Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

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A Second Look: “Norma” at the San Francisco Opera – September 14, 2014

September 16th, 2014

My review of the opening night of the San Francisco Opera 2014-15 season (and of its new production of Bellini’s “Norma”) was posted a week ago [See Review: Sondra Radvanovsky’s Stunning Season Opening “Norma” – San Francisco Opera, September 5, 2014.]

In that review I had praised the artistry of the Norma, Sondra Radvanovsky, and the Adalgisa, Jamie Barton, who continued to impress me on second hearing.

NORMA RADVANOVSKY BARTON

I had promised more extensive comments on the new production itself after I attended the third performance (a Sunday matinee). Scheduling a second review was propitious, because there was an unexpected cast change, the tenor Marco Berti, whose performance I had also admired, canceling all of his remaining San Francisco Opera Polliones.

Replacing Berti was Russell Thomas, who displayed a pleasing voice of power, appropriate the dramatic role of Pollione – opera composer Bellini’s contribution to the core spinto tenor repertory.

[Below: Tenor Russell Thomas, who assumed the role of Pollione; edited image, based on a photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

RUSSELL THOMAS (425)

 

Nicola Luisotti’s Conducting

With any world-class production of “Norma” –  and San Francisco Opera’s 2014 mounting was unquestionably of international rank – there is much to hear and see. The vocal performances, the stage action and choral interludes that alternate calm and fury are all worthy of extensive remarks.

Central to everything in this opera is the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and its conductor, San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti.

Any Luisotti performance is a work of art. It’s, of course, the results of his conducting style that make a Luisotti performance so magical. Yet, his impassioned performance at the podium is so awe-inspiring that one could imagine a future San Francisco Opera DVD that has, as a bonus addition to an opera telecast, seeing the entire opera from the point of view of the members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra watching Luisotti at the podium.

“Norma” Productions in San Francisco

Generally, one only produces “Norma” because you have highly accomplished singers for the three principal roles – Norma, Adalgisa and Pollione. However, if one approaches the opera solely as an opportunity to show off the vocal bravura, one misses the point that “Norma” has a dramatically valid plot, one involving familiar themes of a mother, her children, her unfaithful husband, and a friend she learns is “the other woman”.  But this domestic drama is one that is set is an ancient world of conflict between Druids and Romans.

There have been three productions of “Norma” in the history of San Francisco Opera performance. One, owned by Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company, seen in San Francisco in Fall 2005 can be summarized by a two-sentence excerpt from my review: “The sets were not controversial. As far as I can determine, they were universally condemned.” [see Norma November 21, 2005 San Francisco].

For the almost three decades between 1972 and 1998, San Francisco’s “Norma” production had been the one created by Argentine stage director Tito Capobianco and Argentine set designer Jose Varona. Its central idea was the representation of a enormous oak tree whose crown spread across the entire stage and whose base consisted of pathways for the chorus to move en masse.

The Newbury – Korins Production

[Below: Sondra Radvanovsky walks among a grove of white trees; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

NORMA SF RADVANOVSKY WHITE TREES

“Norma” is about love and disaffection portrayed against the hostile relationships of Druids and Romans in ancient times. Only two Romans appear during the opera – Pollione and his wing man Flavio. The chorus and all the other characters (except for the “stateless” children of Norma and Pollione) are Druids. Capobianco and Varona hinted at Druid religiosity in the oak references. Invoking the religious significant of oaks, is consistent with Felice Romani’s libretto.

However, Varona’s sets, like most in the history of “Norma” productions over the decades, had a rather passive view of the setting.

Newbury and Korins have taken a much more aggressive stand on the world’s current knowledge of Druid culture – considerably greater than known in the early 1830s when the opera was composed – but still relatively sparse. They have created sets that emphasize the weaponry which we know they possessed. But they have also inferred and sometimes invented elements of the Druid religion that are quite speculative.

[Below: Adalgisa (Jamie Barton, in blue gown, at back of stage) stands before the large doors of the entrance to the Druid enclosure; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

NORMA SF ADALGISA FULL STAGE

A particularly dramatic innovation is the concept that the Druids created large wicker cages representing white bulls through which they could practice human sacrifice through immolation – analogous, the production team suggests, to the much less lethal themes underlying modern “burning man” festivals.

The production team emphasis has evoked a druidology of trees, bull heads, weaponry and wicker images that is only in part imaginary (their imagination, they concede, inspired to a degree by the visual images prevalent on the HBO series Game of Thrones).

As an observer of many different  ways to interpret and represent the operas of the standard repertory, I have a personal rule for determining whether an innovative interpretation is defensible or not. I ask, is the interpretation in conflict with the opera’s story (i.e., does it depart from the opera’s plot?)

Details of the Production

In the case of the Newbury-Korins production, some of the trappings of older productions are gone – such as a monochromatic chorus filing in and out of the scene in formation – replaced, at least for the men’s choruses, by tattooed warriors who act as individuals. I think, rather than detracting from, that change enhances the drama.

[Below: Norma (Sondra Radvanovsky, bottom, center) inspects the wicker bull that is to encase a human sacrifice by fire; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

NORMA SF RADVANOVSKY WICKER BULL

Much is made of the preparations for the burning wicker bull that will surround a human sacrifice of a person or persons still to be named, but, in the end, it is Norma and Pollione who are destined to die in the flames.

In two of the images in which I suspect that opinions differ, the totem representing a large white white tree, part of a ritual in which Norma plays a central role,  is suspended above the Druids assembled below. In a second, a tiny household, in which the two boys born to Norma and Pollione are cared for by Norma’s servant Clotilde, is, at different times, spun about to reveal its exterior facade and interior furnishings.

[Below: a ritualized tree is suspended on high, while the interior of a small shack is visible to the audience; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco.]

NORMA SF HOUSEHOLD MAIN SET

Throughout the exposition of Druid images, whether they be based in scholarly research or imagination, Bellini’s music drives Romani’s plot relentlessly. All the images, even if one needs Newbury’s program notes for explanation, seem comprehensible. And, if some day we should uncover some incontrovertible evidence that describes all the rites the Druids did indeed practice, for all we know, they might be far stranger than anything out of Newbury’s and Korins’ imaginations.

Seeing the performance for the second time permits one to observe the stage business devised for the opera’s characters. One watches the Flavio of A. J. Gluekert, who not only inspects the shields and other weapons, but examines a small wicker model of a bull (whose larger version will become the funeral pyre for Norma and Pollione). Adalgisa seems confused by the model at a later time. (By then it has become a toy for two little boys that Adalgisa knows nothing about.)

The Druid rituals are often obscure, but, I believe, that is what they are intended to be. It seems to me that only Norma and Oroveso would be invested with the information as to what each element of the rituals might be. Adalgisa as a novitiate might know some more. Anything Pollione and Flavio would know would come from observation and  Pollione’s intimacy with Norma and Adalgisa.

None of us in the audience know as much about the Druid rituals (certainly not those that Newbury and Korins have conceived) as any of the principal characters, either Druid or Roman. But then, maybe that’s the point of the production.

Recommendation

The music is glorious, the artists perform the music as intended, and the production is absorbing, and never in conflict with the opera’s dramatic settings. I continue to recommend the San Francisco Opera production of “Norma” enthusiastically.

 

 

Tags: 2005-2014: William's Reviews

Review: Nino Machaidze and the Domingos (Placido and Marta) Create a Memorable “La Traviata” – Los Angeles Opera, September 13, 2014

September 15th, 2014

There was much to admire in the Los Angeles Opera’s 2014-15 season-opening production of Verdi’s “La Traviata’ – the expert conducting of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra by its music director James Conlon; Arturo Chacon-Cruz’ silky-smooth lyric tenor used so effectively in an ardent portrayal of Alfredo Germont; a strong cast in the supporting roles; and brilliant work by the Los Angeles Opera chorus.

However, I suspect the evening will be long remembered for the stunning artistry of Nino Machaidze in the lead role and Placido Domingo in the baritone role of Giorgio Germont.

[Below: Violetta (Nino Machaidze), resting on an elegant divan after a coughing spell; edited image, based on a Craig Mathews image, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

LA Opera - LA Traviata Final Dress Photo by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

The two artists, who triumphed earlier in the year as Thaïs and Athanael in Massenet’s “Thaïs”, returned in a revival of Marta Domingo’s saucy production of Verdi’s opera, which time-shifts the opera to the Roaring 20s “Paris”, though a Paris steeped in an abundance of American celebrity culture.

The Domingo Vocal Pathway

Placido Domingo performed for his Los Angeles audience yet another of the baritone parts that he has be has added to his record-breaking list of opera roles performed.

His long, internationally-celebrated career now can be seen as consisting of three phases, the several decades in which he was first, principally, a spinto tenor in the heroic spinto and dramatic roles of Italian and French opera (his accomplishments in the heroic French tenor repertory deserve study on its own), then his transformation into a Wagnerian heldentenor, singing such jugendlicher roles as Siegmund and Parsifal.

Now comfortably into his early 70s, Domingo has retired his tenor repertory entirely and has established a new career in a select number of baritone roles. Verdi baritone roles tend to lie high in the baritone range, and, more often than not, spinto and dramatic tenors, such as Domingo, have power in the lower part of their range, giving a heroic tenor voice a baritonal sound.

When Domingo first announced his intention to explore the baritone repertory, having studied the carefully planned transformation of heroic tenor Ramon Vinay to dramatic baritone in the mid-20th century, I suspect that even Domingo’s strongest admirers underestimated just how impressive Domingo’s re-orientation of his repertory would be.

[Below: Placido Domingo as the Elder Germont; edited image, based on a Craig Mathews photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

LA Opera - LA Traviata Final DressPhoto by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

I remarked, after hearing his Athanaël in May [Placido Domingo, Nino Machaidze In a Triumphant “Thaïs” – Los Angeles Opera, May 17, 2014] that Domingo’s legato was as youthful sounding as if he were a lyric baritone forty years younger.

A singer can disguise vocal disrepair for a while in certain character roles with some huffing and puffing, perhaps in a baritone buffo role, but with the major Verdi baritone roles there is no such place to hide.

This is what made Domingo’s decision to assay the Verdi baritone roles so risky, and his total success in performing them, with their long stretches of legato singing, so remarkable. That he has chosen Verdi roles of dignity and gravitas – Simon, the Doge of Genoa; Francesco, the Doge of Venice; Giorgio Germont, the bourgeois paterfamilias from Provence – makes its own contribution to the drama’s theatricality.

I believe the Domingo vocal pathway will be studied by many artists who are now pursuing successful operatic careers, and may become the model for other first rank tenors who wish to stay in good voice and good health, like Domingo, performing on the operatic stage into their 70s.

[Below: Alfredo (Arturo Chacon-Cruz, center, above) offers his winnings for the night as payment for his time as a "kept man" as the Baron Douphol (Daniel Mobbs, below left) and the Marquis D'Obigny (Daniel Armstrong, lower right) look on with horror; edited image, based on a Craig Mathews photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

LA Opera - LA Traviata Piano Dress #2Photo by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

Marta Domingo’s “Thoroughly Modern” Flapper Era Concept

I’ve reported on Marta Domingo’s production previously, but its revival for her husband and lifetime partner should be considered afresh.

Verdi’s original intent was for “Traviata” to have a contemporary feel, and not be a staged costume drama. However, that which would have seemed contemporary in the early 1850s, is a costume drama in the 21st century.

“Traviata” is about the impact of a fatal but lingering disease on a life of pleasure, and of a love lost and regained too late. Verdi presents the drama in four scenes – two are parties, one that ends hopefully, one that ends in despair. Between the parties is a scene in which an affair is abruptly terminated because of a family’s intervention.

Plot exposition occurs during both parties (at the first party, Alfredo’s first direct encounters with Violetta and their mutual confirmation in their interest in a long-term relationship; at the second – Alfredo’s denunciation of Violetta, followed by a challenge to her new protector to a duel).

In the final scene, the opera ends with Violetta’s death from tuberculosis.

Of course, the 1920s were closer in time to the 1850s than the early 21st century, but I really do believe that Marta Domingo’s flashy sets are fully consistent with the opera’s intended spirit. After a pantomime during the sombre prelude that hints at the assignations that occur beneath city streetlights, Machaidze’s Violetta steps out of her elegant conveyance, a 1929 Chrysler limousine for her “million dollar photograph” before her grand entrance in the first of the parties.

[Violetta (Nino Machaidze arrives at her first act party by means of her 1929 Chrysler limousine; edited image, based on a Craig Mathews photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

LA Opera - LA Traviata Final Dress Photo by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

The second act (in this production, the second act, scene one) takes place in Violetta’s tree-lined country retreat.

Here, the chief homage to the early 20th century were in Violetta’s fashions, Machaidze reminding one of a Hollywood star of the silent screen.

[Giorgio Germont (Placido Domingo, left) visits Violetta (Nino Machaidze, right), pleading for her to break off her affair with his son; edited image, based on a Craig Mathews photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

LA Opera - LA Traviata Final DressPhoto by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

The other party scene (in Act III, or, in this production, the second scene of the second act) Verdi has written music so specific that it challenges the stage director and choreographer to figure out how to keep things fresh. A group of gypsy women do a dance and tell fortunes, then another dance occurs where several male dancers pretend to perform a bullfight.

Marta Domingo departs from the letter of Verdi’s instructions, but not their spirit. The gypsy women – here transformed into ancient Egyptian figures that remind one of D. H. Chiparus’ bronze and ivory figurines – become slinky dancers in glitzy costumes. The bullfighting affairs give way to a brilliant display of balletic power (Kitty McNamee is the choreographer.)

Throughout this entertainment part of the scene, a five-man New Orleans style jazz combo pantomimes on an art deco balcony.

[Below: A solo dancer (Louis A. Williams, Jr.) leaps high above a group of "gypsy women"; edited image, based on a Craig Mathews photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

LA Opera - LA Traviata Final DressPhoto by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

The final scene, in which Violetta is reunited with her lover Alfredo and the Elder Germont, is often staged emphasizing the illusions of the mind during a person’s last hours.

Violetta is outdoors beneath a bright starry sky. Meteorologically most improbable, but mood-setting theatrically, snow flurries fall from the cloudless sky while holiday revellers briefly appear in a cloud of fog towards the back of stage right.

Soon Machaidze’s Violetta is joined by Chacon-Cruz’ Alfredo and Domingo’s Giorgio Germont, for Violetta’s death. (On principal, I counsel operagoers not to try to sort out the historical accuracy of  opera plots or opera productions, but, in fact, mortality from tuberculosis was still very high before the 1930s.)

The trio of principals was then joined by the Doctor Grenvil of Solomon Howard and the faithful servant Annina of Vanessa Becerra for the beautiful final quintet, almost always cut in the 20th century, and almost never cut in the 21st. At its conclusion, VIoletta dies.

Other cast members included Peabody Southwell as Flora Bervoix, Daniel Mobbs as the Baron Douphol, Daniel Armstrong as the Marquis D’ObignyBrenton Ryan as Gastone, Omar Crook as the servant Giuseppe, James Martin Schaefer as a Messenger and Mark Kelley as Flora’s Servant. Alan Burrett was lighting designer, Grant Gershon was chorus director. and Lisa Kable-Blanchard the stage manager for the revival.

Recommendation

I reommend this production with this cast of principals enthusiastically.

No opera-goer who has the chance to get a ticket to see Domingo’s Germont should fail to do so, especially when he is paired with a Violetta of such profound artistiry as Machaidze, and the likable Alfredo of Arturo Chacon-Cruz, a tenor whom Domingo, himself, has mentored.

 

For futher discussion of Placido Domingo, “La Traviata” and other operatic subjects, see: Facebook “Opera Warhorses”

Tags: 2005-2014: William's Reviews

Rising Stars – An Interview with Conductor Carolyn Kuan

September 11th, 2014

This interview was conducted on the Ranch of the Santa Fe Opera. The facilitation of this interview by the Santa Fe Opera and the Washington National Opera is deeply appreciated.

 

[Below: Conductor Carolyn Kuan; edited image, based on a professional photograph, courtesy of Carolyn Kuan.]

 

KUAN HEADSHOT

Wm: Where were you raised as a child?

CK: My family is from Guangzhou in China. I, myself, was born in Taipei.

I came to the United States at age 14. Like many Asian girls I started playing the piano at a very young age. At one point early on I wanted to become a singer, and at another, a ballerina.

Wm: What are your earliest memories of music and of opera?

CK:  My earliest memories of music are from when I was five.  My brother got a piano for his 10th birthday.  Being the young sister, I quickly convinced my parents that I am the one that will become a concert pianist and should be allowed to play on my brother’s new piano!

My earliest opera memory is listening to the Peking Opera at my grandparents’ house.  I sang in choirs throughout my childhood and started studying voice seriously in high school.  I wanted to be an opera singer!

Wm: It’s interesting that opera is flourishing in South Korea, and many singers come out of that country and out of China, but not Taiwan.

CK: South Korea has developed its opera resources to the point that there are international opera stars who are from there and who perform there. I am aware of the efforts in developing opera in Hong Kong.

However, I’m not fully on top of what is happening in Taiwan, because by now I’m probably a bit more American than Chinese.

Wm: What were the circumstance that led you to come to America at age 14?

CK: My middle school had an American “sister school”, which had a program that would permit Chinese students to take summer school in the U. S. studying English. (The school also took us to Disneyland.)

Wm: This obviously was supposed to be a short-term educational experience. What happened that caused you to stay?

CK: I was very impressed by how students learn in the United States. In Taipei, so much of education is memorization. Sixty people attend a lecture, whose content you are expected to memorize. There was very little opportunity to ask questions and to explore ideas. As a 13-year old in Taipei, I was very rebellious and did not like not being able to question anything.

I was struck by the fact that the American teacher said that we should feel free to ask questions and even to disagree with anything that was said. Secretly, I applied to the American high school, because I had decided that that is how kids should learn.

Wm: You graduated from an American high school and then completed your higher education in the United States. But you did not pursue the educational pathway that your parents were planning for you.

CK: My parents wanted me to be an investment banker. I told them that I needed to learn more about music before I returned to Asia.

My father long ago felt he had lost control of the situation, and has given up on my becoming an investment banker in Asia. By now, my father accepts that I am a musician.

Wm: But how did you become drawn to music as an academic pursuit?

CK: My entire musical journey has been based on curiosity as why music is different from math and science. The human voice is a divine mystery. You can hear it, but not be able to explain why it is beautiful. Music is transcendent. There is nothing like it.

[Conductor Carolyn Kuan; edited image of a publicity photograph, courtesy of Carolyn Kuan.]

KUAN STANDING

Wm: Describe your higher education.

CK: I went to Smith College. I obtained a scholarship to study conducting at the University of Illinois. After that I went to the Peabody Conservatory and then got a job with the New York City Ballet.

Wm: Did you find conducting to be academically challenging? 

 CK: Yes, in the sense that it was hard to deal with it as an academic “subject”. As a student, I always understood mathematics, chemistry and physics. There were answers to my questions that everyone can agree upon. The more questions I asked, the more the answers explained whatever I wondered about.

Conducting is a mystery. How can anyone know exactly what conducting is? What does a conductor do? You can’t really know anything about conducting until you do it. There is no guarantee when you repeat something you’ve done, that it won’t have a different result.

Wm: You were awarded a Herbert von Karajan conducting fellowship. How did that come about and what did you learn during the fellowship?

 CK: There was a rigorous application process. You send them a resume and a video-tape, and then they invite you to auditions if they like what you’ve submitted. In my case, there were actually members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on the jury watching the auditions.

There was no conducting involved in the fellowship, but it was a summer of immersion in a musically rich environment.

Wm: But you did have conducting lessons at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz, California.

CK: The Cabrillo Festival is where I grew up as a conductor. They have an annual conducting workshop for seven conductors and three young composers. You get to work with the composers to bring music to life. Some of the new pieces of music were absolutely brilliant. I love new music – imagine being able to talk to Mozart or Beethoven!

[Below: Conductor Carolyn Kuan; edited image of a production photograph, courtesy of Carolyn Kuan.]

 

KUAN CONDUCTING

Wm: Give me a sense of how the conducting students work with the young composers.

CK: It has been a long time since I was a conducting student working with a young composer. I remember there being a lot of questions and we were able to try different things. New music under Marin Alsop is incredible and inspiring. The musicians at Cabrillo are not only amazing, but also they are always open and helpful with suggestions.

For ten years I participated every summer at the Cabrillo Festival. Composers at Cabrillo included John Corigliano, Jennifer Higdon, Kevin Puts, and John Adams.

Wm: What attracts you to opera?

CK: The reason why opera is special is because a great story is paired with great music. That’s why I love opera. I would not be interested in seeing “Tosca” as a play. The drama in “Tosca” is enhanced by Puccini’s music.

Wm: What are your thoughts about your first season at the Santa Fe Opera.

CK:  Since this is my first new production of an opera, I don’t have the experience of having worked with other productions. But everyone here has been so positive, that I feel we are creating great art. The staff is absolutely first class. It has really been a privilege being here.

[Below: Doctor Sun Yat-Sen (Joseph Dennis, front, below statue) stands in front of a statue commemorating his role in creating a modern China; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

KUAN SUN YAT-SEN STATUE

Wm: What role did you have in bringing Huang Ruo’s “Doctor Sun Yat-Sen” to the Santa Fe Opera stage?

CK: I actually joined the “Dr SYS” team after the Santa Fe Opera made the bold choice to present it. My role this summer has been to work closely with Huang Ruo and the entire artistic and production team in bringing it to life. In addition to making adjustments to support the drama, which has a very different flow than the premiere with various scene changes, Huang Ruo and I had lengthy conversations about the Western instrumentation, as well as the addition of three Chinese musicians, each playing various different instruments.

As you know, the Hong Kong premiere used a traditional orchestra. Adding the completely new set and the scene changes, in many ways the Santa Fe Opera performances were like the world premiere.

Wm: Do you regard the work as a Chinese opera, or as a “Western music” (as the censors in Beijing implied) with a “Chinese sound”?

CK: I can’t speak for its composer, Huang Ruo, but I don’t consider it a Chinese opera. I think the opera has Eastern influences, not just the language, but through the addition of various Chinese instruments to the complement of Western instruments adds subtlety to the sound. There is also the influence of Eastern philosophy in the story as well as a particular way of singing the Mandarin and Cantonese phrases.

Wm: Let’s take these “Eastern influences” separately. You have three Chinese instrumentalists integrated with the Santa Fe Opera orchestra.

CK: Yes, there are three Chinese musicians, who play several Chinese instruments. One is the pipa, a four-stringed instrument that is rather like a Western lute, or perhaps a guitar. The sheng seems to be the “great-grandfather” of the Western organ, with lots of little pipes. Other instruments correspond to our flutes, reed instruments and strings, but all of the Chinese instruments add a very different color than the sounds of the Western instruments.

Wm: A characteristic of the sung Chinese dialects is a different way of completing a sung phrase than one hears in Western opera.

CK: That is an influence of Chinese opera.

Wm: In your reply on what attracts you to opera, you mentioned the opera “Tosca”, an opera whose pace is one of melodramatic urgency.  Yet much of “Doctor Sun Yat-Sen” has a static feel.

CK: To me, one of the essences of the opera is that Sun Yat-Sen never gives up on his goals.  This theme is exemplified in the determination of Sun Yat-Sen to persevere in his goal of leading a revolution against the Qing dynasty.

I believe there exists a difference between Eastern and Western philosophies that are evident in this work. In Eastern philosophy there is no feeling of a need to go somewhere, to move on to the next thing. A Westerner may see this as being static. For me, it is beautiful to just BE.

I think the opera combines East and West in an imaginative way that is neither Chinese nor Western. Much of Huang Ruo’s music has an emotional flavor, particularly when accompanied by the Chinese instruments.

[Below: Doctor Sun Yat-Sen (Joseph Dennis, left) and his wife Ching-Ling (Corinne Winters, right) work together to overthrow China's Qing Dynasty; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

KUAN SUN YAT-SEN

Wm: Yet, I found some of the most effective parts of the opera were those of the revolutionary mobs, exemplified by the action pieces for the chorus. The dance sequences inspired by martial arts were particularly interesting.

CK: I think James Robinson’s staging deliberately sought to display Sun Yat-Sen’s personality and the strength of character of his impressive wife, Ching-Ling. The two are not only engaged in a forbidden love affair, but they share an ideology that is intent on bringing about revolutionary change in China.

There are tender moments between Sun Yat-Sen and Ching Ling and, of course, the sympathetic portrayal of Sun Yat-Sen’s first wife, who is truly a victim, crippled by the old social order.

Wm: You have assumed the music directorship of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Also, you have two important opera assignments coming up, conducting the Washington National Opera 2014-15 season’s first opera at the Kennedy Center with Catan’s “Florencia en el Amazonas”, and opening the 2015 Glimmerglass Festival with Mozart’s “Magic Flute”. Would you comment on these assignments?

CK: My alma mater, Smith College, is less than 50 miles from Hartford, Connecticut, which is now my home.

It is absolutely thrilling to work with companies like the Santa Fe Opera, Washington National Opera, and the Glimmerglass Festival. Each is unique and wonderful in its own way.

[Below: Carolyn Kuan conducting; edited image, based on a production photograph, courtesy of Carolyn Kuan.]

KUAN BATON

“Florencia” is an amazingly beautiful score with rich lushness and vivid colors. All of us can relate to the emotions of the characters, and the music heightens everything.

I, of course, have long admired Francesca Zambello. It will be amazing to finally work with her at Washington National Opera and the Glimmerglass Festival. “The Magic Flute” that opens the 2015 Glimmerglass Festival will be a new production, inspired by Native American folklore. What a fabulous idea!  I very much look forward to working with the production’s creator, Madeline Savet!

I’m very pleased to be conducting for both the Washington National Opera and Glimmerglass seasons

Wm: Thank you, Carolyn. I expect to see you again next summer in Glimmerglass.

CK: Thanks.

 

Tags: 2008-2014 William's Interviews

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