Warhorses & new productions
Houston Grand Opera's 2011-12 season highlights Verdi, Britten & my favorite newdiva
Still reeling from Houston Grand Opera’s stunning production of Lucia di Lammermoor Friday night, I was thrilled to learn that the company will present Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda.
It gets even better. Classy mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who made such a hit in last week’s Dead Man Walking, will sing the title role.
The only problem? I have to wait until next year. April 21, to be precise.
Yes, HGO has announced its 2011-12 season, and we’re here to fill you in on the details. Get your calendars and hand-helds, because you won’t want to miss a single production. And if you’re a big fan of 19thcentury Italian opera, you’re going to be particularly pleased.
A work that always benefits from a new production is Rossini’s warhorse The Barber of Seville. I’ll never forget a tired performance I saw in Connecticut when I was a teenager, because the barber Figaro sang the phrase, “Make an appointment, gimme some ointment, I’m the king of lather and foam!” Oh, that hackneyed singing translation, and oh, how far opera production has come since the 1970s.
Nobody then had stumbled upon the idea of super-titles. In October, HGO will perform the delightful comic work in Italian (with projected translations) in a new staging by director Joan Font, lighting designer Albert Faura, and set and costume designer Joan Guillén. And once again, soprano Ana María Martínez will star in the season opener, just as she did in this season’s Madame Butterfly.
Decades ago, the first thing I saw at The Metropolitan Opera was Beethoven’s rousing “rescue opera” Fidelio (with none other than Karl Böhm conducting), so I’m thrilled that HGO is bringing it here starting Oct. 28th. It’s going to look a lot different than I remember it, however, even if the production is still from The Met. German director Jürgen Flimm has put the “triumph over evil” theme within the context of a contemporary police state. I’m eager to hear Finnish soprano Karita Mattila as Leonore.
I poured a second cup of coffee as I continued reading the HGO press release and saw that Verdi’s La Traviata opens next January. Along with Carmen and La Bohème, it is one of the world’s most beloved operas, which is another way of saying that it’s not exactly “news” in opera circles.
But wait, I nearly choked on that second cup! Albina Shagimuratova, my new favorite diva, is singing the role of Violetta! “That production I’m going to have to see more than once,” I thought to myself. There’s nothing more exciting than watching a brilliant young star inhabit a classic, which is what Shagimuratova did Friday at the Wortham in Lucia.
If the season thus far seems a bit too traditional for your tastes, fasten your seatbelts for Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, which opens February 2012. I couldn’t be more excited about HGO’s ongoing series devoted to Britten, and this one is also a chamber work, more similar in scope to last year’s The Turn of the Screw than to this year’s Peter Grimes.
Don’t worry, it won’t feature a creepy old man who befriends innocent young boys. Instead, it focuses on the devastation of Lucretia by foreign-born ruler of Rome Tarquinius Superbus. I know little more, and for me this is possibly the highlight of the 2011-12 Season. The press release explains that the composer and his librettist Ronald Duncan “wrote this opera in 1946 as an allegorical exploration of the Second World War’s devastation; the intimate and supremely moving result is a plea, perhaps a prayer, for our redemption.”
Before the season finale Maria Stuarda in late April, HGO will bring an unusually complete production of Verdi’s Don Carlos, sung in French (and with projected English translations, as for the rest of the season), on April 13th. It might be best described as a world re-premiere, since it contains portions of rarely performed music and scenes from the 1867 original version written for the Paris Opera added to Verdi’s 1886 “final” version. Brandon Jovanovich is scheduled for the title role.
Do I have any disappointments? I’m surprised that the 2011-12 Season doesn’t contain a major American contemporary opera like this year’s Dead Man Walking or a “forgotten” HGO premiere that could use a revival, such as Meredith Monk’s Atlas. I’d even settle for an American 20thclassic like Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts. HGO is, after all, an American company and has a long-standing reputation for promoting American works.
I wouldn’t mind some infrequently performed French operas like Massenet’s Le jongleur de Notre Dame or Milhaud’s Christophe Colomb. Really, though, my insatiable opera appetite never diminishes, so I’ll never be content. And with a season like the 2011-12 just announced, I have no right to complain.