Thursday, September 30, 2010

The New Season(s)

I am eagerly anticipating the start of the opera season here in Roanoke, and over the next two weeks I will write more about the two events that loom largest on our horizon:

1. The Met "Live in HD Broadcasts" open in Roanoke at Virginia Western Community College on Oct 10 with the "live in HD" movie broadcast of Das Rheingold, the first installment in the much touted new production of Wagner's Ring cycle.

2. Opera Roanoke's curtain raiser, Faust & Furious: A Ride with the Devil! follows on October 16 at Shaftman Performance Hall.

The digital revolution that has changed the music world (in every genre) underscores the unique thrill of the live concert experience. While the convenience of mp3's makes music more accessible than ever, there is simply no substitute for the "real thing" itself. We are fortunate to live in an age with both.

I love having at my fingertips (via my laptop or ipod) thousands of "songs" from my favorite operas. I have playlists for my favorite composers beginning with John Adams and ending after Wagner. A new discovery for me this summer was satellite radio (a feature of my GM hybrid) and my dial is set to Sirius XM 79, where I listen to live Met recordings from their 75-plus years of archival recordings. Though not the same as being there, it is the next best thing. I'll take it.

In the Met's monthly magazine, Opera News, the current issue features an article by Brian Kellow provocatively called "The Crowd Snores."

Kellow recalls those halcyon days before text-messaging, when audiences were focused on the performance and not their blackberries. Passionate intermission discussions featured partisans of rival divas rather than the latest fantasy football results (disclosure: I have a blackberry and text; I know very little about fantasy sports teams).

As I write this, a Met broadcast from 1979 is playing of Massenet's great opera Werther (not to be confused with the gold-wrapped candy, Goethe's "hero" is pronounced "VerTARE"). A young Kathleen Battle is in a supporting cast led by Alfredo Kraus and Regine Crespin. Werther is the first Massenet opera Steven and I want to bring to Roanoke audiences. If you know the opera, you know why it gets our vote. Stay tuned.

A recent broadcast featured the debuts of two of the great stars of their--and any--day. Franco Corelli and Leontyne Price both debuted in a 1961 production of Verdi's Il Trovatore. The ovation that greeted their curtain call lasted 42 minutes. Think about that for a moment. Also featured in that thrilling performance was a young Canadian soprano about to make her breakthrough, Teresa Stratas, and the great American mezzo, Irene Dalis (a name familiar to Opera Roanoke for her work here with our company's founders).

Sirius XM radio broadcasts live from the Met several times a week during the regular season. It plays "encore" performances during the summer. Our own Steven White's performance of La Traviata was broadcast in August. I know I wasn't the only listener with chills up my spine and tears in my eyes when I heard Steven's name announced at that curtain call!

The Met manages to sell several thousand tickets a night for most of its season. All of those Traviata performances were sellouts. I hope all of Opera Roanoke's supporters will help ensure a rousing ovation and a full house for Maestro White, the RSO, and the 200 other performers joining him for our season opening concert, Faust and Furious: A Ride with the Devil!

I will be the Master of Ceremonies for this most spectacular concert in Opera Roanoke's 35 year history. I am looking forward to the highlights from all three versions of the Faust legend represented in our operatic concert suites on October 16. In particular, I can't wait to hear:

*Boito's awesome evocation of heaven itself in the Prologue to Mefistofele;

*Berlioz's wild and literally crazy version of all hell breaking loose in the onomatopoeic "Pandemonium!"

*The transcendent hymn that closes Gounod's grand opera, Faust.

But before that "save the date or be damned" concert on October 16, the Met is coming to Roanoke, live and in high def. Before the Met comes to Roanoke, Amy and I will be making a quick trip to NYC to see the new Rheingold production in person.

On the Met's homepage ( there is a link to a photo gallery of the new Rheingold, including a short video that illustrates why I am describing this new production as Lord of the Rings meets Cirque-de-Soleil. The latter is literally true, as the French-Canadian production team includes Cirque designers.

Other imminent highlights of the Met season (also coming in the HD broadcasts) are two of the grandest operas in the repertoire. THE embodiment of the Russian spirit is Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, featuring the operatic bass (who most closely resembles a rock star), Rene Pape.

Later this fall comes Verdi's epic masterpiece, Don Carlo. Both operas feature new productions. In the opera world, this is newsworthy as a star quarterback debuting in a new jersey in the NFL (both are ridiculously expensive).

I had the privilege of standing in the front row of a chorus behind the great Italian basso, Ferrucio Furlanetto, who will sing Verdi's version of the real life King Philip of Spain in Don Carlo.

Before Mussorgsky's and Verdi's great basso characters come to the Met, Amy and I will hear Thomas Hampson's portrayal of Verdi's Macbeth in a new production at Lyric Opera of Chicago (LOC).

Albert Camus wrote that the tragic hero "denies the order that strikes him down, and the divine order strikes because it is denied." This dramatic tension is present in great operas of every epoch. One of the grandest of operatic tragedies is Puccini's Madama Butterfly, the centerpiece of Opera Roanoke's season. The most popular opera in the US is also featured by Washington National Opera and Virginia Opera, both of whose productions run concurrently with ours.

Roanoke is the only place to hear Yunah Lee, THE Madama Butterfly of today. The same issue of Opera News I referenced above reviewed Central City's production from this past summer:

"The big appeal of this Butterfly was the presence of the Korean-American soprano Yunah Lee, who has made the opera's wronged title character her signature role. Lee handled the not inconsiderable vocal demands of the role with aplomb but also did a superb job of conveying Butterfly's shifting, contradictory feelings that are so beautifully evoked by Puccini's score--eroticism, innocence and guilt."

Opera is the stuff of life and as we say at Opera Roanoke, it's "life with a melody." But it is more than great tunes. Opera comes with incomparable harmony, is live in 3D and engages all of the senses. Our tagline this season is HEAR the drama, SEE the music, BELIEVE it's Opera Roanoke.

I hope to see you at the opera(s) soon.

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