La voix humaine / Die sieben Todsünden / Medusa

photos courtesy of Philip Groshong

LA VOIX HUMAINE by Francis Poulenc

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MEDUSA by William Bolcom
World Stage Premiere


Conductor: Brian Salesky
Cast: C. Malfitano, D. Peterson, M. Pannucio, C. Verm, A. Conrad
Production: L. Childs (choreographer) D. Lyne (scenery/clothes), T. C. Hase (lighting), J. Geier (hair/make-up)

“Cincinnati Opera just keeps raising its game. The season featured the company’s first 21st century work—William Bolcom’s Medusa, previously heard in New York only in concert—as part of an enterprising triple bill produced by the company’s artistic director, Nicholas Muni. ‘La voix humaine’ took place around a car crashed into a telephone pole; in Dany Lyne’s designs, a huge rear-view mirror in the centre of the stage reflected the eyes of the man Elle could not leave behind. Her crawling from the wreckage of the car was an obvious analogy for her crawling from that relationship. But other details—notably the ending, with Elle walking away from us into a bright light—suggested that this crash was perhaps another suicide attempt, this time successful, and that the conversation we witnessed was played out in flashback. Either way, it was an effective modern realization. The rear-view mirror was still there for Die Sieben Todsünden, the evening’s highlight. Here it helpfully displayed Anna’s current sin of choice, writ in large bright cartoon strip letters, as we were whizzed along on her journey, through the pitfalls of stardom. Malfitano played both the singing and dancing Anna—she got round their little “Ja, Anna? Ja Anna!” conversations early on by talking to a polaroid of herself. During the commentaries the “family” quartet sang behind a whole series of disguises: in turn, Anna was exhorted to greater things by a walking replica of Mt. Rushmore; cardboard cut-outs of Monroe, Dietrich, Madonna and Michael Jackson; poster board of Reagan Clinton and Bushes Sr and Jr; and then four police in riot gear, giving the chalk outline of a miscreant the kind of going-over that allegedly sparked the riots in this area of Cincinnati just a few years ago. The “greed” episode showed a Kaleidoscope of film stills of Anna the celebrity endorsing more products than David Beckham in a Japanese ad break. The American dream to which she returned home was summed up by a satellite dish, a convertible and a nice shiny set of golf clubs. This is a vibrant, dazzlingly slick production, razor sharp and genuinely funny; some UK company should snap it up sharpish.
Erica Jeal, London OPERA (October, 2003)

“Puccini’s Trittico aside, operatic triple bills are typically a producer’s concoction rather than composers’. That it worked as such, and that these three very differently conceived pieces gelled as a convincing, cohesive unit, should be credited to Cincinnati’s brilliantly enterprising artistic director, Nicholas Muni, who devised the triptych as variations on the theme of a woman’s journey. Dany Lyne’s set—a sloping chrome road with a giant rearview mirror suspended overhead, varied imaginatively to suit the moment, and wonderfully lighted by Thomas C. Hase—was at once a striking metaphor and an effective playing space; and within it, Muni devised a lucid and cogent action for all three works. Ideally, THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS would profit from a smaller space; but Muni’s staging managed to overcome the size of the Music Hall to become the very best production of this work I’ve seen. Although SINS was originally commissioned to highlight the dancing Anna, it’s usually heard with the singing Anna appropriating her sister’s few spoken lines. Malfitano wanted to play both—the two Anna’s, after all, represent opposing traits in the same person—and these brief conversations with herself were handled ingeniously by Muni, with Anna playfully addressing a series of freshly taken Polaroid self-portraits. There was a delightful film sequence and a clever, telling variety of getups (Mount Rushmore, pop-cultural icons) for the male quartet comprising Anna’s family. Somehow, Muni caught just the right tone for this ironic, occasionally sentimental-despite-itself exposé of bourgeois values: funny, provocative and moving, it was the evening’s centerpiece in ways beyond its position on the triple bill.”
Patrick Dillon, Madrid Scherzo (July, 2003)

“Nicholas Muni’s film-noir concept worked well for LA VOIX HUMAINE. Instead of a bedroom, we were at the site of a car crash, where Malfitano, in a short blond wig, spoke on her cell phone while surveying the wreckage of her car, as well as her life. As a surreal touch, the team had the audience view the scene through the curve of a windshield with video projections on the hanging rear-view mirror. In what is believed to be a first, Malfitano performed both the singing and dancing parts in Weill’s SEVEN DEADLY SINS. Set in the present, the sky rained money and each cardinal sin (cleverly announced in the mirror) was saturated in cartoon color. Muni’s staging of this cynical morality play was a creative knockout. The Family was introduced in “Sloth” as Mount Rushmore (voices of ages past). Their mock-serious quartets were hilarious, whether appearing as presidents, pop icons or watching the famous Anna on TV.”
Janelle Gelfand, The Cincinnati Enquirer (June, 2003)

“The evening was a triumph for Cincinnati Opera, with the debut of a new production by artistic director Nicholas Muni and the world stage premiere of Medusa. Especially Weill’s Sins was an absolute delight.
Mary Ellyn Hutton, The Cincinnati Post (June, 2003)

“What is it about this city’s opera company that is so intriguing? Whatever the reasons, attending performances of the Cincinnati Opera offers the kind of pleasure one craves during the summer, or indeed any time of the year. The festival environments of Opera Theater of St. Louis and Santa Fe Opera may be better known, but Cincinnati doesn’t have to shrink before either of them. With four productions each summer, artistic director Nicholas Muni has achieved enviable, consistent success. Directed with sassy edginess by Muni, SEVEN DEADLY SINS confirmed Weill’s remarkable collaboration with Bertold Brecht, in which 1930’s German Expressionism melds splendidly with New World pop-skepticism. Typical productions of SINS double-cast their Annas, with one performer singing and the other dancing. Malfitano, who is the most lithe, gymnastic classical soprano I’ve witnessed since Maria Ewing, took on both assignments. Slipping among the various scenes, often paralleled by appropriately off-kilter video assignments, the effect was manic, lunatic and keenly sarcastic, played out with fastidious attention to Weill’s idiom.
Andrew Adler, Louisville Journal (July, 2003)

“I was most interested to see how well these three seemingly disparate pieces would work together. The result was quite effective. In LA VOIX HUMAINE, I was truly moved—at times almost to tears—by the story of a woman struggling to come to terms with loss. Artistic Director Nicholas Muni, who lovingly steps into the role of stage director for all three pieces, has staged the 1959 opera with a new twist: Elle is stranded in a car wreck, talking to her estranged lover on a cell phone. The effect is one of painful isolation, well suited to contemporary times. It was thought provoking, intense and enjoyable. The second opera was certainly the crowd favorite on opening night. DIE SIEBEN TODSÜNDEN is funny, fresh and full of dance. Muni brings the 1933 opera a contemporary satiric touch with jabs at American politics and American life. The use of projected film elements is particularly inspired. It’s truly an entertaining romp along the underbelly of American morality. MEDUSA might be the most daring thing Cincinnati Opera has produced. I left the opera not sure whether I liked it or not, but certain of one thing: I would not soon forget it.”
Kate Brauer-Bell, City Beat (June, 2003)

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