Opera Warhorses

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

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French Opera in the American West – 2011

February 5th, 2011

During 2011, the most popular French opera, Bizet’s “Carmen”, is scheduled to have 340 performances worldwide in 64 productions in 60 cities. In the United States alone “Carmen” as seen at the New York Met (January) and will be performed at the Lyric Opera in Chicago (March), Indianapolis (March), Nashville (April), Opera Colorado (Summer), Glimmerglass (July and August), San Diego (May), Louisville (September), Seattle (October)  and San Francisco (November).

But “Carmen” is only the best known of the French opera jewels. Bizet, its composer, is one of six winners of the 19th century French Grand Prix de Rome winners for music (the others being Berlioz, Gounod, Thomas, Massenet and Debussy), all residents of Paris during their periods of greatest creativity, who have operatic works that continue to be performed today. In fact, Bizet’s “Pearlfishers”, Thomas’ “Hamlet” and Massenet’s “Don Quixote”  are proving to be more popular in the 21st century than they were in the 20th.

A major re-evaluation of the operas of these French composers is occurring throughout the world, including the American West, where several international stars will spend part of 2011 performing in Gounod’s two major operas and in Massenet’s still relatively unknown masterwork about the Knight of the Long Countenance.

Romeo and Juliet (Gounod); Dallas Opera, February 11, 13(m), 16, 19, 25 and 27(m), 2011.

Charles Gounod had astonished Paris by composing music for the Garden Scene in “Faust” so erotic that it changed people’s minds about what love scenes in opera could be like. With a major world exposition coming to Paris’ Champs de Mars in 1868, Gounod was prevailed upon to take on the Bard’s “Romeo and Juliet”, where his librettist could devise five love duets, a passionate tenor aria under Juliet’s balcony, with a masked ball, a fatal sword-fight, a wedding ceremony and double suicide thrown in. It was a giant Parisian hit.

Now, youthful looking (and beautifully sounding) singers have made this again a must-see opera. In Dallas, Tenor Charles Castronovo (Romeo) and Lyubov Petrova (Juliet) are the star-crossed lovers .

[Below: Romeo (Charles Castronovo) and Juliet (Lyubov Petrova) celebrate their wedding night; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of the Dallas Opera.]

Robert Lloyd is Father Laurent, with Joshua Hopkins as Mercutio. The production is Claude Girard’s from Montreal, with stage direction with Michael Kahn, and Candace Evans the choreographer. Marco Zambelli conducts.

Don Quixote (Massenet), Seattle Opera, February 26, 27(m), March 2, 5, 6(m), 9, 11 and 12, 2011.

Basso cantante John Relyea, whose career is at a point where he is taking on many of the most famous basso roles (see my interviews at Rising Stars: An Interview With John Relyea, Part 1 and Rising Stars: An Interview with John Relyea Part 2) has chosen Seattle Opera for his role debut in Massenet’s “Don Quichotte (Don Quixote)”.

The opera, which contains some “local color” music, evocative of sunny Spain, that might not have sounded too out of place in Bizet’s “Carmen” or Chabrier’s Espana or Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espanol, presents a vivid and quite sympathetic portrayal of Cervantes’ delusional knight errant. (For my review of a recent new production of the opera, see: Furlanetto, Campbell Lead Compelling Revival of Massenet’s “Don Quixote” – San Diego Opera February 14, 2009.]

[Below: Don Quixote (John Relyea, center, in breatplate and chain mail) and Sancho Panza (Eduardo Chama, center in brown) distribute alms to needy children; edited image, based on a Rozarii Lynch photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

The squire Sancho Panza for Relyea’s Quixote will be played by Eduardo Chama, and Dulcinee, the lady for whom the Don wishes to be the champion is sung by Malgorzata Walewska. These three principal roles will be sung on February 27, March 6 and 11 by Nicolas Cavallier (Quixote), Richard Bernstein (Sancho) and Daniela Sandram (Dulcinee).

Linda Brovsky is the stage director and Donald Eastman designs Seattle Opera’s new production, which will use the costumes from San Diego Opera’s 2009 new production of the opera. Carlo Montanaro conducts.

[For my perfromance review, see: Masterful Massenet: John Relyea’s Don Quixote at Seattle Opera – February 26, 2011.]

Faust (Gounod), San Diego Opera, April 23, 26 29 and May 1, 2011.

Last season at San Diego Opera, the husband and wife team of Stephen Costello and Ailyn Perez performed the roles of Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet (See my review at Costello, Perez in Passionately Romantic “Romeo et Juliette” – San Diego Opera, March 13, 2010.) In the interim between San Diego Opera appearances, Costello and Perez take their roles in the Bard’s love story to Philadelphia this February, appearing in a new avant-garde production by Manfred Schweigkofler.

Staying in their Gounod zone, they return to San Francisco as Faust and Marguerite, with Greer Grimsley as Mephistopheles.

[Below: Ailyn Perez is Marguerite; resized image of a Dario Acosta photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]

Karen Keltner conducts. Stage director David Gately will present his own ideas on how best to use Robert Perdziola’s attractive sets. (For my reviews of Frank Corsaro’s and Jose Maria Condemi’s stagings, see:   Lyric Opera Revives Inventive Corsaro-Perdziola “Faust”: Chicago November 3, 2009 and Racette Ravishing, Relyea Riveting in San Francisco “Faust” – June 5, 2010 and A Second Look: A Visually, Aurally Praiseworthy “Faust” at San Francisco Opera – June 20, 2010.)

For my performance review, see: Costello, Perez, Grimsley and Mulligan Brilliant in Spectacularly Staged “Faust” – San Diego Opera, April 23, 2011.

Faust (Gounod), Santa Fe Opera, July 1, 6, 9, 15, August 1, 8, 15, 20, 24 and 27, 2011.

Incredibly, Santa Fe Opera has never performed a Gounod opera in the more than half century as America’s premiere summer festival. This summer, Santa Fe is creating a new production as the opening night of their 2011 season.

Ailyn Perez, who has been racking up performances of Gounod operas in 2010 and 2011, will take on Marguerite in yet another setting. Her Santa Fe Faust (for the July performancs) will be New Orleans tenor Bryan Hymel, with Dmitri Pittas taking on the role in August. Her arch-enemy Mephistopheles will be Mark S. Doss. Jennifer Holloway is Siebel. Matthew Worth is Valentin in July; Christopher Magiera in August.

[Below: Bryan Hymel as Faust attending the Kermesse; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

The new production will be the work of stage director Stephen Lawless and set designer Benoit DuGardyn, whose brilliant collaborations, often lauded on this website, include the Dallas Opera’s three productions of the operas of Donizetti’s so-called Tudor Trilogy. (See my reviews at: The Donizetti Revival, Second Stage: Papian, Costello in Lawless’ Dallas “Devereux” – January 23, 2009 and The Donizetti Revival, Second Stage: Stephen Lawless’ “Maria Stuarda” in Toronto – May 4, 2010 and Donizetti Revival, Second Stage: Beautifully Sung “Anna Bolena” Completes Dallas Opera’s Tudor Trilogy – November 14, 2010.

Frederic Chaslin, taking on new responsibilities in Santa Fe, will introduce the traditionally elegantly dressed Santa Fe opening night audience to a brand new experience: a  “Faust” performance in proximity to the celestial setting of New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

For my performance review, see: Santa Fe Opera Gets Gounod At Last: Hymel, Perez Soar in Spectacular New Production of “Faust” – July 1, 2011.

Romeo et Juliette (Gounod), November 6, 9 12, 17, 20 and 26, 2011

Romeo is the role for what will surely be a highly anticipated Los Angeles Opera debut for Italian Tenor Vittorio Grigolo. His electrifying performances as Rodolfo in Puccini’s “La Boheme” and as Gennaro in Donizetti’s “Lucrezia Borgia” at Placido Domingo’s Washington National Opera (See my review at: The Donizetti Revival, Second Stage: Radvanovsky, Grigolo in Pascoe’s WNO “Lucrezia Borgia” – November 17, 2008), his emerging celebrity status, and his hit record of Italian tenor arias, made the plans for his introduction to Los Angeles audiences a very high priority.

[Below: Vittorio Grigolo is Romeo; edited image, based on a promotional photograph from vittoriogrigolo.com.]

Placido Domingo added extra charms to make this an especially auspicious debut. Grigolo’s Juliet is to be the spectacular lyric soprano Nino Machaidze (see my reviews of her Adina at Los Angeles Opera’s Magic Potion: Nino Machaidze in “L’Elisir d’Amore” – September 12, 2009 and her Fiorella at Partying in L. A.: Machaidze, Gavanelli Romp in All-Star “Turco in Italia” – Los Angeles Opera, February 19, 2011.) Domingo himself will conduct. The likeable Ian Judge production, through which Rolando Villazon and Anna Netrebko romped in 2004, is being revived for the occasion.

For my performance review, see: Vittorio Grigolo, Nino Machaidze Sublime in Ian Judge’s Romantic, Erotic “Romeo et Juliette” – Los Angeles Opera, November 9, 2011.

For other “Quests and Anticipations” features devoted to French opera, see:

In Quest of Operas from Jules Barbier’s Paris, and

Quest for La Belle Epoque French Opera – 2008-09, and

In Quest of Bizet’s “Pearl Fishers” – A 2008-09 Odyssey, and

In Quest of Exotic French Opera – 2008.

Tags: Quests and Anticipations