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.
'In the Mood for Opera' will resume in October. Meg will email participants on her return.
Something to watch when 'In the Mood for Opera' over the coming months!
To read background information and view the video, go to
http://www.roh.org.uk/news/watch-live-a-first-glimpse-of-the-royal-operas-new-production-of-verdis-otello, or you can watch the program on the You Tube link below.
Fledermaus by Johann Straus was our final opera for this half year. We enjoyed our journey from Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutti through the C19th tragedies of Riguletto and Andrea Chenier, then the light-hearted Daughter of the Regiment to a taste of the gritty C20th with Britten’s Peter Grimes.
Fledermaus or The Revenge of the Bat was first performed in 1874. Its trifling narrative is completely vindicated by the lovely music and arias. This DVD by Opera Australia delighted us with magnificent staging, costumes and singing.
This light-hearted fantasy was built on the comic revenge that Dr Falke sought on his friend Eisenstein for leaving him in his bat’s costume in a public park when they walked home after a fancy-dress ball. Falke in league with the world-weary Prince Orlovsky, arranges to have the main characters attend Orlovsky’s grand ball, but disguised under false names. Eisenstein deceives his wife into thinking he is going to prison that night, but she sees him at the ball introduced as the Marquis de Renard; she attends in disguise as a Hungarian Countess. Her maid, who was to visit a sick grandmother, is there too wearing one of her mistress’s grand gowns and pretending to be an actress called Olga. And Frank, the policeman, comes as the Chevalier Chagrin.
Orlovsky is delighted as his guests flirt, make fools of themselves and leave none the wiser of the trick played on them. The next morning at the local police station they all assemble and the truth about their identities is revealed. They all forgive each other and blame the evening on the large quantities of champagne they all drank.
About 'Exploring New Operas'
'Exploring New Operas' follows the 2017 U3A season of 'In the Mood for Opera' 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.