We have written often, in the past year, about the 1891 Fredonia Opera House's capacity to present music and theater in high definition presentations which enable local audiences to experience live, artistic experiences which are taking place at other locations around the world.
Not long ago, local audiences watched a performance of "Frankenstein," from the stage of the National Theatre in London. Last week, we thrilled to the Metropolitan Opera's production of a nearly new opera, "The Tempest," by British-born composer Thomas Ades. The opera was first performed in 2004 and had its American premiere in 2006, at Santa Fe Opera. The composer, who also conducted the orchestra for this performance, was 34 years old when his opera was first staged.
Whenever an artist says he has another approach to a subject which has been examined by Shakespeare, audiences are wise to demonstrate doubt, but this opera uses Ades' music and the libretto by Australian poet Meredith Oaks to bridge any gap which might exist between the creator in the early 17th century, and the audience in the early 21st century. Let me tell you about the performance, and then some of the opera's background.
Isabel Leonard and Aleck Shrader sing the roles of Miranda, daughter of Prospero, and Ferdinand, the son of her father's great enemy whom she rescues from imprisonment.
"The Tempest" was one of Shakespeare's final plays. Some say it was the last play which he wrote entirely by himself, without a co-author. It is the story of Prospero, a magician who learns the importance of living real life, and who gives up his magical powers to return to his earlier, more natural life.
Since not long after the play was first performed, Shakespeare gave up his own "making of magic" and returned to his home town, many have wanted to believe that the playwright associated his own life with that of his central character. The play is one of the most frequently performed from the Bard's canon, and both the whole play and a number of its characters have inspired composers throughout the 400 years since its creation to try to evoke with music what Shakespeare has evoked with words.
Shakespeare tells us the story of the Duke of Milan, who has been driven from his place by his younger brother and has been set adrift with his only daughter, Miranda, in a leaky boat in the hope that nature will kill them and spare the brother of that guilt, atop the guilts he has already accumulated.
To assist in his power grab, the brother has bound his dukedom to the King of Naples, in return for the king's troops to bring Milan to heel.
Instead of drowning, however, Prospero has used his magical powers to guide the leaky boat to the island of Bermuda. There, he has made a little kingdom of his own, and spent his days studying until he is ready to magically bring a ship, bearing his brother and the treacherous King of Naples to the island, where he manipulates them and the whole court of Naples until he has gotten back his dukedom, made a rich and successful marriage for his daughter, and forced all the wrong-doers to regret and to give up all their ill-gotten gain.
One of the problems of Shakespeare's play is that it begins during the tempest of the title. Actors need to introduce the audience into what is happening while making themselves heard over sound effects of winds howling, thunder rolling and the like. It's safe to say that audiences at performances of the play often start without understanding the basics of the plot and have to catch up as the action moves along.
The audience in New York City, and the sharers in the seats of the 1891 Opera House, arrive to see a giant set, created to look as though the audience is sitting on the stage of the famous La Scala Opera House, in Milan, and are looking out at a Milanese audience, which is presumably looking back at them.
Ades and his librettist have cut away the reasons why the usurping Duke of Milan and his master, the King of Naples, are out at sea in a boat. He puts the entire tempest into the overture, where the orchestra creates the sound effects musically, and there are no words to miss.
The singer portraying the magical spirit Ariel - or I very strongly suspect, a stunt woman, dressed identically to the singer - climbs up into the crystal branches of a giant chandelier, at the center of the stage, and begins to cause the giant light fixture to revolve very fast. Huge sheets of blue cloth fly out of what is made to look like a prompter's box, and in seconds, the entire, giant Met stage is flowing with water-like cloth. Dancers, dressed as sailors occasionally burst through slits in the cloth, only to eventually slip back through the slits, as though they are drowning. From time to time, a character rolls out toward the audience from under the sheets of cloth, as though washed up on a beach by the waves.
By the time Miranda begins to quiz her father about why he has created this storm and he begins to tell her for the first time that he used to be Duke of Milan, we already understand a big piece of the background story, told by music and by stagecraft.
The center of any production of "The Tempest" is Prospero. It was said, during the interviews which are always included to fill part of intermission and other gaps, that the role was created for London-born baritone Simon Keenlyside, who sang it in the Met production.
Keenlyside doesn't have an especially huge voice, but it is astonishingly versatile and communicative. The words were projected on the screen, below the stage images, but a viewer never had to read them to understand, when he was singing. His singing seemed a bit strained at the very beginning, but by the second act, it was perfectly on the mark. Once Prospero has created his storm, manipulated his daughter and the son of the King of Naples into loving one another, and dealt with the evil-doers among his guests, even Shakespeare has to work hard to bring all those loose ends gracefully into a meaningful ending. I don't know if the baritone was actually tiring, or if he was trying to portray a man who would throw away his magical powers because they had lost their ability to motivate him, but his vocal magic seemed to tire in the third act, as well.
Since Prospero often speaks of being near the end of his life and giving up his magic to live in retirement and to make "every third thought to be of his own grave," he is usually played as, or at least the character is made up to be, elderly. The director of the Met production, Robert LePage, and Ades have both pictured him as a much younger man. Indeed, Keenlyside is in his early 50s, and since his character's magical gifts are demonstrated by painted-on tattoos, completely covering his bare, muscular torso, it does make adjustments to the audience's view of him. One wonders if this man is going to be happy, playing golf and touring museums for the more than 20 years likely to be left to him.
The character of the magical, airborne spirit Ariel is one of the most admired and most frequently "borrowed" by artists, musicians, and actors, for productions outside Shakespeare's original play. Often portrayed as a small-statured, pale young man, Ariel here is a lively, athletic woman. Soprano Audrey Luna did the singing. As I said before the cinematographer goes out of his way not to show her face when she is whirling in the tempest, which makes me think it was probably a stunt double at that point.
Ades has decided that since Ariel is supposed to be made up entirely of air, so she must always be physically suspended above the stage and must sing so high it seems almost beyond the capacity of a human voice. Indeed, the character's singing is so high, so often, as to a lesser degree is the singing of Isabel Leonard, as Miranda, that it tires and begins to annoy the ear.
That said, her singing is on pitch, fully supported and beautiful in quality.
Probably the greatest difference between the original play and the opera is in the love story of Miranda and Ferdinand, the son of the King of Naples. Shakespeare tells us that it was Prospero's idea from the beginning, created completely by his magic, intending it as a way to both provide a royal marriage for his daughter, which will support her after he can no longer do so, and also as a further revenge on the King who thought to trample Prospero and his city, under his boot sole, only to learn that now Prospero's blood and his own will be united, and his entire kingdom will be ruled by Prospero's grandchildren, who are also the King's grandchildren.
Ades and Oakes have taken magic out of the young lovers' lives. They meet, they fall in love, and Miranda releases Ferdinand from her father's imprisonment, and the couple choose one another. Prospero sings that they have found a magic even stronger than his own, and seems simultaneously a bit disappointed and a bit glad at how things have turned out.
The beautiful, lyric love duets between Miranda and Ferdinand are one of the most enjoyable elements of the opera. Isabel Leonard demonstrates a vast range, from rather low-set tones to the too-high notes already mentioned. Cleveland native Aleck Shrader, making his Met debut, had the tenor chops for the role, and was a handsome lover for the beautiful Miranda, as well.
I'm ready to ramble on and on about the production, but I'm sure you have the idea by now. If the production is repeated, or if you get a chance to see it performed live, I heartily recommend it to you.
If you can afford to travel to New York City and buy a ticket to sit in the gold and crystal auditorium of the Metropolitan Opera, while breathing the same air as the most honored and respected singers of our age, by all means, do so.
If not, high definition broadcasts of the Met's productions are a very reasonable alternative. In some ways, such as seeing the singers up close, hearing background information before and after the performance, and seeing interviews with the singers in their own personalities, during intermissions, there are advantages. Tickets to the presentations cost a small fraction of tickets to hear the music live.
The 1891 Fredonia Opera House will be showing in high definition, the celebrated one-man production of a biography of famed actor John Barrymore, portrayed by Christopher Plummer, on Nov. 29, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 and $20.
Broadcasts of operas from the Metropolitan Opera will take place on this schedule:
Dec. 1, "La Clemenza di Tito."
Dec. 8, "Un Ballo in Maschera.
Dec. 15, "Aida," the version by Giuseppe Verdi, not the one by Elton John.
Jan. 5, "Les Troyens."
Jan. 19, "Maria Stuarda," a biographical opera of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Feb. 16, "Rigoletto."
March 2, Parsifal.
March 16, "Francesca da Rimini."
April 27, "Giulio Cesare."
Life has so much richness to it, if we only reach out and embrace it.
Actors, singers and dancers who have always dreamed of performing with top professionals in the most prestigious of situations should make note: On Jan. 22 and 23, beginning at 4 p.m. each day, the Buffalo Philharmonic will hold auditions for most of the leading roles in their upcoming production of the Cole Porter musical show, "Kiss Me, Kate."
Roles expected to be filled from auditions are these: Lois, Bill, Gremio, Hortensio, Hattie, Paul, and Gangsters No. 1 and No. 2. Those who audition for the latter two roles might wish to brush up their Shakespeare.
Auditioners will be expected to sing one song of their own choosing. They should bring their own accompanist or recorded accompaniment. In addition, they may be asked to read from the "Kiss Me, Kate" script, or to sing one or more songs from the show's score.
Those who are cast must be available for rehearsals during the week of April 22. The performance will take place the evening of April 27, with the full Buffalo Philharmonic, following a dress rehearsal that same afternoon.
For more information or to schedule an audition time, email a resume to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next Saturday, the Buffalo Historical Society will hold their annual book signing by authors who live in or write about Western New York. More than 30 authors have already committed to be present to sell and autograph copies of their books, between noon and 2 p.m.
In addition to the book signing, the society's gift shop will be open, with a plentiful supply of art prints, maps and items with connections to the famed Pan American Exhibition of 1901, which brought visitors to Buffalo from all around the world.
There is no admission charge for the book signing, and parking is free and plentiful. For additional information, phone the society at 873-9644, ext. 301, or visit their website at buffalohistory.org.
The society is located at the intersection of Elmwood Avenue and Nottingham Terrace, not far from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
The Chautauqua Area Potters will hold their annual fundraiser on Dec. 1, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the St. Hedwig's Social Center of Blessed Mary Angela Parish, 324 Townsend St., in Dunkirk.
The potters will provide a large selection of handmade bowls. Bowls will be created to acknowledge donations of $10, $20 and $30. Guests may choose the bowl of their choice, and will be served a simple meal of soup in the bowl. When the guest has finished eating, the bowls will be washed and given to their purchaser, to be taken home, or given as a gift.
A number of specially designed bowls will be raffled during the event.
Students from the Culinary Arts Program at BOCES will prepare several special soups, from ingredients donated by area gardeners and merchants. At least one soup will be vegetarian.
Proceeds from the event will benefit area food pantries.
More than 1,000 bowls have already been made for the event by the following potters: Marv Bjurlin, Ron Nasca, Michele Ballachino, Dale Bowen, Stephanie Brash, Cody Britton, Lucy Bryant, Ann Burns, Paula Coats, Cynthia Fitzgerald, Tony Georgakis, Doreen Gould, Marilyn Hall, Elliott Hutten, Ann Janik, Megan Johnson, Debbie Kotar, Ted Lee, Marc Levy, Duane Mallaber, Marcia Merrins, Don Parge, Cindy Recklin, Jim Reno, Pat Reno, David Rudge, Carol Samuelson, Sally Turner, Gary Vellan, and Lauri Zebracki.
For additional information, phone 672-9151 or 672-6833, or visit facebook.com/fredoniaemptybowlsproject.
Tickets went on sale yesterday at Shea's Performing Arts Center, in Buffalo, for the professional touring production of the Broadway hit show "Jersey Boys," which will be performed at Shea's, May 8-18, 2013.
The show has recently bypassed the runs of a number of classic Broadway hits, and is now one of the most successful Broadway hits of all time. The show is the story of the rock 'n' roll group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and each performance includes a great many of the group's hit musical numbers.
Tickets begin in price at $34.50. Purchase them in person at Shea's Box Office, which is adjacent to the Main Street entrance to the theater. Purchase tickets by phone at (800) 745-3000. By computer, go to ticketmaster.com. Purchase in person at Ticketmaster outlets as well. Tickets purchased through Ticketmaster are subject to a service charge.
The three musical organizations within the organization of the Chautauqua Regional Youth Symphony will be making a number of public performances at sites within the region.
Youth Symphony String Players will perform at 7 p.m. on Dec. 7 at the Chautauqua Mall. The next performance will be at 7 p.m. on Dec. 8, at Ss. Peter and Paul Church, on Cherry Street, in downtown Jamestown.
Rehearsals for all three groups, ranging in age from 13 through college, will begin shortly after the holidays with the youngest ensemble at Lutheran on Friday afternoon, and the Youth Symphony and Young Artists Orchestra rehearsing at the Reg Lenna Civic Center on Saturday mornings.
In March, students will travel to hear the Pittsburgh symphony accompany a presentation of "The Wizard of Oz," at Pittsburgh's Heinz Hall. Members of the Pittsburgh Symphony will meet with youth orchestra members.
All three orchestras will perform at a Spring Gala, May 5, at the Civic Center.
Members of the three youth organizations pay tuition, but no one is turned away for inability to pay. The organization is currently holding their annual fundraising campaign, which pays for purchase of their music, for the expenses of students who cannot pay tuition, and for other expenses of operating the program. Tax deductible contributions may be mailed to the Chautauqua Regional Youth Symphony, P.O. Box 3454, Jamestown, NY 14702. For additional information, phone 664-2465, ext. 202, or send an email of inquiry to CRYSymphony@mac.com.