Opera Warhorses

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

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In Quest of “High Concept Direction” in Opera Performance – January-March, 2014

November 20th, 2013

Several months ago, I posted a new title in my Quest and Anticipations series, relating to what I term as “high concept” production designers and stage directors of whose operatic innoavations I have approved. I reported on three new productions by Laurent Pelly, Lee Blakeley and Francesca Zambello, and a important revival of the Robert Carsen production [In Quest of “High Concept Direction” in Opera Performance – June-September 2013].

In the first quarter of 2014, I am scheduled to review a new David McVicar production, two production revivals by Zambello and McVicar and an American premiere of a contemporary work whose production by David Pountney has received praise in Europe.


The Passenger (Weinberg), Houston Grand Opera, January 18, 22, 25, 31 and February 2(m), 2014

Houston Grand Opera’s Music Director Patrick Summers conducts the American premiere of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s opera about a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp, who finds herself as a passenger on the same luxury liner as a prison guard she had known from Auschwitz.

The opera moves between the present on the cruise ship, and back in time to scenes at the concentration camp.

[Below: a scene in the Auschwitz women’s prison; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


The former prisoner Marta is sung by Melody Moore, her fiancé Tadeuz, imprisoned in the Auschwitz men’s camp, is sung by Morgan Smith. The SS guard Liese is Michelle Breedt. Liese’s husband Walter, who does not know about her past, is Joseph Kaiser.

The cast also includes Kelly Kaduce (Katya), Kathryn Day (Bronka), Angnieszka Rehlis (Hannah), Uliana Alexyuk (Ivette), Natalya Romaniw (Krystyna), Carolyn Sproule (Viasta), Victoria Livengood (Old Worman), Robert Pomakov, Peixin Chen and Kevin Ray as SS Officers, James Maddalena as a Steward and Elderly Passenger, and Cheryl Parrish as the Senior Overseer and Capo.

The production is co-produced with the Bregenzer Festpiele, Austria, Teatr Weikl Opera Narodowa, Warsaw, the English National Opera, London, and the Teatro Real, Madrid.

David Pountney is the stage director. Johan Engels designed the sets, Marie-Jeanne Lecca the costumes.

The English language translation of the opera, that was performed by the English National Opera in London in 2011, will be performed in Houston.

For my performance review, see: An Impressive Production for Weinberg’s Holocaust-Themed “The Passenger” – Houston Grand Opera, January 25, 2014.

Rusalka (Dvorak), Lyric Opera of Chicago, February 22, 26, March 4, 7, 10 and 16, 2014

Sir David McVicar returns to Lyric Opera to create a new production of Dvorak’s dark fairy tale  opera “Rusalka”, for its company premiere.

Rusalka will be sung by Ana Maria Martinez, her Prince by Brandon Jovanovich.

[Below: The Prince (Brandon Jovanovich, left) falls in love with Rusalka (Ana Maria Martinez, right); resized image of a Todd Rosenberg photograph for the Lyric Opera of Chicago.]


The powerhouse cast includes Eric Owens, Jill Grove, Ekaterina Gubanova, Daniela Mack and Philip Horst. Sir Andrew Davis conducts.

[For my performance review, see: Martinez, Jovanovich Lead Brilliant Cast for McVicar’s Exotic “Rusalka” Dreamworld – Lyric Opera of Chicago, March 10, 2014.]

Billy Budd (Britten), Los Angeles Opera, February 22, March 2(m), 5, 8, 13 and 16(m), 2014

Francesca Zambello’s famous production of “Billy Budd: comes to the Los Angeles Opera. Britten masterfully creates an opera from Melville’s novella about how the forces of good, evil, and fate play out on a British man-of-war in the aftermath of the French Revolution.

Liam Bonner is Billy Budd, Richard Croft is Captain Vere, and Greer Grimsley, in his L. A. Opera debut, is Claggart. Samuel Ramey sings the role of the Dansker. The all-male cast also includes Anthony Michaels-Moore, Patrick Blackwell, Daniel Sumegi, Greg Fedderley, Valentin Anikin and Walter O’Neill.

[Below: John Claggart (Greer Grimsley, left, dressed in blue) removes a neckerchief from around the neck of Billy Budd (Liam Bonner right, dressed in white); edited image, based on a Robert Millard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

Carmen Piano_Dress _September 12, 2013 -

James Conlon conducts. The production’s scenery and costumes are by Alison Chitty. The revival stage director is Julie Pevzner.

For my performance review, see: Superbly Cast and Conducted, the Los Angeles Opera’s “Billy Budd” is a Theatrical Triumph – February 22, 2014.

La Clemenza di Tito (Mozart), Lyric Opera of Chicago, March 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20 and 23(m), 2014.

A co-production of three French opera companies – Aix-en-Provence, Marseille and Toulouse – McVicar’s production of Mozart’s rarely performed opera seriavis presented in Chicago for the first time.

Sir Andrew Davis conducts. McVicar created the sets and the original staging, whose revival will be directed by Marie Lambert. Jenni Tiramani created the costumes.

[Below: Tito (Matthew Polenzani, right) seeks an explanation from Sesto (Joyce DiDonato, left) as to why he tried to murder him; edited image, based on a copyrighted Todd Rosenberg photograph, courtesy of the Lyric Opera of Chicago.]


Matthew Polenzani is Tito, Joyce DiDonato is Sesto. Amanda Majeski is Vitellia, with Cecelia Hall, Emily Birsan and Christian Van Horn completing the cast.

For my performance review, see: Polenzani and DiDonato Triumph as McVicar Illumines “La Clemenza di Tito” – Lyric Opera of Chicago, March 10, 2014.

Tags: Quests and Anticipations