Hear Boston Baroque in Rameau's Les Indes Galantes
Click on "Listen" above. Download program information and see a slideshow from the production below.
In May of 2011, Boston Baroque and music director Martin Pearlman (left), capped off their 38th season with a production of Jean-Philippe Rameau's Les Indes Galantes at New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall. Not exactly opera as we think of that term now, but rather an extravagent bringing-together of music, drama, and dance particular to its time, Les Indes Galantes includes lyrical music-making, spectacular tableaux, and infectious, toe-tapping dance.
The prologue sets things in motion: Hébé, goddess of youth, laments seeing the young men of Europe lured by the goddess of war’s promises of glory, and asks Cupid to go abroad, to exotic, faraway lands (“les Indes”), in search of love.
There follow four acts, each a self-contained love story: Le Turc généreux (The Generous Turk), Les Incas du Pérou (The Incas of Peru), Les Fleurs – fête Persane (The Flowers – Persian Festival), and Les Sauvages d’Amerique (The Savages of America). The libretto and music reflect Parisian society’s fascination with the New World and the Near East. For example, two Native Americans from French colonial Louisiana were brought to Paris in 1725 and performed, inspiring Rameau to write a set of harpsichord pieces called Les Sauvages, some of which he adapted here.
Tune in to Classical New England on 99.5 WCRB in Boston or 88.7 WJMF in Providence, or stream the performance here at classicalnewengland.org at 6:30pm on Sunday, Nov. 18. The cast includes sopranos Amanda Forsythe and Nathalie Paulin, tenors Aaron Sheehan and Daniel Auchincloss, and baritones Sumner Thompson and Nathaniel Watson.
By Arthur Smith | Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Taking Flight: A Guide to Boston’s Upcoming Opera Season
It’s true that Boston has no bean-town equivalent to The Metropolitan Opera—the most dominant company in the nation, and source of many of the performances featured on WGBH's Opera Bash––but the city is host to a range of professional and collegiate opera groups—many presenting adventuresome repertoire with first-rate talent on stage and behind the scenes.
Boston Lyric Opera, led by Esther Nelson, John Conklin, and David Angus, has been newly invigorated of late, shedding its reputation for playing it safe with top 40—make that top 10—operas in conventional productions. This season continues to break the mold: On November 4, BLO opens with Verdi’s “Macbeth,” which boasts one of his greatest, and most vocally unforgiving, female roles, assayed by American soprano Carter Scott. She’s a full-on dramatic soprano with power to spare.
The season continues with “The Barber of Seville” bowing March 9, 2012, followed by two contemporary works. Scottish composer Peter Maxwell Davies’ taut 1971 chamber opera, “The Lighthouse,” will be given at The Kennedy Library and Museum. John Musto’s “The Inspector,” a comic opera based on Gogol’s farce, rounds out the season with a run that opens April 20.
Full info on BLO’s season, including outreach events around town such as performances and previews at the Museum of Fine Arts and the Boston Public Library, is available at http://www.blo.org/.
Opera Boston'soperatic niche is rarities and new works. Its conductor Gil Rose’s genius is to find the streams that connect new works—the company’s co-commission, “Madame White Snake,” garnered the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for music—with sometimes dusty traditions from the past. The combo makes for some of the smartest opera programing in town, and this Shakespeare-based season is no exception.
Berlioz’ “Béatrice et Bénédict,” the French orchestral wizard’s take on “Much Ado About Nothing” opens October 21. The leading man is the dashing Sean Panikkar, an up and coming tenor who, lucky for us, switched to opera from civil engineering when he was studying in Ann Arbor. (Although those statics classes may give him a leg up literally if he ever has to sing on that crazy circus ride of a set the Metropolitan Opera has going for their new “Ring” production by Robert Lapage!)
Opera Boston continues with Sir Michael Tippett’s “The Midsummer Marriage” opening in February. The British composer provided both music and text for this work, first given at London’s Covent Garden in 1955, and invoking myth and ritual to portray the choices in a marriage. The sources include T.S. Eliot, “The Magic Flute,” Shakespeare and Greek drama. A formidable stew, but in capable hands with director/choreographer Daniel Pelzig, whose dances can be seen in the “Iphigénie en Tauride” Opera Bash telecast.
“Capuleti e i Montecchi,” Vincenzo Bellini’s take on the Romeo and Juliet legend, rounds out the season opening April 27. On and off the past few years, the company has ended their season with a bel canto rarity—in May 2011 they gave “Maria Padilla” of Donizetti. Bel canto, associated with early 19th century Italian composers including Bellini, means “beautiful singing.” That is, gorgeous florid melodies, runs, high notes, trills, the works, all in service to plots that would be unbelievable even on reality TV. But there's no problem believing in the beauty of Bellini’s music: for a sampler check out Met stars Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca in a duet from this work (and yes, both Romeo and Juliet are played by women, get over it. It’s opera.) Garanca is the star of two of the Opera Bash presentations by the way, “La Cenerentola” and “Carmen.” She’s blond, she’s Latvian, and she’s one hell of a Carmen.
Other Opera in Boston
Going beyond the resident professional companies devoted to opera, there is a wealth of activity by other arts organizations, colleges, and touring groups. Here’s a round up.
Boston Early Music Festival's reach goes beyond their extraordinary summer program. On November 26, they will be giving a double-bill of works by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, a French baroque composer of ravishing melodies and elaborate 17th century spectacle--opera was, well "operatic" from the get go. Like many baroque composers, he found the Orpheus myth irresistable; the sorrowing lyrist is the basis for the first work, “La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers.” It’s followed by “La Couronne de Fleurs.” The Jordan Hall performances are likely to be the only chance to be able to hear them live in Boston, or anywhere for that matter.
Teatro Lirico D'Europa is a touring company that brings well-known works to stages on the East Coast. Although no dates have been announced for 2011-2012 season, the works on their docket are “La Bohème,” “Don Giovanni,” “La Traviata,” and “Rigoletto.”
New England Conservatory's operatic activities are now under the direction of Stephen Lord, familiar to Boston audiences from many fine performances with BLO. He’s full of ambitious plans to reinvigorate the program.
NEC performs both scenes and fully staged operas. This year’s season has not been announced, but previous seasons have boasted works like “Candide” and a droll evening of one-acters by Offenbach. Well worth checking out, and often a bargain.
Boston University's Opera Institute has announced its season: Kicking off October 7 will be the 2011 Fringe Festival, Béla Bartók’s masterly “Bluebeard’s Castle:” four performances of a claustrophobic work that will likely get under your skin, an effect likely to be enhanced by BU’s studio setting.
Contemporary composer Jake Heggie’s “Three Decembers” follows the next weekend, October 14. This is a one-acter after a Terrance McNally play, with libretto by Gene Scheer. Heggie’s psychologically acute music has made him one of the most produced modern opera composers, and he’ll be at BU in person on October 28 for “Art Song Meets Theatre.”
BU’s season continues with Cimarosa’s silly but tuneful 1792 opera, “Il Matrimonio Segreto” bowing February 23, and the piquant grandeur of Poulenc’s “The Dialogues of the Carmelites,” from 1953, closes the season on April 19.
Like NEC, Boston Conservatory has yet to announce its main presentations, but it will be giving a free children’s opera, “The Bremen Town Musicians,” text by John Davies, on October 15. The music is a pastiche of Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and the like.
There is also opera at Harvard. Both Lowell House and Dunster House present works with student casts, also drawing on musicians from the community. As you might guess a few stars have passed through. Alan Gilbert, now music director of the New York Philharmonic, was once a Lowell Opera conductor; perhaps a future Gilbert is pondering fall repertory choices right now.
Alas with the departure of James Levine, concert opera is not on tap at Symphony Hall. (Those glorious concert performances of Berlioz’ “Les Troyens” he led seem like just yesterday.) One plum is left in the pudding: Met stalwart James Morris, who recently passed the mantel of Wagner’s god-in-chief, Wotan, to Bryn Terfel, will be in town starting November 3 to sing excerpts from “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.” May be the only note of Wagner we’ll hear in Boston's area code this season, and given that Morris made his Met debut in 1971, he will be hanging up Hans Sachs’ cobbler tools for good pretty soon, so catch him now if you haven’t already. (He was heard in the “Simon Boccanegra” Opera Bash broadcast, partnered with Placido Domingo, Met debut 1968, and still singing all over the world.)
French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky as Anfione, the King of Thebes. (Boston Early Music Festival)
Join Classical New England and World of Opera for what you could call a “screwball tragedy,” Agostino Steffani’s 1688 Opera Niobe: Regina di Tebe (“Niobe, Queen of Thebes”), a work that lay forgotten until its revival in 2008, and subsequent North American premiere at the 2011 Boston Early Music Festival.
The opera opens with Anfione, the King of Thebes (sung brilliantly by the emerging French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky), who wants nothing more than to hang up his scepter and immerse himself in metaphysical contemplation of the harmony of the spheres. But Anfione’s celestial ambitions are dashed by a litany of earthly troubles: a foreign invasion, a kidnapping, adultery by enchantment, a dancing bear and some very angry gods.
In Steffani's opera, the King of Thebes is at turns an enlightened demi-god, an enraged, jealous husband and a bellicose warrior-king…and that's just one of many complex characters in this spectacular opera, bringing to life Ovid's timeless tale of love, pride and divided loyalties. We also get Queen-with-attitude, Niobe herself (sung by Boston favorite Amanda Forsythe), the lovesick courtier Clearte (Kevin Skelton), who pines for Niobe, the enemy prince of Thessaly (Matthew White), who also has designs on the haughty Queen; Jose Lemos is the wisecracking nurse Nerea, Colin Balzer and Yulia Van Doren as the young lovers Tibernio and Manto; Charles Robert Stephens as Manto’s father, the blind soothsayer Tiresia; and Jesse Blumberg in a crackling role as the evil magician Poliferno. Stephen Stubbs and Paul O’Dette co-direct the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra in a production recorded by WGBH engineers at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston.
Arthur Smith Arthur Smith is the former editor of WGBHArts. Executive producer for digital education at WGBH, Arthur, an amateur pianist and singer, was previously a freelance classical music reviewer for the Washington Post for 9 years. He has also worked at an opera company, and ran the information service and publications programs for OPERA America, the national service organization for the art form. Since 1991, he has been the program annotator for Vocal Arts DC, a classical song recital series based at Washington's Kennedy Center.