Tag Archives: opera

You can do anything so long as you sing it.*

In place of Julie’s regularly scheduled post, we’re proud to present a special guest, Rebekah, a fellow music librarian and a participant in Pittsburgh’s vibrant opera scene.

It’s fall and in addition to the leaves changing and the air becoming a bit cooler, seasons begin for many music organizations, including opera companies.  Pittsburgh Opera opens its 2012-13 season of classics in October with Rigoletto and continues with Don Giovanni, The Secret Marriage (performed by its resident artists), Madama Butterfly and La Cenerentola.  CLP’s Music Department has partnered with the Pittsburgh Opera’s education department since 2001 to produce a resource guide to help you immerse yourself in the operas of the season.  Books, librettos, CDs and DVDs await you as you get ready to experience revenge gone wrong, a womanizer getting what he deserves, a wedding of undercover lovers, a tragic love story and a fairytale romance.  I’m excited to see Don Juan in action in a new production of Mozart’s opera.

If you still want more opera, Pittsburgh has plenty of it.  Quantum Theatre, the nomadic theater company, will present the Pittsburgh premiere of Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov’s work, “Ainadamar,” based upon the life of Federico García Lorca.  Previously they had staged Astor Piazzolla’s opera tango, “María de Buenos Aires” at the deserted East Liberty YMCA.  It will be interesting to see how they use the space at East Liberty Presbyterian ChurchCarnegie Mellon’s Opera Workshop offers “Into the Woods” as their fall production.  I know, I know, it’s a musical… or is it?  We have to wait until February to see Duquesne University Opera Workshop’s production of “Dialogues of the Carmelites” but they will have an aria night in October.  Microscopic Opera just finished a run of “Riders to the Sea” (the play and the opera) and “Lizbeth,” all works about family tragedies.  Next up will be “The Little Sweep” in March.  Undercroft Opera, a company of all local singers, will stage “The Barber of Seville” in February and has yet to announce their 2013 summer production.  We also anticipate the next season of Opera Theater Summerfest.

Dare I mention venturing to the movie theater for the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD broadcasts?  It’s opera on the big screen and you don’t have to hop the Megabus to New York.  You just venture to the Cinemark Theaters at Pittsburgh Mills or Robinson Township or Rave Motion Pictures-Pittsburgh North 11.  Last season, many people experienced Robert Lepage’s innovative Ring Cycle.  I was not among them as I am not a fan of Wagner’s epic work unlike my boss, Julie, who has seen over 10 different productions.  I think she and I can both agree that opera plots can be about anything.  Maybe I’ll see you at one this year.

— Rebekah

*A quotation from the fabulous Anna Russell who parodied the Ring Cycle in solo concert performances


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It’s like Nunsense, but with a guillotine!

Just kidding.  Francis Poulenc’s opera Dialogues des Carmelites does involve nuns and a guillotine, but let’s be frank, this opera is not a comedy.  It takes place in late 18th century France’s Reign of Terror and it’s about prayer, privation, and personal sacrifice.  In an opera world full of love at first sight, overwrought love tragedies, and absurd cross-dressing romantic comedies, it’s refreshing to see a compelling kissing-free drama about martyrdom.

As for the music, although it was written in the 1950s, in the midst of the modern era’s obsession with atonality, Poulenc (1899-1963) was somewhat old-fashioned.  In the New Grove Dictionary of Opera, he is quoted:

It seems that my Carmelites can only sing tonal music.  You must forgive them.

It is indeed a tonal work and one with touching lyricism plus powerful choral prayers in Latin.

Pittsburghers will get a chance to see this opera from April 30 to May 8, 2011.  It’s a rare chance indeed.  Hax McCullough’s Illustrated History of Opera in Pittsburgh indicates that the Pittsburgh Opera has never performed this work before.

To preview it beforehand or explore other versions afterward, the library has CDs (in versions in English, German, and the original French) and DVDs (in English and French).  In addition, it’s also available in a new streaming Opera in Video database that we offer.

But don’t miss the rare opportunity to see it live!  And even if you’re irreligious like me, you will still be deeply affected by the pathos of the unique final scene (SPOILER ALERT: it features the guillotine).

See you at the opera!

— Tim

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My Failed Resolution and a Year of Opera

Last year, in our post about New Year’s resolutions, I said I would finally watch Wagner’s Ring cycle.  I didn’t.  When I was quarantined with chicken pox for a week in April, it would have  been the perfect opportunity to plow through all 15 hours of Wagner’s opera epic, but I was over a thousand miles away from the library’s DVD collection.  Instead, from my parents’ collection, I watched three Humphrey Bogart movies (The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and The African Queen).  It’s a wonder I didn’t start smoking.

Anyway, even without watching Wagner, I had a 2009 full of opera.  I attended 5 live operas, 6 Metropolitan Opera Live in HD simulcasts, and watched 1 DVD.  Here are some of my highlights (and perhaps one lowlight):

January 24, 2009 — Metropolitan Opera HD simulcast (Galleria Mills):

Gluck, Christoph Willibald  Orfeo ed Euridice

While watching Stephanie Blythe being broadcast live from NYC, I thought about how I saw her in Verdi’s Aida and Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila on stage at the Benedum Center in 2008.  That shows the caliber of artists the Pittsburgh Opera brings or develops here.

February 13, 2009 — Pittsburgh Opera (CAPA):

Donizetti, Gaetano  Don Pasquale

I think the “Cheti cheti immantinente…Aspetta, aspetta” duet in Act III between Malatesta and Pasquale is the most fist-pumpingly fun patter song in Italian opera.  As a well behaved audience member, though, I did not pump my fist, especially since I volunteered as an usher this night.

March 7, 2009 — Metropolitan Opera HD simulcast (Galleria Mills):

Puccini, Giacomo  Madama Butterfly

The use of a bunraku puppet for Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton’s child was only one example of the innovations of this gorgeous production by the late Anthony Minghella and his wife Carolyn Choa.

May 8, 2009 — Pittsburgh Opera (Benedum Center):

Rossini, Gioacchino   L’Italiana in Algeri

Vivica Genaux is enormously talented but, in a way, the show was stolen by comical bass Paolo Pecchioli in the role of Mustafà.  My friend said he was like a Jerry Lewis that can sing.

August 2009 — DVD at home:

Korngold, Erich Wolfgang  Die tote Stadt

I am a champion of Korngold, but I was wearied by this DVD from the library’s collection.  I believe the opera’s original libretto ends on a hopeful note with Paul locking the door to his late wife’s room and bidding farewell to the obsessive memories and dead city that had haunted him.  But in this overwrought French production, it ends with Paul sliding his bloody hand prints down a door labeled “NO EXIT.”

August 6, 2009 — Undercroft Opera (Synod Hall):

Donizetti, Gaetano  L’elisir d’amore

It was a joy to see a production that moved the setting from a 19th century Italian village to present-day Hollywood.  And since Undercroft Opera showcases local talent, I always spot lots of library users in their casts and crew.

December 19, 2009 — Metropolitan Opera HD simulcast (Galleria Mills):

Offenbach, Jacques  Les Contes d’Hoffmann

Although Anna Netrebko was the big name attached to this production, the big surprise was diminutive soprano Kathleen Kim‘s singing of Olympia’s doll song.  Kim’s was the best version of that song from the four different productions of Tales of Hoffmann I have seen.  Opera fans, she’s someone to look out for in 2010.

And I’ll be looking for you to explore the library’s opera collection in 2010.  Make it a resolution you’ll keep.

— Tim


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The nose knows, or know your nose.

In honor of my impending visit to the ear, nose, and throat doctor (nothing serious, thankfully) I present to you a list of books about our friend the nose.

book jacket     book jacket     book jacket     book jacket     book jacket     book jacket

Of course, one simply cannot discuss noses without mentioning Edmond Rostand and Cyrano de Bergerac. And since our library is awesome, we have many different versions of that classic for you to choose from:

Remember, don’t take your nose for granted – lest someone stick a tiny camera up it, or use a larger camera to make a movie about it.


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The Best Use of Opera in a Movie in 2008

In the last couple years, I have seen lots of the Metropolitan Opera’s live opera HD simulcasts so that’s my vote for best use of a movie theater for opera.  But for the best use of opera in a movie, I was surprised to hear an opera excerpt brilliantly used in the soundtrack to the ridiculous comedy, Step Brothers.

stepbrothersIn a scene where young playground bullies are forcing almost-40 year old Brennan Huff’s face towards a piece of dog doo, one hears an excerpt from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.  It’s a hilarious juxtaposition of stomach-churning, screwball comedy with possibly the most heartbreakingly beautiful aria ever written, Isolde’s Liebestod [“love-death”]. 

In a previous post, I discussed the use of Wagner operas in the fantasy movie, Excalibur, but the use of Mild und Liese (another name for Isolde’s aria) in Step Brothers was even more unexpected and, for me, a delightful little moment when my interests in high and low culture converged.

— Tim


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Just another manic Monday?

The Monday morning blues – hardly anyone’s immune to them, even if you happen to have the best career on the planet.  Weekends can be so much fun, it’s hard to shake off the recreational vibes and get back to business.  Maybe you went bowling this past weekend, or attended a cultural event. Either way, it’s time to get your head back in the game, and you’re just not feeling it. What’s a conscientious, career-minded person to do?

Taking a career quiz
could be fun, but possibly risky. Better play it safe and grab a book for later. There is always, of course, coffee, which you can both read about and drink at the library; we’d appreciate it if you’d keep the beverages on the ground floor, but feel free to read anywhere you’d like.

The novel that’s chasing my blues away this rainy Monday morning is A. S. Byatt’s Possession. Some of you may have already seen the film: two scholars discover that the 19th-century poets on whom their work focuses conducted a passionate, clandestine affair; this discovery then leads to scholarly chicanery and deception, among other things. The novel will really sing to folks who enjoy the satire of David Lodge, but for me, the attraction lies in the letters exchanged by the two poets. Brimming with life and vigor, they depict the gradual, tantalizing courtship of two kindred souls, and it’s enchanting to watch their correspondence evolve from decorous niceties to passionate familiarity.

Say, there’s an idea: why not take a break from the hectic corporate pace and investigate the lost art of letter-writing? And do let us know if you’d like some help.

–Leigh Anne

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