Theatre and Opera

Opera Forward Festival: Amsterdam, March 2018

If you ask any resident of Amsterdam: “how did the National Opera House look from the opposite side of the Amstel last weekend?” their answer should very well be: “glowing.” Through the charge of the audiences, the urgency of the moment and the boldness of the craft, DNO’s architectural was shocked with a pulse of electricity from the buzz of the artists and audience who inhabited the building. That’s because the DNO played host to the annual (and undoubtedly successful) “Opera Forward Festival:” an invitation from artists and general public alike to witness the development and craft of the...

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“La Principessa Della Czarda”: Do You Know What Operetta Is?

Do you know what operetta is? Literally, it indicates a small opera, mostly in one act, with a tragic or comic nature. The Operetta became a proper musical genre during the nineteenth century; it designates a music show (orchestra, solos, duets, choir, dances) presented with prose dialogues, which–regardless of any severe stylization for its light mood in contrast with the serious opera and the great comic opera–finds in the frivolous and sometimes lascivious gaiety in the explosions of noisy buffoonery and in the whimsical fantasy of his stage story. It’s a kind of musical! The La Principessa Della Czarda or...

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SIFA’s “Trojan Women”: An Allegory For Modern Times

Euripides’ play Trojan Women has been adapted and performed numerous times around the world, from a version written by Jean-Paul Sartre to American playwright Charles Mee’s 2003 adaptation that included Holocaust and Hiroshima testimonials. This time, it has been given a Korean pansori makeover by SIFA Festival Director and Cultural Medallion winner Ong Keng Sen in a collaboration with the National Theatre of Korea and performed at Victoria Theatre, Singapore. Ong conceived and directed this luminous and mesmerizing Korean opera while the pansori was composed by Korean “living cultural asset,” Ahn Sook-Sun (pictured below), with music composed by Jung Jae Il. Pansori, a Korean folk musical storytelling...

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Reinterpreting The Tradition: A Contemporary Retelling Of Tang Xianzu’s “The Handan Dream” By The Guangzhou Dramatic Arts Centre

Conceived in 2016 in Guangzhou and previously performed in Beijing and St. Petersburg, the Guangzhou Dramatic Arts Centre’s production of The Handan Dream had its UK premiere at the Hackney Empire in London on January 25-27, 2018. Authored by the illustrious Ming-dynasty scholar and playwright Tang Xianzu—a contemporary of Shakespeare—The Handan Dream (Handan ji, 1601) is a classic Chinese-language play about an epiphanic dream, which upsets and brings a radically new perspective to the life of Lu Sheng, a young and frustrated scholar whose high aspirations for a successful career in the civil service have so far failed repeatedly. Surprisingly though,...

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“As One” – A New Biographical Opera About Transgender Experience Premiers in Boston

Saturday night at Longy School of Music’s Pickman Hall, As One had its Boston Premiere in the skilled hands of Boston Opera Collaborative.  As One, an insightful, 80-minute journey based on the life of a real transgender woman, will likely continue being produced by similar companies not only because of its topical nature, but because it requires minimal production values; only two singers, a string quartet, and projections. The audience never knows Hannah’s childhood name.  The characters are simply “Hannah Before” and “Hannah After.”  Instead of a split show, with the baritone singing the first half and the mezzo soprano...

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“Black Inscription” – A New Multimedia Love Song Cycle Premieres at Prototype

“To dive we must forget the surface fuss… Ignore all surface fuss.. Ignore the surface…” –From Jump Blue, text by Hannah Silva Black Inscription, a new multimedia love song cycle to the ocean composed by the talented team of Carla Kihlstedt, Matthias Bossi, and Jeremy Flower that had its NYC premiere at the HERE Arts Center January 11, is an immersive experience of the undersea world that plunges the audience into the beauty and desolation found in the depths of our oceans. Part documentary and part rock opera, it uses videos, music, sound, and imagery to evoke a world...

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“Acquanetta” – A New Film Noire Opera at Prototype Festival

Of the two reviewers, Waters saw Captive Wild Woman, the movie the opera is based on, the morning before the performance. LaFever went into the performance without seeing Captive Wild Woman. The result is two profoundly different audience experiences. WATERS: Michael Gordon, the composer, and Deborah Artman, the librettist of Acquanetta, based the opera on a three-minute scene from Captive Wild Woman, a 1940s horror movie. The potential for fun and camp of Captive Wild Woman is ruined due to the shocking way the circus animals on the set are treated. One example of many scenes of animal mistreatment...

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Fredric Mao Blasts Away Convention in a New Cantonese Opera

This article is brought to you by the 46th edition of the Hong Kong Arts Festival. If all you know of Chinese opera are painted faces and clashing cymbals it might be time for a revisit. And now’s your chance. As part of this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival celebrated director Fredric Mao is shaking things up by reshaping a classic Cantonese opera for modern audiences. Called Pavilion of a Hundred Flowers, it’s a tale of star-crossed lovers and warring households that has echoes of Romeo and Juliet – with all of the intrigue and the drama that entails. “I wanted to choose a work that was accessible...

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“Iyov” Premieres At The Prototype Festival

When a show begins I find it difficult for me to be present. Almost, as if, I’m like entertain me, peasants! Iyov, the Hebrew word for Job, described as an opera-requiem, played four shows at HERE Arts Center. I admit I was not engaged, but then the lights turned red, and the sounds got louder, it grated my ears. Actually, not just my ears, but the two audience members in front of me also covered their ears during that loudness that resembled nails scratching on a chalkboard or the screams of the dead in the underworld? It was actually traumatic....

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Colliding Traditions Keep Chinese Opera Alive and Well

Chinese opera is as expansive and diverse as China itself – and it continues to thrive in the face of more modern entertainment. This article is brought to you by the 46th edition of the Hong Kong Arts Festival. Chinese opera expert Tam Wing-pong is a straight shooter when it comes to appraising Hong Kong’s opera scene. He is as vocal in expressing its flaws as he is about showing enthusiasm for its latest developments. Tam is regularly called up to critique local performances in his capacity as member of the Programme Committee of the Hong Kong Arts Festival Society, and...

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“Fellow Travelers”: A Prototype for Contemporary Opera

As the theatre world pushes boundaries and redefines genres, it has become exceedingly rare to find stories that justify the high art distinction of “Opera” and yet, Fellow Travelers which opened January 12th at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater as a part of the Prototype Festival does just that. With a score by composer Gregory Spears and libretto by Greg Pierce, this tragic Opera begins its story with two feet firmly on the ground and moves unapologetically forward through the final curtain. Fellow Travelers centers its story on the affair of Timothy Laughlin, a Reporter and Hawkins Fuller a...

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Review: “Mr. Shi and His Lover” Blurs Time and Allusion Through Contemporary Opera

Jonas McLean reviews Mr. Shi and His Lover, Wong Teng Chi and Njo Kong Kie’s contemporary Mandarin language opera about love, gender, sex, and power: Meta-theatricality has long been a common technique in theatre of all kinds, and certainly in forms such as opera. The National Arts Centre is no stranger to shows that directly address their audiences, or shows that deal explicitly with the challenges of theatre. In fact, I don’t recall the last time a show at the National Arts Centre left the fourth wall fully intact. Mr. Shi and His Lover is therefore not unique in this regard, but – rather...

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“Mr. Shi And His Lover:” A Tautly Executed Superlative Piece of Musical Theatre

A word of advice: If you’re going to see this superlative chamber musical, take the time to read the introductory notes from Macau Experimental Theatre that accompany the National Arts Centre’s program as well as the program itself. That material will give you not just the show’s background–for instance, it’s based on a two-decades long, real-life love affair between two men: a French diplomat and a Peking opera singer who presented himself as a woman–but also provide invaluable explanatory musical and storyline anchors for a show that, like its concerns with love, deceit, identity and the nature of performance,...

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A Stunning, Though Questionable, “Turandot” At Chicago’s Lyric Opera

Giacomo Puccini’s final and unfinished opera, the exotic fantasy Turandot, gets the Lyric Opera treatment in their winter slot in Chicago.  With a blend of Lyric first-timers and veterans alike, this production is a spectacle of design and performance that indulges in Puccini’s heightened drama in all senses of the word. Sunday’s matinee at the Lyric Opera House downtown proved that the company is capable of tackling this fairy tale of grand proportions. In all its lavish grandeur, the piece managed to leave the audience moved despite a few head-scratching artistic and directorial choices. A faithful rendition of a...

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Clowning Around: An Unconventional “Heungbo-ssi” Misses the Mark

Audiences laughed throughout Ko Sun-woong’s new work Heungbo-ssi (written and directed by Ko Sun-woong, pansori music and libretto by Lee Zaram, National Theater of Korea Daloreum Theater, April 4–16, 2017). After his previous piece Madame Ong (premiered June 2016) succeeded domestically, it traveled to France, promoting Korean changgeuk—sometimes called Korean opera—abroad. Ko appreciates pansori and has experience directing musicals and operas. Still, it is remarkable that his two changgeuk productions have caused such a sensation since he does not fully understand the genre. Heungbo-ssi and Madame Ong are not original works; they are based respectively on one of the five...

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Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” – A Debut For The Galati Theatre Festival

Year after year, the Galati Theatre Festival commands a prestigious position for opera theatre in Romania. It has a good reputation in Italy also, thanks to the work of Paolo Bosisio–an important professor of theatre history (in the late 1980s he founded the chair in this discipline at the University of Milan) and an opera director–and one of the most requested artists in Eastern Europe. On October 24, 2016, he received an honorary degree in Arts at the University “Dunarea de Jos” in Galati: this Romanian town has become a sort of “theatrical home” for him, and the sincere...

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Creating New Russian Opera For US Audiences: “A Ten-Course Dinner On An Alien Planet”

In December 1913, Russian Futurist opera Victory Over The Sun premiered in Saint Petersburg, the work of playwright Alexey Kruchenykh, designer Kazimir Malevich, and composer Mikhail Matyushin. The opera was a bizarre, avant-garde creation: Kruchenykh’s invented poetic language of zaum (“transreason” or “beyonsense”) filled the libretto, while Malevich’s designs evoked the abstract, geometrical forms of the fledgeling Suprematism. And Matyushin’s score—much of which has been lost—was, in the words of company member K. Tomashevsky, “like a parody of Verdi,” the actors required “to intentionally sing off pitch.” The opera’s creators measured its success by the uproar of the audience,...

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How Hitchcock’s “Marnie” Inspired An Opera

An attractive, able woman preyed upon in the office by two bosses, one of whom uses his power to ensnare her. The story sounds familiar. But it’s from 1961, and it is that mysterious synergy between art and life that has propelled a new opera, based on a novel from that year, and several years in the making, straight into topical thinking. Marnie is the latest work by American composer Nico Muhly, whose Two Boys for English National Opera in 2011 delved into the murky world of chatrooms. At that time he was approached by the film and stage director...

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American Lyric Theater: 10 Years of Nurturing the Future of Opera

I’m not particularly interested in an opera written for three vacuum cleaners featuring a punk-singer with no discernable plot. I’m not saying that type of work is not a legitimate form of musical-theatrical expression, but that isn’t what excites me about the potential of opera. I don’t think we have to revolt against opera’s history to define its future. Quite the contrary – I’m excited to see how artists BUILD upon opera’s history to create a vibrant future.

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