History tells us the 1853 premiere of Verdi's "La Traviata" was something of a disaster, capped by the fatal miscasting (opposed unsuccessfully by the composer) of a soprano whose girth, in the view of the audience, made her attempts to portray a consumptive beauty laughable rather than tragic.
Nothing dates faster than relevance. The more a work of art addresses uniquely contemporary issues, the quicker it becomes stale and even, eventually, quaint.
Union Avenue Opera is nothing if not fearless, often taking on works that strain the company’s space at the Union Avenue Christian Church to the limit. Through next Saturday Union Avenue is presenting the second installment of its most ambitious project yet—Wagner's mammoth operatic cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (“The Ring of the Nibelung”). And it's pretty darned impressive.
It has been ten years since Union Avenue Opera presented Puccini’s 1904 “Japanese Tragedy” “Madama Butterfly”, and if the current production is any indication, they have waited far too long. Musically and dramatically it’s solid work, with eye-catching sets and costumes to boot.
Leonard Bernstein was arguably the most prodigiously gifted musician in America’s history. He was a world-class conductor, pianist and educator, and his prolific outpouring of compositions included symphonies, ballets, piano choral and chamber music, film scores, hit Broadway musicals and operas. Among his shelves-ful of awards from around the world we find nine Grammys and two Tonys.
How much can you downsize Wagner without putting him out of business? The late musical satirist Anna Russell once famously cut the entire “Ring” cycle down to twenty hilarious minutes and some change while still telling the bare bones of the story.
“Un Ballo in Maschera” (“A Masked Ball”) is classic Verdi, with star-crossed lovers, vendettas, political intrigue, a tragedy of bad timing in which nobody lives happily ever after, and even a sorceress who makes sadly accurate predictions of doom.
The production of Handel’s 1739 pastoral opera “Acis and Galatea” that graced Union Avenue Opera’s stage this past weekend was pretty much a perfect fit for the company and its space.
As I’ve noted in the past, Union Avenue Opera isn’t shy about tackling material that pushes the company’s artistic and physical limits. Sometimes, as with last month’s Turandot, the results have been mixed. With the local premiere of Dead Man Walking, the result is a searing and riveting presentation that is simply one of best local opera productions since Opera Theatre’s Glorianna back in 2005. Union Avenue couldn’t have chosen a better way to end their 2011 season.
Rossini’s romantic comedy La Cenerentola, based in part on the classic fairy tale Cinderella, was your prototypical rush job. He threw it together in three weeks at the end of 1816 when the libretto he was supposed to set was rejected by the Papal Censor. By way of contrast, mezzo Abigail Fischer spent months learning the elaborate flourishes of the title role for the current Union Avenue Opera production.