Jonathan Pell, Summer of Opera, Part 9

by christian.anderson

Facade of London's Coliseum, the home of the English National Opera

Yesterday I had lunch with soprano Claire Rutter’s manager (she was our “Donna Anna” in last season’s DON GIOVANNI) and learned that Claire had just been asked by the Royal Opera to “stand by” for performances this week of the title role in TOSCA.  Soprano Martina Serafin, who is scheduled to sing, has been sick, and they had no one to go in if Miss Serafin cancels.  I don’t ever want to wish anyone ill, but it would be exciting if Claire were to “go on” Thursday evening when I am supposed to hear the TOSCA.

I then met John Allison, editor of OPERA Magazine, for dinner.  He had just returned that afternoon from Poland, and I was glad that we could get together.  He hasn’t been to Dallas for many years (although he is one of the most well traveled people I know) so hasn’t yet seen the Winspear Opera House.  He is eager to come though, and was particularly sorry to have missed MOBY-DICK.

We then rushed off together for the second performance of the new Nico Muhly opera TWO BOYS at the English National Opera.  Even though the premiere was last week there were a lot of my colleagues there, including Elaine Padmore who runs  London’s Royal Opera and Nicholas Payne, who is the director of Opera Europa, the service organization for all the European opera companies.  Also attending were Sarah Billinghurst and Lenore Rosenberg of the Metropolitan Opera, the company that originally commissioned this new work and which is scheduled to present it next year.

I had mixed feelings about the opera, but it is difficult to form an opinion based on one hearing.  It is an intriguing premise and promises to generate a lot of controversy.  The story is told through the device of a police investigation of what  at first appears to be an attempted murder of a young boy by a sullen teenager, who had  been having an online “affair” with the young boy’s sister.

Sue Bickley, who is scheduled to make her Dallas Opera debut this fall in KATYA KABANOVA, played the police inspector, and seemed to be “channeling” Helen Mirren in PRIME SUSPECT.

She was really wonderful, and her diction was superb—I had not read the libretto beforehand, and yet I could understand her every word.  Alas, that wasn’t true of every member of the rather large cast.

The cybersex aspect of the plot might be distasteful to many traditional opera goers, but the “whodunnit” nature of the libretto might appeal to some people.  The big “twist” in the second act is not much of a surprise, but it might make a lot of people extremely uncomfortable.

The production was directed by Bartlett Sher, who has staged three productions recently for the Metropolitan Opera (BARBER OF SEVILLE, TALES OF HOFFMANN and COUNT ORY) and it is handsomely done—very spare and almost minimalist.  The scenery is by two time Tony Award  winner (and Dallas native) Michael Yeargan, who I bumped into in the lobby afterward.  Michael, of course, has designed many productions for TDO, including HANSEL AND GRETEL, VANESSA and AIDA.   I was surprised to see him since this wasn’t the opening night, but he told me that he was still in London working on another project.  Michael’s “date” was the brilliant American lighting designer Jennifer Tipton (who lit our production of JENUFA a few years ago.)  I am not quite sure why she was at the performance, though, since the lighting designer for TWO BOYS was Donald Holder, who lit our production of MOBY-DICK.

I also ran into British composer Joby Talbot at the opera and he invited me to join him and his girl friend Liz for a drink after the performance.  It was wonderful to be able to talk about the evening with someone who, as a composer,  brought another perspective to the discussion.  Joby just had a huge success with the ballet score for Christopher Wheeldon’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND for the Royal Ballet and National Ballet of Canada.

I am having lunch today with another British composer, Iain Bell, and then hearing about four hours of auditions of the cream of young British singers in the chorus room at the Royal Opera.  Then tonight I attend SIMON BOCCANEGRA at the English National Opera.

A poster for TWO BOYS at ENO

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