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.
An enjoyable evening was spent viewing Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, 1989, [American]. This DVD is of a recording session made by Bernstein himself and is regarded by some as the best recording of the work.
The presentation of it is different from most operas we have seen so far. Bernstein presents the work with the orchestra on stage and the singers presenting it as an oratorio instead of as a drama.
Bernstein chose an eighteenth-century novel “Candide” by the French philosopher Voltaire as his subject matter. This seems unusual for the mid twentieth century composer. In the novel Voltaire savagely satirises Optimism. Dr Pangloss is the eternal optimist who believes that everything that happens, happens for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire tests this by putting Candide, the innocent young man, through a series of wildly improbable events all of which are increasingly unpleasant. Monarchy, the churches, war, greed and betrayal were savagely attacked by Voltaire and turned into some marvellously amusing arias by Bernstein.
Born in America, Bernstein was quintessentially European in musical tastes and outlook and had been greatly affected by the events of the holocaust and the concentration camp orchestras in the Second World War. Composer and conductor (New York Philharmonic) he was one of the key musical influences in America in the twentieth century.
'Exploring New Operas' will run in the first half of 2018, one night a month, with a maximum of 10 participants. We will be looking at operas from the twentieth century with perhaps a couple of older examples as well, if time permits.
Alban Berg's Lulu, 1937 but revised 1979 (German)
Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice, 1973 (British)
Leonard Bernstein's Candide, 1989 (American)
Nicholas Maw's Sophie's Choice, 2002 (British)
John Adam's, Doctor Atomic, 2005 (American)
Most of these operas are based on twentieth century novels or events. DVDs all have English subtitles, which helps viewers even though four of these are sung in English.
The curtain is coming down on our 2017 Opera Season. I thought you might like a list of those we have seen over the last eighteen months because many of them are in the Top 10 Favourite Opera Lists.
Mozart Cosi fan Tutti Contemporary Dress
Donizetti La Fille du Regiment Joan Sutherland as Marie
Verdi La Traviata Placido Domingo as Alfredo
Verdi Rigoletto Pavarotti as Rigoletto
Rossini Otello Zurich Opera production
Strauss Fledermaus Opera Australia production
Giordano Andrea Chenier Jonas Kaufman as Chenier
Bizet Carmen Jonas Kaufman as Don Jose
Puccini Turandot Zefferelli Production NY Met
Puccini La Boheme Opera Australia production
Britten Peter Grimes La Scala production, British cast
While the Italians have featured with their marvellous nineteenth century arias and stirring orchestral movements, we have also sampled some of the twentieth century’s great singers and heard some surprisingly beautiful singing from lesser known but equally wonderful performers.
Nor have we forgotten our own stunning Opera Australia.
Fortunately, the advent of the DVD has meant that we can see and hear some of the great performances from opera houses from across the world.
Our Opera group reconvened for an October opera. The DVD was Puccini’s Turandot. This lavish production, staged by Zeffirelli at the New York Metropolitan Opera, was a delightful treat with the inimitable James Levine conducting and the lead male role of Calaf sung by Placido Domingo. None of us had heard either of the female leads before and so were delighted with Eva Marton as Turandot and the beautiful interpretation of the slave girl Lui by Leona Mitchell. Although this version was filmed in 1989 it is still probably the best.
Turandot, an Asian princess, refused to marry unless a princely suitor could answer three riddles that she gave him. If he failed he was executed – a high price to pay for love! Many had died but Calaf, an unknown prince, took the riddle test and to Turandot’s displeasure answered correctly. However, he declined to marry her when she told him how distasteful it would be for her. Instead he gave her a riddle which, if she guessed the answer before morning, would cancel her obligation to marry him. She had to find out his real name.
She cruelly sent out servants to find the answer and had the faithful slave girl, Lui, tortured, but Lui killed herself rather than reveal her master’s name. All were horrified by this death and Calaf told the unrepentant Turandot his name giving her the chance to answer the riddle correctly the next day. But the cagey Calaf also kissed her in the moonlight and so broke down her implacable resistance. The next day, Turandot revealed that the secret name was “love” and so the two were married to the joy of the kingdom which was heartily sick of the slaughter of so many young princes.
Coincidentally we played this opera on “The Day of the Girl”, an annual celebration of girl-power. Fortunately, the girls of today don’t go to such extremes to reject a suitor, but still seem very susceptible to love.
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.