~By Lynne Gray, PhD~
Monday, March 30
Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites ~ 2HRS 53MINS
Starring Isabel Leonard, Adrianne Pieczonka, and Karita Mattila, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. From May 11, 2019.
We begin this week with one of the most gripping operas in the entire repertoire. Completed in 1956, it is a fictionalized version of the true story of the Martyrs of Compiègne who were guillotined for refusing to renounce their calling in 1794 during the closing days of the Reign of Terror. Isabel Leonard stars as the fearful young noblewoman, Blanche de la Force who joins the Carmelites to escape the horrors of the French Revolution and instead finds herself engulfed by them.
Set in Paris, beginning in April of 1789, the first rumblings of revolution are making the streets unsafe for the nobility, and Blanche’s carriage is held up by a mob. Seriously shaken, although she attempts to convince her father and brother that she is not. She desires only to escape to safety. Hoping to find it within the cloistered walls of a convent, she takes vows as a sister despite the old prioress’s warning that the convent is not a refuge from life.
Witnessing Madame de Croissy’s excruciatingly painful last days and her wrenching confession of fear and doubt in the hour of her death, Blanch becomes even more fearful herself and again considers running off. She is comforted, however, by her young friend Constance who nevertheless foresees her own and Blanche’s death happening on the very same day. Mère Marie provides additional solace by suggesting that perhaps the old prioress’s difficult death was meant to pave the way one day for another’s death to be made easier. By the time her brother appears at the convent asking her to flee with him and her father, Blanche can tell him firmly that she believes her duty is now to her sisters.
When the sisters are to be expelled from the convent and the chaplain is forbidden from celebrating mass anymore, the new Prioress reminds them all that it is their duty to serve – inside or outside of the convent. She also reminds them that Martyrs are chosen by God – not by their own will. Nevertheless, Mère Marie asks the sisters all to take a vow of martyrdom by unanimous consent. There is but one dissenting vote – probably cast by Blanche. Constance, however, claims it was hers and that she has changed her mind. She now agrees, and the Sisters’ pact is sealed.
Blanche, however, again disappears as her sisters are all arrested and taken to prison. On the day they are to be guillotined, Constance has a vision of Blanche’s return. In a most incredibly moving final scene, the sisters are led to the scaffold singing the gorgeous Salve Regina and are silenced one by one as the sound of the guillotine punctuates their prayer. To Constance’s great joy, Blanche emerges from the crowd at the last moment and takes up the chant, now willingly joining her sisters in death.
Tuesday, March 31
Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia ~ 2HRS 45MINS
Starring Joyce DiDonato, Juan Diego Flórez, and Peter Mattei, conducted by Maurizio Benini. From March 24, 2007.
In a complete reversal of mood from Monday, Tuesday is the evening to smile and laugh, hum along and invite the kids to watch as well. If you liked Juan Diego Flórez in Daughter of the Regiment during Week 1, he is equally entertaining in this most delightful comic opera. Singing along with Juan and the glorious voiced Joyce DiDonato, is the great Peter Mattei as the wily Barber, Figaro, who regularly outwits his wealthy patrons in one of Rossini’s greatest Bel Canto gems.
Figaro? – you might say — isn’t that a different opera? And, yes – it is! Although this is the one with the famous ‘Largo al factotum’ (also of Woody Woodpecker fame). Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, written in 1786 predated Rossini’s Barber by some 30 years, even though the Mozart story is actually the sequel to Rossini’s. The stories themselves, however, were first written by the great French playwright, Pierre Beaumarchais in the 1770’s as part of a trilogy. So – the crafty hero, Figaro, in Mozart’s opera is actually tonight’s barber of Seville as well — Figaro, Figaro, Figaro!
Now that we have that straight, this particular story revolves around the feisty young Rosina, the unhappy ward of lecherous old Dr. Bartolo who intends to marry her himself. Having seen her on her balcony, the dashing Count Almaviva has fallen in love with her and engages a party of musicians to serenade her. Being locked in, she is, of course, unable to appear on her balcony, but she has certainly heard her young suitor, who in the first of many disguises we will see him in this evening, is pretending to be a struggling student – Lindoro. She immediately decides to do whatever it takes to get him.
Figaro, a former servant of the Count’s, happens along just in the nick of time to advise (for a nice fee, of course) his former master on how to get past Bartolo and woo the fair Rosina. It takes a great many disguises, failed attempts and much general hilarity to finally unite the young lovers and to outwit Bartolo and his confidant, the prissy music master, Don Basilio.
You’ll have to watch and listen closely to catch all the jokes, the sight gags, the disguises and the incredible characterizations that make this opera – and especially this cast – a true delight! Be sure to pay particular attention during the second act music lesson – when Rosina sometimes departs from the score to deliver coloratura fireworks in a piece of her own choosing that highlights her unique voice.
Wednesday, April 1
John Adams’s Nixon in China ~ 2HRS 56MINS
Starring Janis Kelly and James Maddalena, conducted by John Adams. From February 12, 2011.
John Adams’ first opera, Nixon in China premiered in 1987 at the Houston Grand Opera but was not performed at the Met until 2011. The creative team of Adams, his librettist Alice Goodman and producer/designer Peter Sellers sought to explore how myths come to be and particularly how a modern myth might be born. It is not at all a political statement, but rather a look into an historical event from the perspectives of its principal participants – the Nixons, Mao and his wife Chiang Ch’ing, Kissinger and Chou En-lai.
Adams’ music for the opera is both modern and eclectic – using minimalism in the style of Phillip Glass when it fits the story, or modernism in the style of Stravinsky, and also including passages influenced more by Romantic composers like Wagner and Strauss, as well as jazz and even big band sounds to match the music of the period in which it is set. The orchestration, too, is non-traditional using saxophones, additional percussion and even an electric synthesizer but no bassoons, French horns or tuba. Its initial reception was decidedly cool, and the reviews were mixed at best. In the 30 plus years since, however, Adams has composed several other successful operas and among several other awards, received a Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2003. These days his operas, including Nixon, tend to receive far warmer receptions than was the case when he began composing. Along with Nixon, works such as Doctor Atomic, The Death of Klinghoffer, and his oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary can now be seen on stages all over the world – although not without tremendous controversy as in Klinghoffer.
The story basically covers Nixon’s groundbreaking presidential visit, from the landing of his jet, the “Spirit of ’76,” to the welcoming ceremonies, to Pat’s daytime tours, to the Peking Opera, and finally to each one’s private thoughts on the eve of their departure.
Regardless of your feelings about Nixon, this is an excellent opportunity to experience a truly modern opera – with little risk to your pocketbook – should you choose to leave before the end!
Here is the link to the Met’s website to watch the free streaming: https://www.metopera.org/