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.”

October 2008

Nic is presently at Indiana University directing Prokofiev’s THE LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES for the first time in his career–and for which he has written a new english translation. Other projects he is preparing are THE TURN OF THE SCREW for Portland Opera and two projects for Cincinnati Conservatory: ARIADNE AUF NAXOS, for which he is writing a new english translation and an adaptation, and  POSTCARD FROM MORROCO. Also in the preparation process is LE NOZZE DI FIGARO for the New England Conservatory of Music, due for production in December.

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