Thursday, July 30, 2015

Quick (subjective) take on what draws me to opera

Operas that appeal to me strongest are those in which the music for individual roles seems to convey the most intensely intimate and well-rounded characterization. When I feel that the music for an opera (however clunky the libretto) has given me as deep an emotional knowledge of the psychological core of each character as I have of my closest friends, that opera then gets slotted at or close to the top, and stays there. I also note that the vividness of musical characterization tends to trump, for me, considerations like tautness of narrative, dramatic structure, etc. If time stands still while the music is seeing inside a character, I'm perfectly happy to stay there as long as the composer likes.

The composers whose operas usually give me an intimate feeling for their characters are Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Donizetti, Berlioz, Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Janacek. So these eight would be in my top slot.

Just the tiniest step down from those are the composers whose operas often, rather than usually, give me this intimacy: Monteverdi, Purcell, Handel, Bach (I view the Passions as operas, and the most intimate feelings are expressed in their music), Rameau, Gluck, Cherubini, Rossini, Weber, Bellini, Verdi, Mussorgsky, Boito, Leoncavallo, Puccini and Richard Strauss. To have as many as sixteen in slot Two may be a bit cumbersome, but I freely admit that these two tiers are guided more by my feelings than by logic.

-- Geoffrey Riggs

Saturday, July 25, 2015

COSI FAN TUTTE engages the intellect and the senses

Part of the genius of Mozart's COSI FAN TUTTE is the way it leads the spectator through just as startling a journey as the one that two pairs of lovers take in this opera.  We, as spectators, seem invited to take a detached stance at first, reflecting, although not the same as, the detached stance of Don Alfonso, who sets the disturbing events of this work in motion.

However, at a certain point, the very music these characters sing almost becomes a separate character of its own, especially in the dazzling second act.  Mozart's music comes to the aid of two pretenders who may not -- or may? -- genuinely experience the feelings they are trying to express.  It's as if the music in the second act slyly contradicts the Alfonso within each of us, inviting us to marvel at the depth and beauty in just being human, instead of sneer at the human foibles an Alfonso despises.  In a very real sense, the "character", Mozart's music, actively gives the lie to everything we've been "told" in Act I.

The heart of this magic is worked in the Dorabella/Guglielmo and Fiordiligi/Ferrando duets, which show the intoxication, beauty and magic inherent in all romantic love, putting aside the "superior" sneer of the earlier scenes.  We end up with a renewed appreciation for the human experience in all its loveliness.

Only when these two duets are performed in intimate and tender earnestness can Mozart's genius be realized.  This happened at the opening of the Geneva Light Opera English-language production of COSI FAN TUTTE this past Thursday, when mezzo Andrea McGaugh and baritone Jimi James gave a rapt hypnotic quality to the Dorabella/Guglielmo "seduction duet", and soprano Alexis Cregger and tenor Victor Khodadad also achieved the same effect in the Fiordiligi/Ferrando duet, which is arguably the climax of the whole score.  These four artists proved worthy of Mozart's finest music, and I feel sure that readers will be hearing these singers soon enough throughout the Grade A houses of this country, and very likely beyond as well.

With these two duets as the heart and soul of this production, everything else fits neatly into place.  Director Neil Eddinger and Conductor James Blachly have mounted a COSI of uncommon clarity and integrity.  The two intriguers, the Don Alfonso of Wilbur Lewis and the Despina of Michelle Seipel, are both uproariously funny and vocally imposing in their roles, which carry the chief comic burden in this masterpiece.  They seem all brain and the lovers end up all heart in this production -- which is as it should be.

Don't miss this production, which has two more performances this weekend, Saturday evening at 7:30PM and Sunday afternoon at 3:00PM.  It is being performed at the historic Smith Opera House, 82 Seneca Street, in Geneva, New York.  A 19th-century landmark, the acoustics of the Smith Opera House easily rank among the best acoustics for any opera house of its vintage.

-- Geoffrey Riggs