Summer 2016: The Coffeehouse Chat

Official Call To Action: Tickets on sale tomorrow morning (Saturday, March 19) at 10 am!!! Start here.

Now I shall take off my official promotional General Director hat. And even though I can’t actually sit down with all of you at Vienna’s lovely Caffè Amouri, I’m going to grab a cup of tea (and invite you to do the same:)) and give you my completely subjective and informal take on this summer’s operas. Read on.


Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia

I was a pianist for rehearsals of this show when we last did it at The Barns in 1988, and I have been craving the chance to bring it back for years but have proceeded with caution. Everything about it is so finely etched, and it requires just the right team and cast.

The thing that I personally find the most fascinating about this piece is the way it addresses a dramatic and controversial topic within an extremely thoughtful and delicate framework. We’re accustomed to grand opera approaching situations of life and death with waves of emotion, sound and color. But to hear an orchestra of 13 and a cast of 8 grappling with jealous, lust, power, sorrow and regret is to travel deep inside your own soul and mind to where the human condition is most vivid and powerful.

Young singers get plenty of chances to do romance and comedy. (Our other two operas handily demonstrate this phenomenon.) But there are fewer chances for them to engage in telling a story with this kind of grit and guts. To honor this opportunity, we’re creating context around this production with The Lucretia Project.

Gassmann’s L’Opera Seria

L'Opera SeriaStep 1 in producing an old but neglected opera: Do the research on the music and the story, locate the actual physical scores (harder than you might think…), determine what is needed to identify the right singers and team.

Step 2: Make sure there’s not an actual reason that no one ever does this opera…

In the case of our friend Gassmann‘s not-serious-at-all Opera Seria, we’ve been reassured of its viability through the way it’s been received in Europe over the last decade. We’ve sent spies to a few productions, and we’ve eagerly devoured critical acclaim. (“One leaves dazed and amazed, having laughed so much…” “Genuinely hilarious…” “L’Opera Seria is a scream… the wit is eye-wateringly good…”)

And the chance to do a U.S. premiere (even when the opera is 247 years old!) is always a hoot. In addition to the obvious curiosity-seeking bucket-list value for opera lovers, it’s so freeing for our artists not to have to measure up to a specific standard that the audience already embraces through recordings or previous performances. And the music for this opera is like a high-wire act in a lot of ways – thrillingly acrobatic, with an abundance of adrenaline. It’ll keep my July afloat, for sure.

Puccini’s La bohème

La boheme act IIWhat is there to say, really? Except that I am always amazed how something this familiar can become new again.

When super talented young singers make role debuts in this piece, the story is told afresh. When a terrific creative team re-imagines this story especially for our unique audience of 6,000 opera goers of every possible type, we see and hear it anew. And when the National Symphony Orchestra – who rarely gets the chance to indulge in Puccini – tackles this score, I get chills.

And predictably, at some point in the bare-bones rehearsal room with street clothes and temporary props, I will once again cry when Mimì dies.

Which reminds me of an anecdote from our last Bohème in 2009: A friend was sitting in front of a couple of young women attending the opera for the first time. During the curtain calls, she looked back to see one of them in tears, sobbing, “She freakin’ died…”  You and I need to remember that not everyone knows how this story ends. And that, when the tale is well told, it has immediacy and power, even for those for whom opera truly is a foreign word.


Done with your tea? I know I have to get back to work…

Of course, the foregoing is only one woman’s opinion, but since it comes from the same person who decided to cast and program these operas, there may be something here. Of course, I look forward to hearing from all of you as you experienced these shows, for I always learn something from our wonderful audience members. :)

Now go buy those tickets.

One Comment

Michael Rogers

I read your previous emails and your blog post about the 2016 summer program and have been planning to purchase my tickets early. What really stands out for me in your blog post today is the announcement of the “Lucretia Project.” Seeing the word “rape” in the name of an opera gives one a start, especially considering the rumblings I have heard about opera companies recently making productions more sensational, presumably to attract a larger audience. Your statement that this opera addresses the topic “within an extremely thoughtful and delicate framework” is reassuring, but the addition of the Lucretia Project demonstrates a level of forethought, outreach, and caring for your audience, as well as art, that is truly impressive. Nice work!

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