NYCO holds a Séance in 2011

March 11, 2010
Seance at Orensanz 2008

AOP's Seance workshop, Nov 2008. (l to r: Michael Zegarski, Matthew Curran, Lauren Flanigan, John Kimberling, Hila Plitmann. Photo by Michael Chadwick (c)2008)

It was just announced this week that New York City Opera will close their 2010-11 season with the AOP-developed Stephen Schwartz opera Séance on a Wet Afternoon.  Our audiences got a chance to see several workshops of Séance in 2008, and now they’ll have a chance to see how it all finally came together when it has its fully staged NYC premiere on April 19, 2011.  NYCO star Lauren Flanigan, who appeared in each of the AOP workshops, will return to the role of Myra, the psychic medium who hatches a nefarious kidnapping plot in order to boost her reputation.

NYCO will also produce Strauss’ Intermezzo, Bernstein’s A Quiet Place, and will bring back Jonathan Miller‘s production of Donizetti’s Elixer of Love. (A bit of trivia: Jonathan Miller hosted an AOP libretto workshop of Heart of Darkness and Semmelweis in November 2008 just before AOP’s workshop of Séance in the Lower East Side’s Orensanz Theater.)

From NYCO’s press release:

“With this season, we take another step forward on an exciting journey for New York City Opera,” stated George Steel. “I’m thrilled that we have three new productions, that we’re presenting four premieres of works by American composers—all of them New Yorkers—and that we’re exploring new programming possibilities, both with our triple bill of mini-operas and with the new concert series. Most of all, I love the incredible range of compositional styles this season: from the transparent simplicity of Donizetti to the opulent middle-period Richard Strauss to the blend of the popular and classical worlds in Bernstein and Stephen Schwartz—all this topped off by the delicious trio of Schoenberg, Feldman and Zorn. This is what City Opera was made to do, and what makes City Opera unique.”

See more about NYCO’s premiere of Séance on a Wet Afternoon and the rest of the 2010-11 season here.

Other upcoming premieres of AOP-developed projects include Before Night Falls at Fort Worth Opera this May and Heart of Darkness at the Royal Opera House in 2011.


Seldom-Heard Operas by Lee Hoiby Evoke Calm & Storms

April 30, 2008
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Music Review

Seldom-Heard Operas Evoke Calm and Storms

Published: April 30, 2008

For lovers of vocal music, Lee Hoiby is a name to be reckoned with. Leontyne Price and Renée Fleming have been among the composer’s champions, and his songs are common currency for vocal students. Fate has not been as kind to Mr. Hoiby’s 11 operas — a pity, given the admirable craft and imagination they reveal.

Jennifer Taylor for The New York Times

Justin Petersen and Abigail Fischer in Lee Hoiby’s opera “This Is the Rill Speaking.”

In a valuable act of reclamation, American Opera Projects and the Purchase College Conservatory of Music provided welcome exposure for two of them, “This Is the Rill Speaking” and “The Tempest,” on Monday night at Symphony Space. What the two works share is conventional tonality, deft setting of English text and idiomatic librettos by Mark Shulgasser. Otherwise, they could hardly be more different.

“This Is the Rill Speaking,” a 1991 one-act setting of a Lanford Wilson play, offers a vision of rural, small-town life through snatches of conversation patched together like a comfortable quilt. Mr. Hoiby’s unfailingly gracious music mixes a nostalgic glow with moments of winking mischief and gentle seduction. Six singers fill 11 roles, accompanied by a string quartet, double bass, wind quintet and harp.

The American Opera Projects staging, designed by Glenn Reed and billed as the work’s first professional production, was spare and economical: a few scattered chairs and benches, a table and a wooden fence long and tall enough to conceal quick costume changes. Ned Canty, the director, provided clean, effective blocking.

Among a solid cast of young singers, Abigail Fischer, a mezzo-soprano, stood out for her attractive tone, abundant feeling and clear diction. Andrew Garland, a baritone, and William Ferguson, a tenor, also made strong impressions. The conductor, Benton Hess, drew a secure if not always polished performance from his instrumentalists.

Mr. Hoiby’s “Tempest,” from 1986, is a linguistically faithful condensation of Shakespeare’s play, set to a grandiose score for full orchestra. The conservatory’s Purchase Opera presented an hour of excerpts in concert, with its Purchase Symphony Orchestra onstage behind the singers, and the chorus in a balcony.

You could argue that while Mr. Hoiby’s writing never lacks potency or passion, his idiom is too conservative to realize Shakespeare’s strange, magical world properly. There are exceptions; one is the raging storm of a supremely evocative overture. Another is the role of Ariel, a stratospheric coloratura part reminiscent of Zerbinetta’s in Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos.”

Molly Davey brought a brilliant technique and an otherworldly shimmer to Ariel, and Robert Balonek was a strong, earnest Prospero. Eric Barry, as Caliban, was admirable in the big showpiece, “Be Not Afear’d,” but otherwise was overshadowed by the bug-eyed antics of Trinculo (Rasdia Wilmot) and Stephano (Julian Whitley). The remaining roles were capably handled, and the conductor, Hugh Murphy, provided lively guidance.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company


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