the film, but rights were not given for concert performances until 2014, when the San Francisco Symphony gave the first live in concert performances. Their performance was subsequently released on CD.

There have a been a few other orchestras who have performed West Side Story in concert, but the Boulder Phil is one of the first, if not the first, regional orchestra to do so.

2017: The Year in Classical Music

Some outstanding concerts, and some changes of leadership in Boulder

By Peter Alexander

With the year drawing to a close, it is time to look back at 2017. It has been a tumultuous year in many realms, including some aspects of Classical music. But before that, it is good to remember the outstanding musical experiences of 2017 here in the Boulder area.

Pro Musica

The year began on an expressive high point when Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra, conductor Cynthia Katsarelis and soloists Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson, soprano, and Ashraf Sewailam, bass, presented Shostakovich’s rarely-heard Symphony No. 14.

I wrote at the time: “This somewhat gloomy meditation on death is not often given live, partly because of the difficult assignments facing the soprano and bass soloists, but mostly because of the difficult subject matter. But it is a major statement from a great composer—what Katsarelis calls ‘a piece that needs to be heard’—and so the rare performances are to be treasured.”

The February visit of Deborah (Call Me Debbie) Voigt to Macky Auditorium will be a cherished memory for fans of the classical voice. Voigt Lessons, the superstar soprano’s candid retelling of her struggles with relationships, substances, and weight that clouded her career not only showed some realities of life at the top of the opera world, it also revealed the very human person beneath the superstar image. For both reasons, this was a meaningful event.

Takasce SQ

Takacs Quartet

The Takacs Quartet always provides some of the year’s best performances. It’s hard to chose just one, but for 2017 I would single out their February concert including Beethoven’s Quartet in G major, op. 18 no. 2—performed while the Takacs was in the midst of a full Beethoven cycle at several venues—and CU music faculty Daniel Silver, clarinet, playing the Brahms Quintet in B minor, op. 115. An especially beautiful rendering of this beautiful work had at least one audience member in tears by the end.

March saw the arrival of another superstar in Boulder when Sir James Galway played at Macky Auditorium, and the departure of an important member of Boulder’s classical music community when Evanne Browne gave her farewell concert with Seicento Baroque Ensemble, the organization she founded in 2011.

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Boulder Phil at Kennedy Center

One of the biggest events of the year for Boulder performing arts was the visit in March of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Michael Butterman and Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance Company to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for the first annual Shift Festival of American Orchestras. The Phil repeated a concert they had given in Boulder a few days earlier, including the world premiere of All the Songs that Nature Sings by Stephen Lias and Copland’s Appalachian Spring, performed with Frequent Flyers.

An audience favorite of the festival, the Boulder Phil played to a sold out house. Butterman wrote the next day, “It was a peak experience for me, and, I think, for all of us at the Phil. . . . To be there with our orchestra, with that crowd and with that repertoire—it was something I shall never forget. We had a great sense of pride in representing our hometown.”

Several important changes of personnel were announced for Boulder classical scene in the spring. In April, Jean-Marie Zeitouni announced that he was stepping down as music director of the Colorado Music Festival. He will remain with CMF as principal guest conductor, and conductor/violinist Peter Oundjian will serve as artistic advisor for the 2018 season. Later the same month, James Bailey left his position as music curator of the Dairy Arts Center, to be replaced by Sharon Park.

Elliot Moore at Lake McIntosh - credit - Photography Maestro (1)

Elliott Moore

In May, Seicento Baroque Ensemble announced the appointment of Kevin T. Padworksi as artistic director, succeeding Browne, and the Longmont Symphony announced the appointment of Elliot Moore to succeed long-time music director Robert Olson.

The same month, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra wrapped up its 2016–17 season with its largest performance to date, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony presented in Macky Auditorium. The performance under conductor Bahman Saless was unfortunately the occasion of a protest by the anti-fracking group East Boulder County United. Seven members of EBCU blew whistles, shouted slogans and left flyers before the concert to voice their opposition to the orchestra having accepted a contribution from Extraction Oil & Gas.

Olga Kern

Olga Kern, photographed by Chris Lee at Steinway Hall.

Zeitouni proved to be anything but a lame duck conductor at the Colorado Music Festival. The 2017 season started at the end of June with an all-Russian program featuring exciting performances of Shostakovich’s Festive Overture and Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. On the same concert, one of Boulder’s favorite guest artists, pianist Olga Kern, gave scintillating performances of Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Other high points over the summer included the return of CMF’s founding director Giora Bernstein to lead a concert of Mozart, Zeitouni conducting Beethoven’s Ninth as the CMF centerpiece, and the visit of violinist Gil Shaham at the end of the summer season. Up in the mountains, Central City Opera’s Downton-Abbey-inspired Victorian-era production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte was one of the year’s highlights for opera lovers.

Another delight for the opera crowd came in the fall, with the CU Eklund Opera Program’s serio-comic production of Lehar’s Merry Widow. In November, Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra returned to its core repertoire with a lively concert featuring two youthful works for smaller ensemble: the Concerto for piano, violin and strings by the 14-year-old Mendelssohn, with violinist Zachary Carrettin and pianist Mina Gajić, and Janáček’s Idyll for Strings.

Zachary & Mina

Carrettin and Gajic

Carrettin and Gajić were featured performers in December when the Boulder Bach Festival gave one of its most intriguing and adventurous concerts in its increasingly adventurous schedule. With guest artist Richie Hawley, the program offered insight into the instruments and performance practices of the early 20th century, performed on Hawley’s 1919 Buffet clarinet, Gajić’s 1895 Érard piano, and Carrettin’s violin set up with strings typical of the period.

 

# # # # #

For the classical music world outside of Boulder, the biggest news was certainly the intrusion of a long-overdue reckoning for sexual misconduct that is going on in our society generally. The first bombshell, not unexpected by people in the business but a bombshell nonetheless, landed Dec. 3 with the suspension of conductor James Levine from the Metropolitan Opera and other organizations, including the Boston Symphony and the Ravinia Festival. Accusations against Charles Dutoit, artistic director and principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, surfaced later in the month.

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James Levine

Both conductors are in the twilight of long careers. Rumors about Levine have been widely known in the classical music world; indeed I first heard them in the 1980s. Every music journalist I know has heard the same stories, but so far as I am aware, no one who experienced Levine’s assaults was previously willing to speak publicly. In the case of Dutoit, I had not heard the rumors, but I do know one of the women who spoke publicly about what happened to her, and I believe her unquestioningly.

As the controversy has swirled about the subject of sexual abuse, harassment and assault in classical music, several critics have written powerfully about the subject: Anne Midgette of the Washington Post, Jennifer Johnson of the Guardian, Andrew Riddles of Classical Ottawa to name three. Singer Susanne Mentzer has written about her personal experiences in the opera world for the Huffington Post, as has Dan Kempson for Medium.

There are certain to be more revelations. One major journalist has more first-hand information, with names including some of the of the most famous classical artists, and is preparing an article. I have no doubt that several men are nervously awaiting that story, or some other revelation that reveals past misdeeds.

Will this tidal wave reach Boulder?

It’s hard to say with certainty. I have spoken with many on the classical scene here, and the only rumor I have heard, from several sources, has been of inappropriate comments and behavior by one person, none of which reached the level of abuse or assault. “He might not have been hired today,” one person speculated, but as so often happens, the people who heard the comments preferred not to make an issue of it.

Another person told me he had never heard any rumor from the College of Music, so Boulder may escape the worst of this necessary but unhappy process. In the meantime, it is my wish for 2018 that society in general and the music world specifically create a safe environment, where powerful men do not feel free to behave like adolescent boys.

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Edited for clarity 12.31.17