Puccini and Barber End Opera Season on High Note
A glimpse of La Fanciulla and Vanessa
The final week of the 60th Season of the Santa Fe Opera included two operas by two great opera composers, Samuel Barber and Giocomo Puccini. Both works have the significance of originally being commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
The fact that I had never seen either opera piqued my curiosity and interest and I truly enjoyed both operas and got wrapped up in the stories told and the spectacle of the grandest theatrical stage in the state of New Mexico.
The Gold Rush of 1849-50 is one of the great American stories where many present day westerners, including myself, have ancestors that got caught up in that frenzy.
It is a suitable subject for an opera with much potential of triumph and tragedy, heroic tales of loss and gain, life and death, loneliness and romance. All of this is in the opera, but what I missed from La Fanciulla del West was the stand-alone aria–it was an expectation that was never fulfilled.
I can understand that modernity has moved operas further away from actual songs, but with Puccini you kind of expect it. Perhaps it is my own realist mindset that prevented me from accepting the banjo sound coming from he harp; if the harp had been played nearer the sounding board it would have achieved a better banjo quality, but that is not in the score.
Indeed I was immersed by the orchestration and rich harmonies, the moving passages and cumulative build up of emotions that overflow into an overall gorgeous musical experience, but, even with all that–the melodies did not last. As for the production, my only confusion was the use of what appeared to be neon light that outlined the set of the first act, which seemed more modern than the rest of the production’s more historic setting.
The lead role of Minnie, superbly sung by Patricia Racette, captured the hearts of the audience. Minnie is like many of Puccini’s strong, larger than life characters. The story revolves around her and her passion ... and falling in love with someone who is the enemy of the people.
The Opera Orchestra was joyfully conducted by Emmanuel Villaume with great energy and enthusiasm. The direction of the action distracted me at times; most notably a “campy” series of miners with guns running through the climatic scene that culminates in the capture of Minnie’s lover Dick Johnson.
Very little can be done to cover the weaknesses of the libretto and score, but a production can help tell the story more clearly and focus the audience on the story line. However, some basic questions still arise: why is this American story presented in Italian? And no one could have predicted the unfortunate character named Dick Johnson, and by the rippling snickers in the audience just proves that everyone has a dirty mind.
Overall I am glad that I attended this opera, and would see it again, maybe just to clarify some of those things that I missed the first time.
Vanessa, by Samuel Barber, has a strong modern sound associated with Barber’s serious scores, although those most familiar with the celebrated Adagio for String, will find little of that here.
The story is about a very dysfunctional family following a huge 20-year gap and the expected arrival of a former lover, but the lover who arrives is not the one who is expected. This score won Barber a Pulitzer Prize in 1958 and the Santa Fe Opera presented it as the refined work of art that it is.
The production values of Vanessa were unified throughout, every detail fit perfectly with every other creative aspect. High praise to all involved: Scenic Designer Allen Moyer, Costume Designer James Schuette, Lighting Designer Christopher Akerlind, Choreographer Seán Curran and Chorus Master Susanne Sheston.
The musical score and orchestration culminate in some of the most beautiful of music of the modern 20th Century. The grand ball is choreographed with the dancers briefly spilling over onto the stage like we are missing the party because our focus is behind the scenes–unraveling the story of Erika (Virginie Verrez), Vanessa (Erin Wall), and Anatol (Zach Borichesky). Now, many days later I feel as though I am still in the musical world of Barber’s Vanessa.
The Orchestra was meticulously conducted by Leonard Slatkin, and I very impressed and surprised by the wonderful libretto was by Gian-Carlo Menotti, a composer as well as a friend of Samuel Barber.
The Santa Fe Opera is the premiere opera house of our region and attracts audiences from around the world. Its reputation is built on quality work and I look forward to many more years of attending productions at this grand opera company.
As a composer, Daniel Davis explores melodic, linear and contrapuntal textures that incorporate elements of disparate forms including folk music, minimalism, micro-compositional techniques and tonality all wrapped up in an accessible style. His works draw from a deep well of his spiritual life and frequently depict his personal experiences and dreams. He makes his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he is a teacher of introductory courses in music at UNM and CNM. He grew up in Wenatchee, Washington, receiving his music education at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Santa Fe Opera Guide Discussion
Dream Blog #353
A Visit to France
In a Biblical sense
The Daily Word in Syrian ceasefire, Hurricane Sandy and WikiLeaks
A funeral home sent a family their loved one’s brain in a bag. Court says they can’t sue.
Maximum sentence for a driver who killed a cyclist in January: 90 days in jail, $300 fine.
Syrian army agrees to a ceasefire from Friday to Monday.
Hurricane Sandy is heading our way.
WikiLeaks is releasing the U.S. policies on detaining people in camps and GitMo. The website hacked them from the DOD.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei goes Gangnam style.
Why it’s so hard to fire a police officer.
Bullied teen throws herself in front of a train.
7-year-old girl writes an opera.
Legalizing marijuana is on the ballot in Washington, Colorado and Oregon.
Rape is rape, says the president.
Don’t worry about convicted sex offenders this Halloween. They’ve got a curfew.
Last-minute DIY Halloween costumes.
Nirvana, the Broadway musical.
Santa Fe Opera Youth Night
Cheap tickets for you and your wee ones
This summer’s final Youth Night at the Opera is Tuesday, July 19.
For deeply discounted ticket prices, families with children or young adults can attend a fully staged and costumed rehearsal of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Last Savage. These dress rehearsals will be accompanied by the full orchestra.
The social satire follows Kitty, a young college anthropologist, as she searches for and captures the last savage. Kitty plans on taking the savage back to New York City and donating him to the zoo. When they fall in love and try to live in ’60s suburbia, they discover that perhaps it’s more challenging than life in the jungle.
A half-hour, interactive lecture on music called “3-2-1 Opera!” will start at
8 p.m. The Last Savage performance is at 9 p.m.
Tickets for Youth Nights are sold in packages. Prices:
One adult and two children, $32
Two adults and three children, $56
Each additional child, as well as young adults (ages 15-22), $8
Young adults may purchase individual tickets on their own. Children must be at least 6 years old to attend.
The Santa Fe Opera is also offering free bus service from Albuquerque and Taos. For information and reservations, call the Albuquerque Guild of The Santa Fe Opera at 505-792-6869, ext. 103, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Daily Word: Tornadoes, tortillas, opera, Oprah, royal wedding
Tornadoes rip through the south killing 200 people.
Instead of allowing a Gay-Straight Alliance to form, the Clovis School Board banned clubs.
Albuquerque Tortilla Company sold to Mission (!!!). ATC owners to move into barbecue.
Home prices as opera.
Is a Megadrought on its way?
Bed bugs in Burque.
Gathering of Nations events kickoff around the city tonight.
Prince Charles breakdancing.
Americans don't like princesses as much as they used to.
Some brits don't care about the wedding.
Oprah talks to Obama about his birth certificate.
Ancient medicines recovered from a shipwreck. (That sounds like a spam.)
Protest art of SB 1070.
Sid and Nancy and Albert
In high school, during repeated watchings of Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy, my friend Jesse and I always stopped the movie at the song “My Way.” We felt this was the scene that marked Sid Vicious’ point of no return, and we didn’t want to him spiral down any farther than he already had.
On: Cake Batter Air, Avant Opera, Composting
NOTE: Hell-Kite is playing Albuquerque tonight on its way back from Titwrench. Friends, get thee to the house show.
No parking at a noise(esque) show? I’m sure it’s occurred in history, but not in mine. We roll up in our mom van (blue Toyota, three-disc CD player from the ’90s, drives like a champ) to Rhinoceropolis, an outsider venue in Denver’s industrial district.
Tired. Late. Stinky. Sitting among piles of gear and a delicate giant albatross puppet. Happy though. Way happy. Everyone involved will echo the sentiment in these next 48 (or so) hours, but an all-girl, DIY, experimental music fest is fucking good for the soul. Camaraderie. Inspiration. Best of all, the music is unfailingly phenomenal. A-games all around.
The room is hot. Hot Paris Hilton hot. And hot temperature hot. Stuffy. Who can live in humidity? The air is cake batter and I’m trying to suck it in through my pinhole nostrils.
Catch a beautiful set by local Sybil Vane. (Can’t find a web presence for her. Anyone else?) Showtunes. Lounge. Opera. Hilarious narrative about turning 30, about breaking bottles in the street after a relationship ends only to fall asleep to the sound of her neighbor sweeping up the shards. Brutal. Hilarious. The pianist shouts down the backyard partiers. Then spotlights his homemade man tits in honor of Titwrench. Vane closes with “Like a Virgin” and rounds it off by screaming about what it’s really like to lose one’s virginity. Walks up to me first to screech in my face. I must look alarmed—sister dies laughing next to me.
I only take two video clips all night. Stupid. Nothing personal, just burnt documentation on my part. All performers were something to see. But festival organizers had someone filming every night. When/if those become available, I’ll blog it here.
Tomorrow: Night two. Beer in my eye. Noisier.
The Return of the Native
An interview with Charles MacKay, General Director of the Santa Fe Opera
John Crosby, the founder of the Santa Fe Opera (SFO), was a bona fide visionary. The SFO was—and, in many ways, still is—his wailing baby. His brilliant idea to construct an open-air opera house in the middle of the desert Southwest has had a profound and lasting impact on New Mexico’s image of itself. Yes, we live in the sticks, but we can always point to that funky spaceship opera house on the hill as proof of the existence of hoity culture in New Mexico.