Glimmerglass Festival

A few weeks back I made the beautiful trek up to Glimmerglass Festival to see a couple of the productions (unfortunately not able to see all the offerings). Experiencing opera of this quality in an intimate theater surrounded by such natural beauty is a rare treat. I had last been there in 2008, when I directed the US premiere of DAS LIEBESVERBOT (an interesting piece, visit the portfolio page to view photos) and I really miss this wonderful company and hope to return soon.

The first night I saw Cesca Zambello’s clean, focused production of DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER. I make it a habit to avoid reading the program before performances because I like the experience of not knowing the names of the performers in advance. Many times, I recognize them from previous outings but occasionally I am both stunned by a performer and have no idea who they are. This was the case with the Senta. She was extraordinary and I could not for the life of me place her. The voice projected like a laser beam wrapped in velvet. The soft singing was floaty and gorgeous. Her acting was totally committed and energized in just the right way. I thought “Glimmerglass has made a stunning discovery. Who IS this wunder-soprano?” Turned out to be Melody Moore, with whom I had worked briefly at CCM a few years back–but I did not recognize her in the slightest. For me, she was the ideal Senta and I know she will be highly sought after for lyric Wagnerian roles very, very soon–or what’s this world coming to? Fantastic. This is not to diminish the excellence of the rest of the cast, but Melody truly stood out.

The following day another nice surprise, the final dress of UN GIORNO DI REGNO, Verdi’s first comedy. Sparkling music not-stop, but also lovely bel canto segments. It was the kind of production which made me wonder why this piece is not done a little more often. Certainly the plot is very thin and the various turns of events seem clichéd and contrived but equally true is that this piece stands up very well in comparison to many an occasionally-performed Donizetti opera. The two women in the cast, Jacqueline Echols and Ginger Costa-Jackson, a mezzo-soprano who sounded to me like a soprano, were absolutely stellar. Jackie is a recent grad from the CCM Artist Diploma program but this was her first role which demanded comic spark and verve–and she showed a very different side of herself, which I hope she continues to explore. Ginger lit up the stage and dominated every scene in which she appeared, singing beautifully even when being asked to perform some very physically demanding action. Andy Wilkowski was his usual excellent self, both very funny and humane. Beautifully conducted by Joe Colaneri, GF’s new Music Director–buoyant with teeth and grit.

The production by Christian Räth was bright and zany and really helped keep this thin piece alive in a great way. The farcical style started to wear thin after a while and I started to wonder if there was any possibility to deliver some depth in order to more fully appreciate the farce–but I am not sure if the piece would support that. Also, it was beautifully lit by Robert Wierzel, one of my favorite lighting designers.

Finally, got a look at CAMELOT and enjoyed the lovely production. Especially strong was the Guenevere Andriana Chuchman, she was riveting, humane and spunky in just the right measure as was Nathan Gunn as Lancelot. David Pittsinger brought an unusual level of vocal heft to Arthur, which was actually a little disconcerting at first but rewarding in many moments.

I love Glimmerglass in so many ways: casual yet serious, the intimate theater which has enough scope to embrace the power of opera and the real sense of artists as a family. A superb place for opera and under Cesca Zambello’s leadership it is flourishing.

How have your experiences at Glimmerglass been?

Opera Theater of St. Louis

At the end of June I took a trip over to St. Louis to see the new opera, CHAMPION, and visit old friends. Due to scheduling conflicts, I had not been to this company for 20 years (!) and it was just as lovely as when I directed IPHIGÉNIE EN TAURIDE there in 1994. In fact, it was like jumping into a time machine. Everything was in place: the tent, the manicured landscape, the theater itself, the wonderful esprit du corps and the talented young artists, of whom around five had been former students of mine at CCM–it was great to see them blossom on a professional stage.

CHAMPION was marvelous in all regards. The casting itself was a work of art. Musically, Terrence Blanchard has written an excellent first opera. The use of jazz idiom was organic, not trendy, and it alternated with music of unusual quality and depth. Very hard to pin it down–which is a good sign. The production could not have been better and Jim Robinson overcame the few langeurs in the story as it presently stands by keeping things afloat with visual activity. George Manahan, with whom I will be doing DON GIOVANNI in Philadelphia next spring, conducted beautifully despite working with a contingent of jazz musicians unaccustomed to following a conductor. I look forward to this piece having a successful, much deserved, “after life”.

I was also able to attend a performance of THE KISS by Smetna, which I had never seen onstage. The revelation here was Corinne Winters, of whom I had heard and read much but had never seen in performance. She is a marvel. Gorgeous, rich sound and a compelling actress with whom I hope to work some day. The rest of the cast was strong and the production of this charming but dramatically thin piece was visually slick and clean.

Opera Theater of St. Louis is one of our treasures and I look forward to spending many a lovely evening there–and hopefully to returning to direct a production soon.

“Powder Her Face” at Opera Philadelphia

June, 2013

While I was visiting family back east, I was able to catch a performance of Thomas Adès’ “Powder Her Face”, a chamber opera written in 1995 but having its Philadelphia premiere in this production. At the Kimmel Center, it was presented in the Perelman Theater, an intimate and lovely space, which was perfect for this opera.

Opera Philadelphia, as it is now known, is thriving under its new leader, David Devan. There is also an interesting relationship with the Curtis Institute of Music under the enterprising leadership of Mikael Eliasen which contributes to the recent vibrancy of this company. The programming is much more adventurous, as witnessed by this rep choice, and the audience seems to be responding very well. David and his team are taking a measured and responsible approach to stimulating this fairly conservative audience and so far the results are really impressive.

The production depicted the opera in a very straight forward manner, allowing the subject matter to speak for itself.  The cast was led by the superlative Patricia Schuman, who replaced Nancy Gustafson (who had to withdraw for health reasons) on very short notice. She looked perfect and sounded fantastic. The other standout in the cast was Ashley Emerson, whose brilliant coloratura was also beautiful in its timbre. The music is very distinctive: eclectic, vibrant, irreverent and free-wheeling but under complete artistic control at the same time. It is an exhuberant piece, masterfully composed–and very difficult. The orchestra was led beautifully by Music Director Corrado Rovaris, who obtained an immaculate reading that was also full of life. Very well done.

The piece begs the questions: are we merely to feel sympathy for an older, dying woman, who is perhaps filled with regret for past indiscretions? Are we to be titillated and/or shocked by her past behavior (not)? There are hints of a social critique of the upper class–is the piece about the revenge of the middle class? Or the brutal envy of the middle class for those with untold wealth? As the central figure faced her impending death, the music had such overwhelming power that seemed only fitting for significant tragedy, not suited to anything as banal or superficial as what the overt level of the story seems to be about. There clearly is meant to be a more faceted, deep meaning. I look forward to encountering the piece again–and hopefully to directing it some day.

Most importantly, the main impression I was left with was that of a daring company, exploring edgy repertoire in an intimate theater. Who could ask for more?

July 2011

Atlantic Music FestivalAbout to venture off to Waterville, Maine, where the Atlantic Music Festival is in residence on the campus of Colby College. I will be teaching acting classes and directing scenes.






November 2008

OPERA NEWS review by Joanne Sydney Lessner for Das Liebesverbot just in: “Nicholas Muni’s brash staging, updated to 1950s Sicily, was a no-holds-barred descent into depravity, with guns waving, switchblades flashing, smoking, copulation and childbirth, occasionally short-circuited by sadistic fascists wielding cattle prods. This makes it sound dark and depressing, but in fact it was entertaining, fun and vital. Muni fully explored the extremes of culture clash — the club scene versus the cloister, real piety versus self-serving evangelism, louche Italy versus orderly Germany. He also humanized both Isabella, by giving her a secret cigarette stash and Fellini-esque scarf and sunglasses, and Friedrich, by introducing a silent love-child from his youthful liaison with Mariana. Muni made excellent use of Conklin’s set, with a great reveal for Friedrich, lurking functionaries on the catwalk and shadow-play against a hanging shield.”

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