Tag Archives: Pittsburgh 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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The Grapes of Wrath as an opera

It’s Halloween and some of you probably find opera to be scary. It’s really not. Also, the economy seems pretty scary right now. It really is. So two of your worst fears may be realized in John Steinbeck’s tale of Depression-era economic woe being turned into an opera. Conquer your fears! In November, go see it live at the Pittsburgh Opera!

Making an opera out of the Grapes of Wrath is an ambitious task. It’s a long book with chapters alternating between the story of the Joad family and observations outside the narrative on such topics as jalopies, diners, the great migration to California on Highway 66, the vicissitudes of farm work, etc. The novel is also political with its rising resentment of the poor against land-owners, companies and banks. Finally, the dialogue is written in dialect.

So the librettist (the person who writes the text of an opera), Michael Korie, had his work cut out for him and he mostly does Steinbeck proud. I do question some of Korie’s departures from the book such as why the character Muley is made to accidentally shoot his son or why half-wit Noah’s decision to literally go “down the river” that’s so understated in the book turns into a overly dramatic suicide replete with Biblical references. But hey, such is the nature of the adaptation of any work. Korie keeps all the characters of the large Joad family and he keeps Steinbeck’s extra-narrative observations which are crucial to the impact of the book.

Photo (c) 2007 Michael Daniel for Minnesota Opera

Photo (c) 2007 Michael Daniel for Minnesota Opera

What about Ricky Ian Gordon’s music? It’s modern but not too thorny or dissonant; the comparisons with Aaron Copland and George Gershwin are appropriate and I might also throw in Benjamin Britten. And, without sounding hokey, it’s peppered with bits of Americana: banjos, whistling, fiddlin’, harmonica, swing, etc. The world premiere recording by the Minnesota Opera was released in August, but since then, enough revisions to the score have been made that the Pittsburgh performance is being called another premiere. This is somewhat fitting since Gordon is a Carnegie-Mellon University alumnus. (You can hear excerpts from the Minnesota recording at the Pittsburgh Opera website.)

Finally, if you have worries or curiosity about opera, the Pittsburgh Opera’s Opera Lady is happy to answer your questions. And at the library, we have a huge selection of almost 1500 opera CDs, over 400 on DVD, vocal/piano and full scores (i.e., bound sheet music), aria collections, and books to elicit and feed your new-found opera passion. Also, be sure to check out more music by Ricky Ian Gordon or Michael Korie’s lyrics for the musical version of Grey Gardens (another ambitious adaptation!).

— Tim

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