Thursday, January 20, 2011

Opera Weekend: Jan 22-23

This weekend music lovers around Roanoke can experience back-to-back treats of the operatic variety. Saturday at 1 pm the next Met "Live in HD" broadcast will play at Va Western Community College
(go to or for more info & tickets).

It is my single favorite Puccini opera, La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West). It was premiered 100 years ago at the Met conducted by the eminent Italian maestro, Arturo Toscanini and starring the great tenor Enrico Caruso.

It is arguably Puccini's greatest score and that is one of the primary reasons it
is a favorite among musicians, critics and opera buffs. When we talk about
"the score" we are referring literally to the entirety of the written music.
(We conduct from the score; the orchestra musicians play from individual parts; the singers use a piano/vocal score that contains their sung roles and a reduction of the orchestral music into a piano part. For those inquiring minds...)

So the score of Fanciulla is one of Puccini's greatest creations. He was struck by the innovations in harmony and orchestration by composers like Debussy (the style of musical impressionism) and incorporated these stylistic advances into his score. You'll hear music that evokes the wind and winter weather seamlessly interwoven with Puccini's signature sweeping melodies. Unlike La Boheme, from which arias are often excerpted, Fanciulla's arias are so integrated into the score they are rarely featured apart from their musical "home."

Like Puccini's most popular opera, Madama Butterfly (coming live in 3D to Roanoke March 18 & 20!), Fanciulla strives for the verisimilitude of "local color" by incorporating bits of folk music indigenous to its setting. Puccini studied Japanese music when composing his tragic masterpiece, and he used American tunes when composing this opera mirroring the American dream (one with a happy ending).

And speaking of the American aspect, its heroine is a gun-toting, Sunday-school-teaching bar owner named Minnie, beloved by a bad-guy-type Sheriff. The love triangle is completed by the lovable outlaw-bandit (tenor), whose life is saved by our heroine. Clint Eastwood, eat your heart out. The original "spaghetti western" is a gourmet delight of an opera, and "the good, the bad and the ugly" never had music so glorious.

If you think you've never heard any of the music of La Fanciulla del West, think again. Unless you've been asleep like Rip Van Winkle for the last 20 years, you have heard the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera one way or another. Its most famous ballads are "borrowed" directly from Puccini's evocative score. Fanciulla opens with "hello" and ends with "good-bye" and the two hours of music in between is some of the most compelling in the repertoire.

But please don't stop with Fanciulla because one of the rising stars of the Met will be here for one day only on Sunday, Jan 23 at 2:30 pm. Soprano Leah Partridge is establishing herself as one of the world's leading young singers, and you can see and hear why this weekend. Leah will be sharing a program of American songs from her soon-to-be released debut CD. Prominent on her program is the music of Ricky Ian Gordon. Ricky's music is the centerpiece of our season finale concert, Mother's Day Serenade, starring Elizabeth Futral. And Ms Partridge is poised to follow in the footsteps of eminent artists like Ms Futral.

This recital promises to be an engaging and inspiring afternoon of great music written by some of our country's most compelling voices. If you like Leonard Bernstein's music for the stage, then you'll love the likes of Ricky Ian Gordon and Jake Heggie. Their songs have been embraced by not only the likes of Elizabeth and Leah, but by other exceptional artists like Renee Fleming, Audra MacDonald and Frederica von Stade.

I hope you all will make it a weekend of opera in Roanoke.

I am away performing Carmina Burana with the Virginia Symphony and JoAnn Falletta this weekend and hate to miss these festivities. In my stead Sunday afternoon, WDBJ's Robin Reed will be your host for Leah Partridge's "Stars in the Star City" recital. I know you'll want to welcome both of them to the Shaftman Performance Hall stage.

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