Sunday, June 28, 2015

End of the '15 Season

The '15 season of Opera Theatre of St. Louis just ended. For the six years we've lived in St. Louis, we always have season tickets.* The company does a wonderful job of balancing old and new each year.

As the picture outside the Loretto-Hilton Theatre indicates, this season began with The Barber of Seville, which I’d never heard all the way through. Puccini’s La rondine, his second-to-last opera, was a surprise to us; it’s not staged as often as Boheme or Butterfly but is as lovely and perhaps more so than those (in my opinion). I knew of Tobias Picker’s music only through the short piece “Old and Lost Rivers.” I noticed some of that music incorporated into the first act of Emmeline, a hauntingly tragic story: what would your life be like if it was ruined by others and by fate, and if you were entirely ostracized? The opera leaves you with that--darn! In fact, both La rondine and Emmeline are about strong women who tried to make something new of their lives and were cruelly thwarted.

Rounding out the season was the American premiere of Handel’s 1727 opera Richard the Lionheart. Stylistically it was a great contrast to the others---although I can’t quite get P.D.Q. Bach’s parodies out of mind when I hear operas of this era. Interestingly, the next-to-last piece in Richard, sung by the just-rescued queen-to-be, was about a swallow singing across the landscape---making a connection in my mind to Puccini’s opera, wherein the swallow (rondine) is the lead character who must fly back to her original household.

Again this summer, our daughter worked as a dresser backstage. She helped several characters in both Barber and Richard, including a very quick change for the queen-to-be, who left the stage in prisoner’s clothes and reemerged very shortly in regal garments and stylish wig. Emily also had worked a few years ago on a landmark production of John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer. (Another connection in my mind: the baritone Sanford Sylvan created the role of Klinghoffer; we saw him as one of the four soloists in Handel's Messiah in Cleveland ten years ago. After that performance, Emily has found Messiah too long, but she loves Richard.)

It’s also fun to connect this season with the very first Opera Theatre opera we saw, which was John Corigliano’s 1991 The Ghosts of Versailles. We saw it on the first day we lived in St. Louis, on our 25th wedding anniversary. Also, the opera is based on the last of Beaumarchais’ three “Figaro” plays, the other two being Barber of Seville and Marriage of Figaro. (Opera Theatre did Marriage of Figaro a couple years ago.) So we had the rare privilege of seeing all three of these Beaumarchais-based operas performed, especially since Corigliano’s hasn’t entered the general repertoire (and seems to be available only in a now-expensive DVD of the original Met performance).

* (Opera Theatre operates at the Loretto-Hilton Theatre of Webster University. My wife Beth is the Webster U president.)

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