|BLO's 15/16 Season will feature Kelly Kaduce as Mimì|
BLO has announced its season for next year, and as usual, it's an intriguing collection of works familiar (but creatively rethought) and rare items to challenge and excite. The three Shubert shows have a decidedly Parisian aura. I talked with my colleague, John Conklin, about them (he is delighted to be designing all three). "Of course, Bohème and Widow are already set in Paris," John said, "and to complete a kind of Paris triptych, we are placing the very French Werther in an outlying arrondissement of that great and endlessly evocative city."
John is a great film buff, and he described the approach to me in film terms: "Perhaps one could say that Bohème is a Godard movie, Werther a Jean Renoir movie, and Widow an Ernst Lubitsch movie." Following that train of thought, perhaps the Season's Opera Annex offering, In the Penal Colony, is an Antonioni or Alain Resnais film. It all looks quite special.
We will certainly be delving more deeply into these operas next year as they near performance, but here's a quick and very eclectic glance at the four.
First up, an excerpt from Bohème sung by one of my favorite singers, Conchita Supervia. She is a unique performer, tart, spicy, with infectious flair. She was born in Spain and made her debut at the age of 15 at the Teatro Colón. Carmen (her signature role) followed two years later. She made her American debut in Chicago in 1915, as Charlotte in Werther. She was acclaimed for her witty and crisply agile Rossini (check out some of her unrivaled performances on YouTube). She died in 1936 in London, following complications from childbirth.
Here she is in Musetta's waltz (from a film obviously dealing with the usual operatic backstage traumas):
Philip Glass has dealt with an extraordinarily wide range of subjects, from literature (In the Penal Colony, for instance, is based on a short story by Kafka) to incisive studies of historical figures from Akhnaten to Einstein. YouTube does not offer many selections from Penal Colony, so instead, to give you a taste of Glass, here is an unusual and rather terrifying encounter from his opera, The Perfect American. Walt Disney meets his (animatronic) Abraham Lincoln:
Massenet's Werther is an insightful and moving examination of a fatally misguided love affair, cloaked in ravishing melody:
The Merry Widow is one of the most famous and tuneful of operettas, but it is perhaps a piece of greater depth and emotional validity than it is usually granted. Interestingly, the piece premiered in the same year as Salome (1905). In its own way, we can see with the benefit of hindsight that it prefigures the coming cataclysm of WWI, while presenting a beautiful world of glamor waltzing on the edge.
Its most well-known (and eternally enticing) melody is the "waltz," here sung by the wonderful Eleanor Steber. She has a strong Boston connection, having studied at the New England Conservatory and having made her operatic debut with the WPA-sponsored Commonwealth Opera in 1936 as Senta. Indeed, she was famously one of the first American singers to achieve international stardom (she sang at Bayreuth) based on entirely American training.