The Wall Street Journal Review: The Tempest Songbook
By: Heidi Waleson
Gotham Chamber Opera’s staging of “The Tempest Songbook,” performed in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, alternated the songs of Kaija Saariaho’s 2004 cycle based on Shakespeare with pieces, attributed to Henry Purcell, that were written in the 1690s for a production of Dryden’s version of the play. Immaculately performed by soprano Jennifer Zetlan, bass-baritone Thomas Richard, and an eight-member period-instrument orchestra conducted by Neal Goren, it was remarkable how vigorously these very different musical languages spoke to each other.
This edition of Meet the Artists features dancers Abdiel Jacobsen, Lloyd Mayor, PeiJu Chien-Pott and Ying Xin of Gotham Chamber Opera's production of The Tempest Songbook, presented March 27, 28 & 29, 2015 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a co-production with The Martha Graham Dance Company.
PeiJu Chien-Pott (Principal) joined the Company in 2011 and performs lead roles in Graham’s iconic repertory, such as Chronicle, Errand into the Maze, Cave of the Heart, as well as in new contemporary works. Ms. Chien-Pott received a B.F.A. from Taipei National University of the Arts and was a Merce Cunningham Studio scholar. She has danced with Taipei Royal Ballet, Taipei Crossover Dance Company, Buglisi Dance Theatre, Korhan Basaran Artists, Morphoses and Nimbus Dance Works, directed by her husband Samuel Pott. Ms. Chien-Pott was honored with the Positano Premia La Danza -Léonide Massine 2014 for “Most Outstanding Female Dancer on the Contemporary Scene.”
Lloyd Mayor (Dancer) joined the company in 2012 and performs lead roles in Appalachian Spring, Diversion of Angels, Echo and in Richard Move's The Show (Achilles Heels), first danced by Mikhail Baryshnikov. Mr. Mayor has a background in Hip-Hop and Gymnastics and trained at the Rambert School of Ballet & Contemporary Dance. In 2014 Mr. Mayor was honored with the Clive Barnes Dance Award recognizing young emerging artists.
This edition of Meet the Artists features singers Jennifer Zetlan and Thomas Richards of Gotham Chamber Opera's production of The Tempest Songbook, presented March 27, 28 & 29, 2015 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a co-production with The Martha Graham Dance Company.
Soprano Jennifer Zetlan's 2014-15 season engagements include a reprisal of her Mozart/ Donna Anna in Steven Stucky and Jeremy Denk's The Classical Style, this time at Carnegie Hall, and Fanny in the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordan's Morning Star with Cincinnati Opera. Her concert appearances include György Ligeti's Requiem with the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, Bernstein's Chichester Psalms and Orff's Carmina Burana with the Oratorio Society of New York. Last season, Ms. Zetlan sang the role of Rebecca in the U.S. premiere of Nico Muhly's Two Boys with the Metropolitan Opera. She also returned to Seattle Opera after great success last season, this time as Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto. Ms. Zetlan last appeared with Gotham Chamber Opera in the world premiere production of Nico Muhly's Dark Sisters.
"In contrast to the troubles at bigger institutions, many small opera companies are flourishing, and their numbers are expanding. Some 33 such companies exist in New York City today, more than double the number a decade ago, according to Opera America, a membership organization that promotes the art form.They are surviving and thriving because their budgets and number of staged productions are only a fraction of that of the big boys, and they specialize in niches. LoftOpera presents scaled-down versions of classic operas staged in nontraditional settings, such as former factories. Gotham Chamber Opera sets itself apart by featuring seldom-performed compositions created for smaller venues. Meanwhile, Beth Morrison Projects focuses on contemporary works." By Theresa Agovino for Crains New York Business
El gato con botas (Puss in Boots)
by Xavier Montsalvatge
Sunday, December 7
2:00 PM Performance, 3:00 PM Family Fiesta
El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue
Don't miss Montsalvatge’s operatic take on the classic story of a mangy feline with magical talents. See the amazing Bunraku puppetry that turns a fairy tale into an afternoon of “tuneful,” “magical,” “exquisite,” and eye-opening opera.
Welcome to another edition of Meet the Artists featuring singers Ginger Costa-Jackson, Karin Mushegain, Andrea Carroll, Craig Verm, Kevin Burdette, and Stefanos Koroneos of Gotham Chamber Opera and Tectonic Theater Project's production of Xavier Montsalvatge's El gato con botas, presented December 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13 & 14, 2014, a co-production with El Museo del Barrio and Works and Process at the Guggenheim.
Mezzo-soprano Ginger Costa Jackson's 2014-15 season engagements include the title role in Bizet's Carmen with Vancouver Opera and Opera Grand Rapids, her debut as Rosina in Rossini's Ilbarbiere di Siviglia with Austin Lyric Opera, and Lola in Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana at the Metropolitan Opera. Her recent performances include Dorabella in Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte, and Meg Page in Verdi's Falstaff with the Metropolitian Opera; and her Virginia Opera debut as the title role in Carmen. Ms. Costa-Jackson previously appeared as the Cat in Gotham Chamber Opera and Tectonic Theater Project's original production of El gat con botas.
Twelve years after their wonderful production of Larmes de couteau and Hlas lesa, the Gotham Chamber Opera has prepared another double bill of one-act operas by Bohuslav Martinů. Once again they present one French and one Czech opera, but now we are treated to the comedic side of the Czech composer.
By the mid-1930s, Martinů had been living in Paris for over a decade, drawn to the French avant-garde and incorporating jazz, Dada, and the surreal into his works. Yet his major successes were happening back home in Czechoslovakia where he still returned every summer. This duality is at the center of Martinů’s music during the 1930s. His ballet Špalíček (1932), based on Czech folk tales and songs, premiered in Prague, and the opera Hry o Marii (1934) opened in Brno and won the state prize in 1935. That same year, Czechoslovak Radio commissioned Martinů for a one-act radio opera, resulting in Hlas lesa. Its success led to a second commission and the composition of Veselohra na mostě [The Comedy on the Bridge].
Veselohra na mostě is based on the play by the great Czech playwright Václav Kliment Klicpera (1792-1859). The simple staging and condensed action made it perfect for radio, and Martinu had to make relatively small changes to adapt it to an opera. After the original broadcast on March 18, 1937, it was set aside until years later when Martinů was living in New York City. Having fled France in the spring of 1940, Martinů called the US home from 1941 until returning more permanently to Europe in 1953.
Director James Marvel shares his thoughts on the upcoming double bill Alexandre bis and Comedy on the Bridge.
"The sheer exuberance of Martinu's music is infectious from the start. It is witty, vivacious, and irreverent in its spirited depiction of characters that are at once familiar yet patently absurd. In its treatment, style, and execution, Alexandre bis is as demonstrably French as Comedy on the Bridge is Czech.
Alexandre bis is absurdist, surrealist, and abstract. The stage directions in the score are at once agonizingly specific and impossibly vague, but not to honor most of them would be to risk further obscuring the story and the composer's intention. The score, laden as it is with a myriad of references to seemingly disparate genres of music, exhibits a masterful working knowledge of French idiom and paradigm, while maintaining a voice that is unique to Martinu.
Comedy on the Bridge is much more straight forward in the sense that it is steeped in Czech folklore. The storytelling and the music are much more linear, despite the abstract circumstance of the main characters not being able to leave the bridge due to the bureaucratic fanaticism of the soldiers. This feeling of purgatorial displacement is achieved by mixing equal parts pastoral simplicity and Orwellian nightmare.
If form is to follow function, as I believe it should, then design for the operatic stage should reflect not only the Aristotelian precept of dramatic unity within space and time, but the music. In fact, "reflect" is too weak a word. The design should be an outward manifestation of the music. When done to perfection, the two should be indistinguishable from each another.
Gotham Chamber Opera and the Jarvis & Constance Doctorow Family Foundation award David Hertzberg the Catherine Doctorow Prize for Music
Gotham Chamber Opera and the Jarvis & Constance Doctorow Family Foundation are proud to announce that David Hertzberg will be the inaugural winner of the Catherine Doctorow Prize for Music, a competitive prize awarded to a composer to support the creation of a new concert work for voice and chamber ensemble. The Prize Jury found Mr. Hertzberg’s music to offer “an extraordinarily beautiful sound world with a unique and distinguishing vocabulary,” containing “deeply affecting emotional content,” and felt that Mr. Hertzberg has the potential to contribute a new work of substance to the concert repertoire for voice.
Gotham Chamber Opera has the privilege of engaging some of opera’s rising stars. This summer you can find many of our alumni singing at summer festivals around the country. If you plan to travel this summer here are some festivals where you can see Gotham's singers.
This season bass Kevin Burdette (Die schwarze spinne, El gato con botas, Dark Sisters) returns to Sante Fe Opera as Herr van der Puff and Chamberain in a double bill of Mozart’s The Impresario and Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol. Also, behind the scenes you will find the work of costume designer Fabio Toblini (Il sogno di Scipione) and choreographer Sean Curran (El gato con botas). For tickets and information about The Impresario/ Le Rossignol visit http://www.santafeopera.org
Currently Gotham is in San Francisco learning about the impact technology can have on securing the future of opera through reimagination! Stay connected and informed by tuning into these live streams from the OPERA America Conference at http://operaamerica.org/Live:
Support Gotham Chamber Opera with Amazon.Smile as you shop for your loved one this Father's Day. Whether your gift is a beloved opera recording, his favorite book, or anything in between, simply use the link below and Amazon.com will donate 0.5% of all qualifying purchases directly to Gotham, without adding anything to your bill.
As a special bonus for Father's Day, shop at AmazonSmile through 6/15/14 and Amazon will donate an extra $5 to Gotham Chamber Opera.
I first became aware of Toshio Hosokawa after reading the ecstatic reviews coming from Europe for his chamber opera Matsukaze in the summer of 2011. Upon hearing his music, I was shocked that I had not known of this modern master previously. His music is wildly sensual and atmospheric, with luminous colors and a huge emotional range. Hosokawa’s publisher directed me to The Raven, a monodrama for mezzo-soprano and twelve musicians, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s narrative poem. Though I was unable to attend its premiere in Brussels in 2012, I did hear a subsequent performance with the original performers in Amsterdam the next year. I was smitten. Poe’s text, I realized for the first time, was a brilliant depiction of free-floating anxiety, a surgically precise deconstruction of neurosis, observed from all angles. Moreover, it interacted with Hosokawa’s diaphanous, iridescent colors to create an unforgettable evening of haunting, intense beauty.
It is my joy and honor to conduct the U.S. premiere of The Raven for the New York Philharmonic Biennial. Though one cannot easily reduce beauty to words and categories, I consider Hosokawa to be a spiritual heir of Debussy in his obsession with color and atmosphere: he could accurately be labeled a post-Impressionist composer. With that in mind, we are pairing The Raven with the greatest work of Debussy’s greatest epigone, André Caplet: his Conte fantastique for harp and string quartet, subtitled “after one of Edgar Poe’s extraordinary stories: The Mask of the Red Death.” The brief work relates to The Raven both musically and, you might say, poetically.
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," as imagined by the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa, has a mezzo-soprano narrator. Gotham Chamber Opera will open the inaugural New York Philharmonic Biennial with the work this week.
Opera Philadelphia Names Little as Composer in Residence
Opera Philadelphia, in collaboration with Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theater Group, in New York, has appointed David T. Little as composer in residence, a three-year position that begins on June 1. The program, which was started in 2011, includes a stipend and health benefits, and involves work with all three companies.
Mr. Little, who is the director of Newspeak, an amplified chamber ensemble, is best known for his multimedia work “Soldier Songs.” His opera “JFK,” commissioned by the American Lyric Theater in New York and the Fort Worth Opera, is scheduled to have its first full scale production in Ft. Worth in 2016.
“I stumbled backwards into opera, really, and have learned almost entirely by doing,” Mr. Little said in a statement, “writing pieces like ‘Dog Days,’ ‘Soldier Songs,’ and ‘Vinkensport’ by following my instincts. These projects excited me to explore the vast potentials of opera in the 21st century, into questions of form, language, narrative, and so on. I am looking forward to working with and within these three terrific companies to explore all that opera can be.”
The residency program is competitive: Mr. Little was chosen from more than 100 applicants. And because it runs three years, with a new composer appointed annually, Mr. Little joins three others at various points in their terms. Lembit Beecher, who was appointed in 2011, completes his term this summer. His “I Have No Stories to Tell You” had its premiere at Gotham Chamber Opera in February. Miss Mazzoli, appointed in 2012, is composing an opera based on the 1996 film “Breaking the Waves.” Andrew Norman was appointed in 2013.
Hey Gotham Fans! To prepare for the U.S. Premiere of The Raven, and in the spirit of the NY Phil’s Biennial #letsplaynyp, Gotham Chamber Opera has decided to have a RAVEN TICKET GIVEAWAY. This means you can enter to win a pair of complimentary tickets to our upcoming production of Toshio Hosakawa's The Raven! Either share a photo or video of your favorite artistic expression of Edgar Allen Poe’s THE RAVEN explaining why it's your favorite, or better yet create your own. The most interesting submission, which will be determined by our staff, will win a pair of tickets to see The Raven. If you want to be considered be sure to include the hashtag #ravenconversations with your posted submission on the Facebook Event. The winner will be announced on Facebook and Twitter May 26th, so let the games begin!
Remember, you can do something as classic as a simple reading of the poem such as this one:
May 28 - 31, 2014
Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College
524 W. 59th St.
New York City
Presented in collaboration with the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College,
and as part of the New York Philharmonic’s inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL.
Meet the Artists featuring Alessandra Ferri and Fredrika Brillembourg of our upcoming production The Raven presented May 28, 30 & 31st at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater as part of the New York Philharmonic’s inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL.
Mezzo soprano Fredrika Brillembourg is known for her versatility in roles ranging from the title role in Bizet’s Carmen to Brangäne in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde to Mescalina in Ligeti’s Le Grande Macabre. Her recent appearances include Marco in Tan Dun’s Marco Polo with the Bergen International Festival, Annina in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier with Cincinnati Opera and the Witch in Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel with Komische Oper Berlin. For more insight into Ms. Brillembourg artistry, take a look at this selection from her interview with Opera Teen in 2012.
OT: Who inspires you as a singer?
FB: My first opera recording was Callas singing Puccini heroines. I also had a Carmen recording by Rise Stevens. The people who inspire me most, would have to be Jessye Norman, Obraztsova, and so many great singers of today. Since she was my first opera recording, I would have to say Callas is a big inspiration, as well as Crespin, Tebaldi, Cossotto, Zajick and Borodina. My parents were friends with Frank Loesser, and his wife Jo Sullivan Loesser who was singing in Three Penny Opera and many other shows, so I was surrounded with music at a young age.
Since Gotham Chamber Opera last collaborated with Ms. Mazzoli in May 2013 at Le Poisson Rouge, her work has been performed at venues throughout the USA and Canada. In February, as part of the 2014 Ecstatic Music Festival at Carnegie Hall, Ms. Mazzoli and her all female ensemble, Victoire, teamed up with Wilco percussionist Glenn Kotche for a new collaboration featuring the world premiere of Ms. Mazzoli's Vespers for a New Dark Age.
Many artists are taking note of Ms. Mazzoli’s compositions and spreading the word including the Kronos quartet, L.A. Phil New Music Group, Roomfull of Teeth and internationally renown classical pianist Emanuel Ax, who has recently turned his attention to playing works of modern composers. Mr. Ax will be performing compositions by Ms. Mazzoli throughout the spring in Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York's Carnegie Hall.
Upcoming performances for Ms. Mazzoli include a collaboration with the Young People Chorus of New York and Victorie on April 25th at 92Y. To find a performance of Ms. Mazzoli’s work near you, or for tickets and information on upcoming performances, visit www.missymazzoli.com
In early 2012, Limor Tomer, the concerts and lectures manager for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, called me to the museum to brainstorm. What form, she wondered, might a Gotham Chamber Opera collaboration with the Met take? During a visit to the stunning Bloomberg Arms and Armor Court, I was struck by the idea that Monteverdi’s Combattimento — a 20-minute mini-opera about the battle between armored knights — would be right at home there. The challenge would be to find an ideal pairing for it. And as long as we were at the Met, with its vast holdings and opportunities, why not choose another space as well?
Another installment of "Meet the Artists" featuring the creative team of our upcoming production Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda /I Have No Stories to Tell You, presented February 26th and 27th at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Director Robin Gurarino has a busy 2013-2014 season including directing a new production of L'Etoile for the Cincinnati College- Conservatory of Music, followed by a new production of Orlando Paladino at the Manhattan School of Music. She also joins Maestro James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera for the HD production of Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte and a revival of her staging of Der Rosenkavalier. In the summer of 2014 she directs a new production of Poulenc's, Dialogues of the Carmelites for the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. For Gotham Chamber Opera. Ms. Guarino directed Sutermeister's Die schwarze spinne in 2004 and Rossini's Il signor Bruschino in 2007.
(Image: Il signor Bruschino directed by Robin Guarino)
Lembit Beecher, a 33 year-old composer and native Californian, is preparing for the premiere of his first full-scale opera, I Have No Stories to Tell You, a work which examines war from a contemporary standpoint. Gotham Chamber Opera will give its premiere this February at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The work will form a double-bill with Monteverdi’s Madrigal Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, which will be performed in the museum’s Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Arms and Armor Gallery. I Have No Stories to Tell You, with libretto by Hannah Moscovitch will be held in the Medieval Sculpture Hall. Instruments from the Met’s collection will be used in both performances as well.
Gotham Chamber Opera and
the Jarvis & Constance Doctorow Family Foundation
Announce the Creation of the
Catherine Doctorow Prize for Music
Deadline to apply: April 1, 2014
Gotham Chamber Opera and the Jarvis & Constance Doctorow Family Foundation announce the inaugural cycle of the Catherine Doctorow Prize for Music, a competitive prize awarded to a composer to support the creation of a new work for voice and chamber ensemble. For more information and to apply for this commissioning award, visit www.gothamchamberopera.org/registration. The deadline to apply is April 1, 2014.
Introducting Meet the Artists, a new blog series which will allow you a more in depth look at the artists performing with Gotham Chamber Opera. This edition will feature the singers of our upcoming production Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda /I Have No Stories to Tell You, presented February 26th and 27th at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton is perhaps best known for her assumption of the title role of Carmen throughout the world. She is also celebrated for her performances of Handel and Strauss signature trouser roles as well as her mastery of contemporary music of John Adams, Daniel Catán, Thomas Adès and Kaija Saariaho, and many others. She made her debut with Gotham Chamber Opera in the title role of Sutermiester's Die schwarze Spinne in 2004, and you can watch a short scene from that production here: http://www.gothamchamberopera.org/media/die_schwarze_spinne
I remember when I first fell in love with French baroque music. I was learning keyboard pieces by Rameau as a freshman in high school, and I thought it among the most marvelous stuff I had ever heard. Years later, when serving on the staff of the festival in Aix-en-Provence, I marveled at the stage works of Rameau and his predecessor Lully, in sumptuous productions by William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants. More recently, when researching the French baroque operatic repertoire for Gotham Chamber Opera, I was reminded that nearly all of Rameau’s and Lully’s operas were written for the full forces of the French royal court; because they pulled out all the stops, as composers in our time do for commissions from the Metropolitan Opera, they were sadly beyond Gotham’s purview. Luckily, the American musicologist Desmond Hosford soon led me to Charpentier’s chamber operas as an alternative appropriate for Gotham-sized gestures.
Think you don't know the music for "Baden-Baden 1927", or that it will be unfamiliar, difficult music? Here are some sound clips to help you become familiar with these composers and their works. First, the opening minutes of Hindemith's "Hin und zurück". We are also happy to share this complete recording from You Tube of the "Mahagonny Songspiel". You will notice that the music has a distinctly cabaret feel, and by the 3:30 minute mark you will recognize the most popular tune of the evening, the Alabama Song. Keep following this space for more musical listening suggestions to enhance your enjoyment of "Baden-Baden 1927."
A Musical Journey, From Venice to Tuscany and back again 1851-1991
August 26, 2013 at 9pm
Following on the great success of our performances of Daniel Catán’s 1988 opera, La hija de Rappaccini (Rappaccini’s Daughter), at Brooklyn Botanic Garden (New York) in June and Greystone Park (Los Angeles) in July, Gotham Chamber Opera, in collaboration with Works & Process at the Guggenheim presents selections from La hija de Rappaccini at the Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy. The program, A Musical Journey, From Venice to Tuscany and back again 1851-1991,will take the audience on a journey around northern Italy through operatic selections from the 19th and 20th century, from operas set in Venice, San Gimignano, Genoa, Mantua, Verona and Padua (the setting for Catán’s opera).
Gotham Chamber Opera concludes its season aptly with Daniel Catán’s 1988 La hija de Rappaccini. Whereas the company’s other offering, Cavalli’s Eliogabalo, examines the court of the self-possessed Roman emperor to illustrate how human interaction can become as base as monetary transactions, La hija de Rappaccini inhabits an even more darkly cosmic plane, rounding out a season in which the company examines the corruption of human nature.
At the urging of one of my students, who wanted me to hear her star student, I attended the New York premiere of La hija de Rappaccini at the Manhattan School of Music in December, 1996. It was a day that changed my attitude toward contemporary opera forever. Up until that time, I was convinced that the art of composing for the human voice was dead and buried. But here was an opera (as I wrote at the time) that sounded distinctly modern despite arching vocal lines like Puccini’s and orchestral colors that seemed like the love child of Debussy and Berg. (Today I find the Straussian parallels even more obvious.) The libretto, tinged with magic realism, delighted me equally. I was totally smitten, and longed for the day that I could encounter it again.
Rappaccini’s Daughter – An opera for the 21st Century
Dr. Rappaccini is a creative spirit, an idealist, a visionary, a revolutionary. He is the very spirit of creation. Without that spirit we are not entirely human. It is what makes us want to stand upright and look up to the sky. Rappaccini represents that which is most precious in human beings and makes them come close to the divine. Galileo, Newton, Einstein, they all were outrageous visionaries.
At the same time, there is something deeply disturbing about this. When we reach the boundaries of human knowledge we stare into the most profound darkness. We look into the abyss and experience the limit of our humanity. Our journey is defined by uncertainty. A quest may lose its direction. A vision can become perverted. An ideal can be made to serve the most horrific and inhumane causes.
Currently Gotham is in Vancouver learning about the latest trends in opera all over the world! You too can learn what's new in opera by tuning into these live streams from the Opera America Conference:
Gotham Chamber Opera announces the 2013-2014 season, featuring four new productions, including a world premiere and a U.S. premiere. The season begins with Baden-Baden 1927: a staged evening of four one-act operas that appeared together at the Baden-Baden Festival in 1927, from October 23 - November 1, 2013 at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater, followed by a co-production with Trinity Church, Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s La descente d'Orphée aux enfersfrom January 1-5, 2014. The season continues in February with a double bill co-produced with and staged at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, consisting of Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorindaby Monteverdi, and a newly commissioned work, I Have No Stories to Tell You, by Gotham Chamber Opera Composer-In-Residence Lembit Beecher. The United States premiere of The Ravenby Toshio Hosakawa at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater concludes the season in May 2014 as part of the New York Philharmonic’s inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL.
Having recently presented the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s Dark Sisters and revisited our roots with Mozart’s Il sogno di Scipione, we at Gotham Chamber Opera were, as usual, looking for the next unexpected direction to take. Sometimes, it turns out, unexpected directions are right in front of you. For me the path began with Robin Guarino’s masterful production of Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto at Juilliard in 2006. Here was a composer able to invoke both laughter and tears with equal flourish while creating characters of unusual complexity. I vowed to present a Cavalli opera when the right moment came along. As Guarino’s La Calisto production could not be improved upon, I instead considered his other best-known works, Giasone and L’Ormindo. But then the musicologist (and Gotham devotee) Ellen Rosand, who is the world’s leading expert on early Italian opera, turned my attention to the 1667 Eliogabalo: Cavalli’s last and, she felt, greatest opera. She was right.
The potential subversiveness of bringing to a Venetian public stage the issue of prostitution in the context of political appointments fully emerges if we consider two contemporaneous historical facts. First, in the seventeenth century prostitution was a striking reality in the Serenissima, a city famous all over Europe not only for its opera theaters but for its thousands of prostitutes. Second, many contemporaneous clandestine political pamphlets featured attacks on, and satires of, the Venetian government in which a common target was the assignment of political appointments in the Senate in exchange for money. Indeed the selling of appointments—the so-called broglio—was a particularly frequent practice among members of the Venetian senate. Not surprisingly, to describe the corrupt Venetian political world, the pamphleteers did not hesitate to draw comparisons between noble families involved in politics and the thousands of prostitutes living on the lagoon. Of course these works were all immediately censored by the government authorities, but they circulated nonetheless.
The Venice of the 1660s—when Cavalli’s Eliogabalo was composed-was characterized by an extremely conservative political and cultural atmosphere, very different from the progressive, libertine one of the first half of the century, when opera as public entertainment first flourished on the lagoon and Cavalli’s career as opera composer flourished too. The return of the Jesuits in Venice in 1657, after their expulsion for 50 years caused by the Interdict, contributed to a shift towards religious and cultural orthodoxy. Censorship became much more oppressive, and playwrights and librettists had to be much more careful. The noble owners of the theater where Eliogabalo was performed, the powerful Grimani family, financially supported the Society of Jesus. It is revealing that, in the months preceding the opera season in which Cavalli's work was to be performed, the brothers Giovanni Carlo and Vincenzo Grimani fired the impresario Marco Faustini to become the only people managing the Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo. As the sole directors of their own theater, their public image was even more closely tied to the productions staged there, and they might have wanted the operas to reflect their ideology even more. No longer needing an intermediary such as an impresario, they began to exercise direct artistic control. Cavalli's Eliogabalo fell at that crucial juncture in time.
IMAGE 5: The church of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, designed by Baldassarre Longhena, was being built at the time of Eliogabalo and was eventually completed in 1681.
I have always enjoyed Gotham Chamber Opera’s productions for their ability to completely envelop and immerse the audience’s senses in a story. In recent years, their continually elevated narrations have led them to synchronistic settings which enhance the viewer’s understanding of the characters’ motivations, historical references, and primary themes. In the case of Eliogabalo, both the space and the significance of the opening date (March 15, the Ides of March) foreshadow the mood of the tale.
My process for designing the scenery was greatly motivated by the unique voice of this unconventional space. The final product exudes a marriage of visions between me as set designer, the director James Marvel, and the space. During our first visit to The Box, James and I sat in every seat, studied the architecture, and walked in and out of the venue a number of times, keeping in mind how the audience would perceive their surroundings upon entering this world. On subsequent visits, I brought in color samples and materials that would both blend and contrast with the existing colors and fabrics. As we continued to survey The Box‘s amenities, we found a long central table used for dinner parties. This inspired us to make a long “catwalk” that would connect and include our audience in the show; it will provide closer visual contact for the patrons upstairs in the balcony and an extremely intimate experience for those lucky viewers seated at the table!
Cavalli’s Eliogabalo, as we have seen in the first chapter of this blog series, was replaced by an opera with the same exact title, but composed by a musician who was almost forty years younger, Giovanni A. Boretti. Luckily, unlike most of the operas written in that century for the Venetian theatres, the scores of both Cavalli’s and Boretti’s operas still survive. After the first run of performances in the Serenissima, Boretti’s opera travelled Italy for nine years, being performed in Parma, Naples, Genoa, Bologna, Rome, Milan, Palermo, and Turin. Cavalli's Eliogabalo, instead, ended up, as we remember, in the composer’s drawer. Cavalli himself however must have thought that Eliogabalo would have seen the stage sooner or later (much later, as it turned out!). Toward the end of his life he included it among the operas which he wanted passed on to future generations, and they now form a precious collection in the Marciana library in Venice (see the previous blog chapter).
IMAGE 3: Title page of Aurelio Aureli, Eliogabalo, music by Giovanni A. Boretti (Venice, 1668)
Nothing gets me more artistically titillated than the fusion of opera and nightlife. I am passionate about framing “high-art” performance in uniquely untraditional settings. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to sip a cocktail while enjoying operatic entertainment. Thankfully, Gotham Chamber Opera feels the same way and has chosen to stage Cavalli’s Eliogabalo directed by James Marvel at The Box- the coolest vaudeville/burlesque hot spot in New York City. I am assistant directing and choreographing this rarely performed Baroque beauty. Some might say staging a full Baroque Opera in the intimate confines of The Box is a bit crazy, I say it’s the way this work should be enjoyed- up-close and raw. It is obvious that staging an opera in a semi- unconventional space will have its challenges. Each of these “limitations” are opportunities for innovation.
Francesco Cavalli's Eliogabalo was originally scheduled for the 1668 Carnival season at the Theater SS. Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. However the premiere was abruptly cancelled shortly before it was to be performed, and thus Cavalli, who was in his sixties and one of the most famous composers of his time, never saw it staged. The opera had to actually wait more than three hundred years to be performed, until 1999, when it was staged in the small town of Crema, the composer’s birthplace in northern Italy. That performance was possible simply because the composer himself had made sure that his opera manuscripts would have been preserved (they are now housed in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice). This preoccupation regarding his legacy was unusual. Indeed very few opera scores still survive from that century.
IMAGE 1: Bust of the emperor Heliogabalus (or Elagabalus, 204–222 A.D.), Rome, Musei Capitolini
Composer-in-Residence Missy Mazzoli was featured in OPERA America's Salon Series in January. The evening included a presentation of selections from her first opera, Song from the Uproar. You can watch the entire program here or at OPERA America's YouTube channel at http://youtu.be/eP9cqWiy38Q
Our Fall 2012 Newsletter "Behind the Curtain" is available for viewing on line or downloading. Gotham is busy year round with outreach activities and educational programs. Read about Gotham's most recent partnerships with Sing for Hope and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and go behind the curtain as Neal Goren discusses our latest production, Orientale, in his essay "Putting it Together".
Greetings from our President
Notes from our Artistic Director: Putting it Together - Orientale
Gotham Artists Singing for Hope at Mt. Sinai
Gotham Goes to Broadway for a Good Cause
OPERA AMERICA'S 2012 NEW WORKS FORUM
American Opera Showcase Performances
Thursday, November 8 and Friday, November 9
Gotham Chamber Opera presents excerpts from Heart of Darkness, with music by Tarik O'Regan and libretto by Tom Phillips; and excerpts from Dr. Sun Yat-Sen by composer Huang Ruo and librettist Candace Mui-Ngam Chong.
On Sunday, September 23, Gotham Chamber Opera joined fifty-eight Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, marketing firms, unions, and assorted other friends of the theatrical community for the 26thAnnual Broadway Flea Market and Grand Auction. This annual event, now a Times Square tradition, brings together actors, singers, producers, designers, stagehands, theater enthusiasts, and tourists for one purpose: to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the nation’s leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organization. A record-breaking $681,892 was raised at the tables and the Grand Auction, allowing BC/EFA to continue supporting the work of many programs at The Actors Fund, including the HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, the Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic, and the Dancers Resource.
A huge part of what I love about directing and choreographing is the challenge of fusing different styles and sources to make an evening. It is like sitting in front of a giant jig saw puzzle and trying to fit the pieces together. ORIENTALE has been an exciting exploration in how to approach presenting ethnically varying pieces from an assortment of periods in a respectful yet imaginative way. My mantra for ORIENTALE has been to get inspired by each musical piece we chose allowing the essence of each to converge and fuse into a style that is unique and specific to this show. I am less interested in strict period reconstruction and more curious about what can happen when bodies steeped in the traditions and knowledge of the past are thrust into a more contemporary light. . It has been an absolute dream to choreograph to MAYA’s gorgeous Armenian pieces, they offer so much passion and earthiness in their playing and create a fantastic dialogue with the European pieces composed in an “exotic” style.
The fun and communality of music-making is, or ought to be, obvious to everyone who hears the result. But most people probably wouldn’t guess that programming can be creative and joyful too. Certainly, programming Orientale – our title for the upcoming concerts Gotham Chamber Opera will present at (le) poisson rouge – has been an exercise in shared creativity every bit as exciting as what we hope it leads to. Perhaps there’s even a correlation between the pleasure derived in planning a program and the pleasure experienced upon hearing it.
We began with the notion of offering Monteverdi’s Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda as the tent pole of the fall LPR concert – even though we will mount a fully staged production in the 2013/14 season. After much discussion, we decided that a semi-staged production by a different director would only whet the audience’s appetite for the full production, which will take place in a very different environment than (le) poisson rouge nightclub. The opera – actually a proto-mini-opera that comes from Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals – lends itself to varying interpretations and modes of presentation. The story of two battling warriors, set against the background of the Crusades, is narrated by one singer, with vocal interjections by the two protagonists. Even if one knows the piece, it leaves you asking: What is it really about? After discussions with our resident Baroque music expert, the celebrated theorbo player Grant Herreid, we decided that its subject is, among other things, the clash of cultures between East and West as seen through the eyes (and heard through the ears) of a Western composer residing in Venice, which was then at the crossroad between the two cultures.
Gotham Chamber Opera announces its 2012-2013 season of three productions, featuring two site-specific works. The season begins with GOTHAM @ LPR: ORIENTALE on October 1 and 3, 2012 at (le) poisson rouge and continues with the New York Premiere of Francesco Cavalli’s ELIOGABALO(1667) from March 15-29, 2013 at The Box, staged by James Marvel. The season will conclude in June with a production of Daniel Catan’s 1988 opera, LA HIJA DE RAPPACINI(Rappacini’s Daughter), in site-specific venues.
In addition to our performances throughout the year, Gotham Chamber Opera is proud to be a part of events that stimulate and engage the outside community with the beauty of opera and music as a whole. One such project was our recent partnership with Sing for Hope, whose mission is to mobilize professional artists to volunteer their talents for those who need it most. The cornerstone of the organization is their Healing Arts program, wherein live performances are brought to patients, families, visitors, and staff of hospitals throughout the New York area, sometimes even in individual hospital rooms! Ultimately, Sing for Hope is designed to bring together the hospital community of patients, families, doctors, and staff in a shared, uplifting experience.
Some of you may know Olivia Giovetti from WQXR’s opera blog, Operavore; she’s also on Twitter, and several other sites. Olivia attended the opening night of Gotham Chamber Opera's revival of Il sogno di Scipione last April. However, this story is about what happened after the performance: while on the way home, her husband noticed he had lost his keys! So, like any internet-savvy writer, she turned to Twitter as a last resort.
While her husband ran frantically back to the theater, Olivia searched Twitter for mentions of Scipione and looked for people who were still at the opening night gala. Luckily, one of her friends was indeed still at the gala and managed to recover the keys from under the seat! Just another way that the magic of opera and the Internet collide. The moral of the story, in her own words: “Now when we go out, I carry his keys (and phone and wallet) in my purse…”
Our Summer 2012 Newsletter "Behind the Curtain" is available for viewing on line or downloading. In it, you will read about our wonderful Tenth Anniversary Celebration and see photos from our Opening Night Gala for Il sogno di Scipione.
Greetings from our President
Notes from our Artistic Director
Reviews of Il sogno di Scipione
Gotham’s Composer-in-Residence: Lembit Beecher Since his appointment as the first Composer-in-Residence (CIR) one year ago, Lembit Beecher has been busy. If you search "Ikea Random Act of Culture" on YouTube, you’ll get a glimpse of his creativity -–and his intimate relationship with his sponsors: Gotham Chamber Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, and Music-Theatre Group. In collaboration with the three companies, Beecher divides his time between Philadelphia and New York and has experienced first hand the challenge of composing, staging, and performing opera. The residency, which lasts two more years, will provide him with the opportunity for additional personal and creative growth, combined with collaborations with his mentors and artistic directors.
Reflecting on Gotham’s first ten years, I am filled with gratitude. That we have been able to develop an entire family of administrators, artists, and donors of such quality is extremely humbling. But it’s also astonishing. Though the company’s slogan – “Where opera gets intimate” – is entirely apt, adding the phrase “against all odds” might be even apter. What, after all, are the odds of assembling the greatest artists in opera for ten years, convincing them to contribute their talents at far below market rate, and receiving thanks for doing so, year after year? And what are the odds of assembling an ever-growing number of donors, dedicated to our mission of presenting rarely performed chamber operas from the Baroque era to the present, in spite of an economy that one could at best call challenging? And what about assembling, from among those donors, a core group of dedicated enthusiasts to function as our board, willing to give their time and energy to guide us into the future? While the odds of all of these things converging simultaneously are puny, they have indeed occurred and continue to occur.
The Opera Company of Philadelphia, in collaboration with Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theatre Group in New York, is proud to announce that composer Missy Mazzoli has been selected as its second Composer In Residence (CIR). Mazzoli, already a prolific composer who is currently working on her second full-length opera, was chosen from over 100 applicants for the position and now has the opportunity to follow a personalized, three-year development track focused on the advancement of her career as an operatic composer.
“We are thrilled to be working with Missy Mazzoli in the development of her unique and eclectic operatic voice,” shared OCP General Director David B. Devan. “Missy has already proven herself as a significant composer with stories to tell, and this program will connect her with world-class professionals who can mentor and collaborate with her to support her continued growth as an artist.”
By now enough people have gotten on enough soapboxes about New York City Opera’s sorry financial state. But while the company remains in limbo, its precarious situation should be a reminder to look at the bigger picture.
Institutions come and go; what is important is the preservation of core values. So what do we want from opera in New York?
A variety of repertory, including a healthy diet of new works. Stimulating interpretations of the standards. Affordability. A range in the scale of performances, from grand to modest. Opportunities for young artists.
Aided by brilliant marketing, the Metropolitan Opera has in recent years pivoted to seem younger and fresher, concerned with theatricality and its connection to the broader cultural landscape. But with 3,800 seats it cannot provide intimacy, and its much-touted new productions of classic works have largely been old wine in new bottles. For reasons of size and temperament it doesn’t really do new opera.
“WHAT role does the government have in the home?” the American composer Nico Muhly asked recently over tea in a Midtown cafe. “It’s a complicated and interesting question.”
Mr. Muhly, 30, whose high-profile commissions include a work for the Metropolitan Opera, said that as a gay man he is particularly interested in the government’s role in personal relationships. He explores a longstanding fascination with polygamy in his chamber opera “Dark Sisters,” a story of a polygamist family in a Mormon offshoot whose children are removed by state officials concerned about child abuse. A co-production of Gotham Chamber Opera, Music-Theater Group and the Opera Company of Philadelphia, the work, with a libretto by Stephen Karam and sets and video projections by 59 Productions, will receive its premiere on Wednesday evening at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater of John Jay College.
Our Fall Newsletter features interviews and articles from the creative team, and a special messag from our Board President and our Executive Director. An excellent way to prepare for your experience with Dark Sisters.
Staging a contemporary opera: Nico Muhly, Rebecca Taichman, and Neal Goren discuss how the staging of Dark Sisters draws inspiration from the score.
Notes from our Artistic Director: Neal Goren explains the five-year gestation process of a new American opera.
Photos from the September Preview, and more.
Opening Night is Wednesday, Nov. 9 and performances run until Nov. 19.
In a series of video "vodcasts", composer Nico Muhly discusses the landscape as inspiration for much of the music in "Dark Sisters". The video includes footage from Nico's own trip to Colorado City and gives insight on the composer at work. Stephen Karam discusses the story behind "Dark Sisters", and the 2008 raid at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, TX. Watch both videos in our "Learn More" section: http://www.gothamchamberopera.org/learn_more/podcast/dark_sisters
Gotham Chamber Opera has commissioned many noteworthy artists over the years to create unique works for our productions. Limited edition signed posters are available from Matthew Barney, John Currin, Elizabeth Peyton, Vera Lutter, and Lisa Yuskavage. NEW! Noah Scalin's original artwork for Dark Sisters is available in a 14" x 22" poster. A number of these, signed by Nico Muhly and Stephen Karam, are for sale at a special price. All signed posters are $150. Unsigned posters are $15. Visit our store to make your purchase today! Take me to the shop.
You can now subscribe to the podcast series for Dark Sisters through iTunes. The series includes conversations with composer Nico Muhly and plural marriage scholar Ken Verdoia, an interview with librettist Stephen Karam, and an upcoming roundtable discussion between Nico, conductor Neal Goren and director Rebecca Taichman. Download all the epsiodes to your iPod or iPhone. Click here to subscribe.