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Review: Blythe, Rae, Shrader Sizzle in Seattle Opera’s Saucy “Semele” – February 25, 2015

February 26th, 2015

The Seattle Opera has launched a new production of Handel’s 1744 opera “Semele”, about Jupiter’s affair with a human being who turns out to be the mother of Bacchus (Dionysius).

Cleverly staged by Tomer Zvulun with impressive sets and projections by Erhard Rom, it provided a vehicle for triumphant performances by Brenda Rae in the title role and Alek Shrader as Jupiter and a star turn for Stephanie Blythe.

[Below Jupiter (Alek Shrader, right) adopts a human form to seduce Semele (Brenda Rae, left); edited image, based on an Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

SEA SEMELE AND JUPITER (400)

Both Rae and Shrader showed mastery of Handel’s expressive and sustained legato lines with passages of lyric coloratura.

Brenda Rae’s Semele

Previously I had enjoyed Rae’s performances in other roles that require sustained legato with bursts of coloratura , notably Violetta [Brenda Rae, Michael Fabiano Impress in Pelly’s Party-Time “Traviata” – Santa Fe Opera, July 29, 2013].

These qualities are were also present in the tour de force of Santa Fe Opera’s 2014 double bill, which gave her an opportunity to show her skills at operatic comedy [See Review: A Hilarious “Impresario” Creates a “Rossignol” Land of Enchantment – Santa Fe Opera, August 1, 2014.]

Rae’s Semele’s show-stopping Myself I shall Adore with its coloratura fireworks deservedly drew a great ovation.

[Below: Brenda Rae (right) is Semele and Alek Shrader (left) is Semele; edited image, based on an Avi Loud photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

SEA SEMELE SHRADER RAE (400)

Alek Shrader’s Jupiter

Shrader’s voice has coloratura flexibility for which he is justly famous,  Shrader is especially associated with the comic roles of Rossini and Donizetti [see Review: Ovations for Laurent Pelly’s Daffy “Don Pasquale” – Santa Fe Opera, June 28, 2014, yet his voice has a baritonal quality that is especially effective in this heroic Handel role.

In my recent interview with him, he spoke of the challenges of singing Handel [Rising Stars – An Interview with Alek Shraderwhich he has performed at the San Francisco Opera in a “tongue-in-cheek” comic presentation [See Review: An Engaging Cast, Handel’s Seductive Music, and Christopher Alden’s Surreal Staging Enliven San Francisco Opera’s “Partenope” – San Francisco Opera, October 15, 2014.]

[Below: Jupiter (Alek Shrader, right) has brought Semele (Brenda Rae, left) to a “secret” place where they can pursue their relationship; edited image, based on a Elixe Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

SEA SEMELE JUPITERS HOME (425)

But the part of Jupiter in this production is a romantic role, a sex-obsessed prince charming. One is easily convinced that a god seeking a human form to pursue women would indeed choose Shrader’s body clothed in designer Vita Tzykun’s seductive costume.

Stephanie Blythe’s Juno and Ino

The principal comic roles in Zvulun’s production are those of Stephanie Blythe as Juno and Amanda Forsythe as Juno’s hilarious servant/sidekick Amanda Forsythe.

[Below: the goddess Juno (Stephanie Blythe, right) plots revenge against her errant husband with her servant and spy Iris (Amanda Forsythe, right); edited image, based on an Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

SEA SEMELE IRIS JUNO PLOTS REVENGE (425)

Blythe’s vocal performance was memorable, her deep dramatic mezzo bringing power and beauty to what might be described as three roles – the goddess Juno, Semele’s sister Ino, and Juno disguising herself as Ino for villanous purposes that lead to Semele’s demise.

One of the most remarkable artists singing today, Blythe showed a different talent for which there is no opportunity to show off in her famous roles composed by Wagner and Verdi. She has superb comic timing and proved to be a brilliant comedienne.

Stage director Tzykun obviously unleashed Blythe and Forsythe to create “over-the-top” performances.

That Blythe was able simultaneously to provide such a display of elegantly phrased vocal sound, while causing the audience to roar with laughter, showed what a formidable talent this great artist has become.

[Below: Ino (Stephanie Blythe, above) is in love with Athamas (Randall Scotting, below); edited image, based on an Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

SEA SEMELE ATHAMAS INO (400)

Others in the Cast

Counter-tenor Randall Scotting sang the relatively small role of Athamas, the man to whom Semele, against her will, has been promised in marriage.

Bass John Del Carlo had two roles, the latter of which, the god (of sleep) Somnus, best fit the veteran basso’s voice and comedic talents. His other role was Cadmus, father of Semele and Ino. Tory Pell was Pasithea. The conductor was Gary Thor Wedow.

Olympus and Valhalla

The opera has a plot that resembles that of a more familiar opera that was first performed just over a century and a quarter after “Semele’s” premiere.

In the 1744 opera, “Semele”, the queen of the gods, Juno, is the gaurdian of marriage. Her husband Jupiter, the most powerful god, is a philanderer who wanders Earth in disguise. He offends Juno as a spouse by his flagrant affair with Semele. He offends Juno as a goddess because the subject of Jupiter’s affection, Semele, is engaged to be married to Athamas, and Juno has officially blessed their impending marriage. Juno seeks revenge.

[Below: in one of Erhardom’s projections of the realm of the god Jupiter, Jupiter (Alek Shrader, left) shows Semele (Brenda Rae, right) a view of earth from their celestial love-nest; edited image, based on an Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

SEA SEMELE EARTH (425)

In the 1870 opera, “Die Walkure”, the queen of the gods, Fricka, is the guardian of marriage. Her husband Wotan, the most powerful god, is a philanderer who wanders Earth in disguise. He offends Fricka as a spouse by his flagrant affair with Erda. He offends Fricka as a goddess because she officially defends the marriage of one of his offspring, Sieglinde,to Hunding, and Wotan is attempting to have Sieglinde’s brother slay Sieglinde’s husband and become her lover. Fricka seeks revenge.

(One notes that Stephanie Blythe has triumphed as both Fricka and Juno at the Seattle Opera. See Wagner’s “Walkuere” Victoriously Revived at Seattle Opera – August 5, 2013.)

There is another parallel between “Semele” and “Die Walkure” (the valkyrie referred in the opera’s title is Brunnhilde.) The fates of both end in their immolations, although Brunnhilde’s is voluntary and Semele’s is an act of calculated murder by Juno.

Juno uses trickery to persuade Semele to demand that Jupiter make love to her not in his human form but in his form as a god. The sex act with a powerful god burns Semele to ashes, but from her ashes Bacchus/Dionysius is born.

The announcement of Bacchus’ birth is made by Apollo. (Shrader, not only is Jupiter, but performs the brief role of Apollo, whose image shows above the stage in the final scene.)

[Below: Apollo (Alek Shrader, on screen above) announces the birth of Bacchus; edited image, based on an Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

SEA SEMELE BACCHUS FROM ASHES (425)

Recommendation

I suggest that Handel’s 1744 opera “Semele” has the power to connect with 21st century audiences in a way that it failed to do with audiences of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s an opera about sexual passion, extramarital affiars and the spousal revenge that such affairs might inspire.

I recommend it to experienced opera-goers as a fine display of exemplary contemporary singing of baroque opera in an absorbing production.

For those unfamiliar with baroque opera, I would recommend this production as an introduction to it.

Tags: 2005-2015: William's Reviews

In Quest of Donizetti and Early Verdi – March 2015 through August 2015.

February 20th, 2015

As noted in other postings in this “Quests and Anticipations” series, I prefer to segment the operas of the most famous early and mid-19th century Italian composers in a non-traditional way: (1) those of Rossini and Bellini, (2) those of Donizetti and early Verdi (i.e, those of the tw0 decades of Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena” and Verdi’s “Stiffelio”), and those of the mature Verdi (i.e.,”Rigoletto” and his later works.) For futher discussion of this categorization, see: Gaetano Donizetti: European Romanticism and The Pathway to Verdi

Below is a list of performances of operas Gaetano Donizetti and early operas of Giuseppe Verdi that will be performed between March 2015 and April 2016.

This list is supplementary to previous lists in this “Quests and Anticipations” series of selected operas being performed from February 2015 through March 2016:

Corigliani’s “The Ghosts of Versailles” at the Los Angeles Opera [See In Quest of Opera Company Performances of American Works – July 2014 to February 2015.]

Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” at the Los Angeles Opera [See In Quest of the “Da Ponte” Mozart Operas – October 2014-March 2015.]

Verdi’s “Rigoletto” at the Santa Fe Opera [See In Quest of Popular Verdi Operas – October 2014 to Summer 2015.]

Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites” at the Washington National Opera, Handel’s “Semele” at the Seattle Opera, Berlioz’ “The Trojans (Les Troyens) at the San Francisco Opera, and Vivaldi’s “Cato in Utica” at the Glimmerglass Festival [See In Quest of Less Well-Known Operas – February to August, 2015.]

Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” at the Los Angeles Opera and the San Francisco Opera and Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” at the San Francisco Opera and the Houston Grand Opera [See In Quest of “Figaro” Operas – February 2015 through February 2016.]

 

 

Lucia di Lammermoor (Donizetti), New Orleans Opera, March 13 and 15(m), 2015.

The New Orleans Opera presents two performances of the Donizetti opera most associated with the glamorous coloratura divas of the past 18 decades.

After a successful year in Europe, Texas-born lyric-coloratura soprano Laura Claycomb returns to the United States to perform this iconic role.

[Below: the promotional poster for “Lucia di Lammermoor” from neworleansopera.org]

LUCIA POSTER

William Burden is her lover Edgardo, Michael Chioldi her brother Enrico and Jordan Bisch her clergyman Raimondo.

[My interviews and conversations with Laura Claycomb can be accessed from A Conversation with Lyric Coloratura Soprano Laura Claycomb, Part 3, my interview with William Burden at American Orpheus: An Interview with William Burden.]

 

La Fille du Regiment (Donizetti) Santa Fe Opera, July 3, 8, 11, 17, 24, August 3, 8, 12, 20, 26 and 29, 2015.

Santa Fe Opera, which ignored most of the French repertory during its first half century has been making amends with belated Santa Fe Opera premieres of Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann”, Gounod’s “Faust” and Bizet’s “The Pearlfishers”.

The 2015 season opens with the latest Santa Fe Opera discovery, its first ever performances of Donizetti’s “Fille du Regiment”.

[Below: Soprano Anna Christy; resized image of a Dario Acosta photograph, from annachristy.com.]

ANNA CHRISTY

Lyric coloratura Anna Christy assumes the title role, Alek Shrader is Tonio, Kevin Burdette is Sergeant Sulpice, and Phyllis Pancella is the Marquise of Birkenfeld. Judith Christin, who is renowned for her character roles, is the Duchess of Krakenthorp. Speranza Scapucci conducts.

Director Ned Canty, whose last adventure at the Santa Fe Opera was a hilarious production of Menotti’s “The Last Savage” is reunited with Christy and Burdette, two of the Menotti productions headliners. The sets are by Allen Moyer.

[For my interviews with Alek Shrader and Kevin Burdette, see, respectively: Rising Stars – An Interview with Alek Shrader and Buff Buffo: An Interview with Kevin Burdette.]

 

Macbeth (Verdi) Glimmerglass Festival, July 11, 17, 21(m), 26(m), 31, August 8, 13, 15(m), 17(m) and 22, 2015.

Two Glimmerglass Festival favorites, baritone Eric Owens and soprano Melody Moore play the Scottish Couple in Verdi’s masterful opera based on the Scottish Play. Basso Solomon Howard is Banquo.

[Below: Eric Owens is Macbeth; resized image of a Sirochman photograph for IMG Artists.]

ERIC OWENS IMG Paul_Sirochman_Photography

Anne Bogart directs with sets by James Schuette. Joseph Colaneri conducts.

 

Nabucco (Verdi) Seattle Opera, August 8, 9(m), 12, 14, 15, 19 and 22, 2015. 

At Seattle Opera, several roles are often double-cast, as is the case with its production of “Nabucco” Gordon Hawkins shares the lead role with Weston Hurt. Mary Elizabeth Williams and Raffaela Angelotti share the role of Abigaille. as do Christian Van Horn and Andreas Bauer the role of the Hebrew priest Zaccaria.

[Below: Gordon Hawkins as Nabucco; edited image, based on a production photograph for Opera Carolina.]

HAWKINS AS NABUCCO NC (400)

Jamie Barton and Russell Thomas are respectively cast as Fenena and Ismaele for all performances. Francois Racine is director. Robert Schaub created the sets. Carlos Montanero conducts.

See previous web-posts in this series in Coast to Coast Selections of Donizetti and Early Verdi Opera Performances and Donizetti and Early Verdi in the American West, January-June, 2012

For additional web-posts in this series, see: In Quest of Donizetti – A 2009-10 UpdateIn Quest of Donizetti – A Fall 2008 UpdateIn Quest of Donizetti – A 2008-09 Itinerary; and In Quest of Donizetti – A 2007-08 Itinerary.

Tags: Quests and Anticipations

In Quest of Operas by Wagner and Richard Strauss: March-November, 2015

February 18th, 2015

Below is a list of performances of operas by German composer Richard Wagner and Austrian composer Richard Strauss that I am scheduled to attend and review between March and November 2015.

 

This list is supplementary to previous lists in this “Quests and Anticipations” series of selected operas being performed from February 2015 through March 2016:

Corigliani’s “The Ghosts of Versailles” at the Los Angeles Opera [See In Quest of Opera Company Performances of American Works – July 2014 to February 2015.]

Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at the San Diego Opera and Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” at the Los Angeles Opera [See In Quest of the “Da Ponte” Mozart Operas – October 2014-March 2015.]

Verdi’s “Rigoletto” at the Santa Fe Opera [See In Quest of Popular Verdi Operas – October 2014 to Summer 2015.]

Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites” at the Washington National Opera, Handel’s “Semele” at the Seattle Opera, Berlioz’ “TheTrojans (Les Troyens) at the San Francisco Opera, and Vivaldi’s “Cato in Utica” at the Glimmerglass Festival [See In Quest of Less Well-Known Operas – February to August, 2015.]

Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” at the Los Angeles Opera and the San Francisco Opera and Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” at the San Francisco Opera and the Houston Grand Opera [See In Quest of “Figaro” Operas – February 2015 through February 2016.]

 

The Flying Dutchman – Die Fliegende Holländer (Wagner), Washington National Opera, March 7, 9, 11, 13, 15(m), 19 and 21, 2015.

Stephen Lawless’ staging with sets designed by Giles Cadle, first seen in the Kennedy Center in 2008 (originating at the New York City Opera in the ill-fated month September 20o1) is revived by Washington National Opera for seven performances in 2015..

The opening night cast consists of Eric Owens as the Dutchman, Christiane Libor as Senta, Jay Hunter Morris as Erik and Ain Anger as Daland.

[Below: Eric Owens is the Dutchman; edited image of a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the Washington National Opera.]

WNO DUTCHMAN OWENS (400)

On March 11, Jennifer Root is Senta and Alan Held (the Dutchman in this production’s first season) repeats his original role. Peter Volpe is Daland for the performances of March 19 and 21. Sheila Adler is Mary throughout. Phillippe Auguin conducts the first five performances, Eric Weimer the last two.

 

Die Walküre (Wagner), Houston Grand Opera, April 18, 22, 25, 30 and May 3(m), 2015.

Dramatic soprano Christine Goerke continues her exploration of the role of Brünnhilde, with which she will have a close association for the next few years to come.

The formidable cast includes Karita Mattila as Sieglinde and Simon O’Neill as Siegmund, Jamie Barton as Fricka and Ain Anger as Hunding. Patrick Summers conducts.

[Below: Brunnhilde’s Rock surrounded by the magic fire; edite dimage, based on a production photograph for the 2007 La Fura del Baus production for the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia, Spain.]

WALKURE MAGIC FIRE FURA DELS (425)

This is the second part of “Ring of the Nibelungs” production conceived by La Fura dels Baus, the creative team associated with the wildly popular opening ceremony of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Carlos Padrissa directs the production that was previously performed in Valencia, Spain. Roland Olbeter designed the sets, Chu Uroz the costumes.

 

Salome (Richard Strauss), Santa Fe Opera, July 18, 22, 31, August 6, 11, 18 and 27, 2015.

An early career success of British director Daniel Slater’s 2001 American debut producing Berg’s “Wozzeck” at the Santa Fe Opera, which was revived recently. He returns to Santa Fe to create a production of Richard Strauss’ “Salome” in which dramatic soprano Alex Penda (last summer’s Leonore in Beethoven’s “Fidelio” at Santa Fe Opera) will assay the title role. Leslie Travers is Scenic Designer.

[Below: Soprano Alex Penda will sing the role of Salome; resized image, based on a publicity photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

ALEX PENDA (400)

Playing the mother Herodias and stepfather Herod whose nurturing of their daughter shows deficient parenting skills are respectively Michaela Martens and Robert Brubaker. Ryan McKinny extends his exploration of the German dramatic baritone roles as Jokanaan. Brian Jagde is Narraboth. The conductor is David Robertson.

 

Die Meistersinger (Wagner), San Francisco Opera,

Wagner’s great comic masterpiece returns to the San Francisco Opera’s War Memorial Opera House in a co-production between San Francisco Opera, the Glyndebourne (England) Festival and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the latter two who have already performed it.

Although Sir David McVicar shifted “Die Meistersinger’s” action and costumes from late medieval times to the early 19th century (the year of Wagner’s birth in 1813), it introduces no “modernisms” into Wagner’s story.

[Below: a scene from Sir David McVicar’s production of Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”; edited image, based on a production photograph, for the Lyric Opera of Chicago.]

MEISTERSINGER MCVICAR LYRIC (425)

The cast is exemplary, led by the Hans Sachs of Greer Grimsley, the Walther von Stolzing of Brandon Jovanovich, and the Eva of Rachel Willis-Sorensen, in her San Francisco Opera debut. Alek Shrader is David and Sasha Cooke is Maddalena. Martin Gantner and Ain Anger in San Francisco Opera debuts are respectively Beckmesser and Pogner. Also noteworthy in the large cast are Andrea Silvestrelli and Joel Sorensen.

Mark Elder (San Francisco Opera debut) conducts. Marie Lambert directs the revival. Ian Robertson, who was guest chorus master when the production was mounted by Lyric Opera directs his home opera chorus in one of the most demanding choral parts in all of  opera.

Tags: Quests and Anticipations

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