Joan Sutherland’s farewell performance in Giacomo Meyerbeer’s The Huguenots at the Sydney Opera House in 1990 is available on YouTube and was the selection for June. Great singing and staging - an emotional night for all her fans.
The story culminates in the historical St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572 in which thousands of French Huguenots (Protestants) were slaughtered by Catholics in an effort to rid France of Protestant influence. Although the massacre was a historical event, the rest of the action primarily concerns the love between the Catholic Valentine and the Protestant Raoul. Both are caught up in the violence and choose to die together at the end.
Our May opera was Jules Massenet’s Cedrillon. This is his version of the Cinderella story complete with wicked sisters, handsome prince and a happy ending. First performed in Paris in 1899 and repeated in many opera houses internationally. This tuneful opera was staged as a pantomime as if Cinderella may have dreamt it all. An enjoyable light opera for an Autumn evening.
Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers was our choice this month. Set in exotic Sri Lanka, Leila, a priestess, is taken to a fishing village to invoke the gods to protect the fishermen throughout the fishing season and bring them good catches. Although she lives in the village with them she can have no contact with the villagers or her magic will not work.
One of the fishermen, Zurga, had met her previously and fallen in love with her as had his best friend Nadir.and both had pledged to forgo their love for her to save their friendship. Nadir arrives at the village and immediately Leila and Nadir meet and declare their love. A terrible storm occurs and Zurga finds out about their liaison. He condemns them to death, but eventually relents and allows them to depart peacefully.
This 2015 production by the New York Metropolitan Opera was beautifully sung and staged.
We looked at the Glyndebourne 2016 production of this tuneful opera.
Berlioz was enthralled by Shakespeare and this opera is a version he produced of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. A very sarcastic Beatrice constantly hurls barbed comments at Benedict and he replies in kind. Despite this, these strong feeling are eventually changed into a reluctant acknowledgement of love and they marry rather hastily.
One wonders how it would work out? But not to worry, we don’t get to see them experiencing domestic bliss. Feminists should beware of this opera, it supports the old clichés of women reluctantly placing themselves under the domination of men. What on earth would Shakespeare think if he had to try and write a play about equal partnerships in modern marriage?
The music was great and we enjoyed this teasing opera that has a happy ending.
Our merry band listened to Gounod’s opera, Faust, enjoying the 2011 New York Metropolitan Opera’s stunning production. Jonas Kaufmann sang the role of Faust but most of the group felt he was out-sung by Rene Pape in the role of Mephistopheles and the gorgeous singing of the Russian soprano, Marina Poplavskaya, in the role of Marguerite.
The contemporary set, often bathed in darkness, seemed the perfect foil for this disturbing story of a man who sells his soul to the devil.
The 2019 season 'A Night at the Opera - French Style' will explore some of the great nineteenth century French composers like Berlioz, Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc who were interested in opera as a musical form. Lovely arias, tuneful music, great singers and performances.
As usual the group meets at the presenter’s house on a Wednesday evening at 7pm. Drinks and light refreshments are offered.
Maximum of 10 participants can be seated.
Our final opera for this year's 'Exploring New Operas' program was Dr. Atomic, an opera first performed .in 2005 and written by the American composer John Adams. It explores the tensions and doubts of the group of scientists who developed the first atomic weapon in the Nevada desert in the last days of World War Two.
Bad weather almost forced the group to cancel the crucial last test of the weapon prior to it being used in the war against Japan. While the military commander insisted the test proceed, the meteorologists refused to give the ‘all clear’ with the weather. Meanwhile scientists were placing bets on whether or not the test would be successful and some were convinced they were in danger if the bomb was prematurely exploded in the bad weather.
Production was by the Nederlands Opera in conjunction with a Chicago opera cohort. Dance enhanced the surreal staging of the opera and Adams musical score was highly praised. As with many modern operas the music played as a continuous background soundscape rising and falling with the tensions expressed in the libretto.
This exploration of twentieth century opera has demonstrated how far the genre has deviated from the joyous and musical treats of the great operas of the nineteenth century. Interesting as the new operas were, our group is looking forward to revelling in the great arias of this by.gone era again.
May saw the group watching the New York Metropolitan Opera’s production of Alban Berg’s LuLu.
Set in Berlin in the 1930s the opera traces the rise to wealth of a young woman, LuLu, who is a victim, a criminal, a femme fatale and a naïve young girl.
LuLu initially is married to the rich but elderly Dr. Goll who dies of a stroke when he enters an artists’s studio to find that LuLu has succumbed to the artist’s advances. However she is now rich and enjoys the benefits of her inheritance in an elegant apartment. She marries the artist who becomes famous but dissatisfied with his life. Her friends from her former days still visit her, including Dr Schon, a former lover, who asks her to cease seeing him as her reputation is scandalous. The artist discovers this past affair with Schon and kills himself. LuLu is unmoved by his death, decides she wants to marry Schon. As the Opera progresses LuLu becomes involved with many other men, most of whom try to tame her but do not succeed.
The crash of the 1930s leaves her penniless and she lives precariously in some backstreet rooms that she shares with her father, an old beggar, and a former countess who is also without money. Lu Lu is now very ill and is finally murdered by a man who she brings home. Throughout the opera LuLu is seemingly unmoved by all the tragedies, the wealth, the friends that she encounters and even in her last dire situation she accepts her fate.
The Met’s production was stunning with contemporary scenery that matched the fragmented story of her life. A difficult opera for the singers, but well handled by Marlis Petersen as LuLu.
Our small group of enthusiasts saw the DVD of Nicholas Maw’s opera Sophie’s Choice First produced in 2002 Maw presented the story of a Polish refugee Sophie who migrated to New York after the second world war. She is courted by a seemingly charming schizophrenic man, Stingo, and they live together in a boarding house. His frequent rages are painful for the narrator to watch, who wants to protect Sophie and eventually persuades her to run away with him. Here she tells him her dreadful story of incarceration in a concentration camp during the war, where she was forced to make a choice about saving one of her two children and surrendering the other to be taken to the gas chambers. These experiences have permanently damaged her ability to cope with ordinary life and she leaves the safety offered by narrator to return to Stingo. Within days he hears that Stingo and Sophie have both committed suicide together, each unable to face their demons.
Unlike twentieth century musical theatre (Evita, Chicago etc), Opera has travelled a dark path in the last 100 years
Benjamin Britten’s opera based on the novel “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, was our subject in March. First performed in 1954 in Venice, we viewed an Opera Australia production from 1992. This is another “chamber” opera which can be performed with minimum stage effects. However this DVD used lavish and contemporary effects to simulate the dark and mysterious recesses of an isolated country house in nineteenth century England. Two children and their governess are troubled by the ghostly appearances of the former governess and the estate manager both who died after having an illicit liaison and corrupting the two children. Britten’s bleak music and libretto create a troubling backdrop as the new governess tried to rescue the children from their nightmares and memories. We all needed quite a lot of cheering up after this viewing.
Our 2019 Season - 'A night at the Opera - French Style'
'A Night at the Opera - French Style' follows the 2018 U3A season of 'Exploring New Operas' when most operas were based on twentieth century novels or events; the 2017 season 'In the Mood for Opera' which included nineteenth century favourites; and the 2016 season, ‘Opera on the Dark Side’.
Convenor & Contact Details
Meg Dillon 5762 6558
2nd Wednesdays from 7.00 pm - Semester 1 only in 2018.
Developed and maintained by members, this website showcases U3A Benalla & District.
Photographs - acknowledgment to U3A members;
Weebly 'Free' images;Travel Victoria and
State Library of Victoria