I love the theater…

After a summer of traveling, seeing a variety of operas, meeting with fellow producers and agents, and attending a multitude of receptions (with a few too many glasses of wine), we at Opera Philadelphia are back in the midst of doing the thing I love the most – PRODUCING OPERA!

imageCast of Nabucco meeting the Academy of Music for the first time

For the past three weeks, our 72-voice strong chorus has been rehearsing for NABUCCO, which will open the Philadelphia cultural season on September 27th. Last week, the production’s principal cast of gifted singers, as well as its talented director/designer Thaddeus Strassberger, arrived and the creative process of bringing the many components that go into producing an opera have begun. This is such an exciting time! With a cast this large it is a bit like a watching a small village come together in preparation for some kind of celebration.  Few realize how many people it takes to bring an opera to the stage. You need all these artistic resources and more: singers, musicians, scenic artists, wardrobe artists, technical experts, stage manager, production team, and stage hands. Each contributes his or her own unique skills, and together, they all work towards that ever-approaching deadline of opening night! No extra rehearsal time, no second takes, no edits in Photoshop are possible – the show must go on. All of this effort coalesces in the moment when the audience takes its seat and the artists take the stage and together, they join in a true act of community. You see, we live in a world that provides a multitude of ways to connect with others.  However, rarely are those connections fully realized. What I mean by this, is that we seldom get to experience things together, using all of our senses; those senses that make us human - our eyes, our ears, our bodies – this is the very essence of a social experience. During an opera, when it works, our humanity and extreme human performance are brought together in one giant moment of sharing which is only heightened by the risks that are inherent in live performance. This is what makes this week so very exciting. It begins the process of building such a community to share in an experience that is bigger than any one of us.

Check out this video – this what I’m talking about….

Next up – a report from the FringeArts Feastival which I will be attending on Thursday night and some production notes about NABUCCO.

DAY THREE: DON GIOVANNI

WOW, what an amazing experience! This production and performance got me to rethink what you can do with a standard piece of repertoire.  It kind of shattered my, what now seems like limited, thinking of how you can make riveting theater! This incredible production was aided by a beautiful ensemble of artists and by the London Symphony Orchestra, again sounding fantastic. Top scores go to director Dmitri Tcherniakov for bringing a depth of emotional resonance to the characters that I have not experienced with this work. The Donna Anna and Don Ottavio duet was a remarkable and unexplainable wonder, as was Zerlina’s “batti, batti, o bel Masetto. I was also blown away by the surprising and engaging performance of Rod Gilfrey as Giovanni.

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PHOTO: Rod Gilfry (Don Giovanni), Maria Bengtsson (Donna Anna), Kyle Ketelsen (Leporello)

And here we get to the big departure from the norm. In Tcherniakov’s production, the entire opera takes place in the home of the Commendatore, and all are relatives, with the exception of Leporello, who is a houseguest. And Don Giovanni is an older guy who is driven into a mad drunken state by family members who are dedicated to exacting lethal revenge on the killer of the father. All the disguises, conquests, and intrigues happen in Giovanni’s crazed and drunken mind. Even the statue is imagined and the famous dinner guest is a Commendatore lookalike that the family has hired to push Giovanni over the edge. The whole thing reads like some brilliant HBO series. Here is the link to check out the cast that worked so well to bring this vision into performance - bravi tutti. 

Now gang, don’t worry! I am not going to come back from this trip trying to update or change all of our standard repertoire. In fact, seeing this production provides me even more excitement about our own Giovanni cast and production coming to the Academy of Music this spring. But in considering how to best curate opera experiences that have a healthy yin and yang (read: balance) it is helpful to experience productions like this so that you can see possibilities and nuances to programming decisions.  This brave and wonderful concept has provided great insight on how interpretations can be illuminating and exciting. 

Tomorrow one of my all-time favorite operas Richard Strauss’s ELEKTRA!