Thursday, July 12, 2007

Opening Night!

Finally, it's the night everyone's been waiting for! Ticket holders, opera fans, and all the departments at Glimmerglass have been eager for the season to begin. The Orpheus season began July 7 with Offenbach's satiric comedy Orpheus in the Underworld. However, the opera wasn't the only thing patrons could look forward to!

The night began with an Opening Night Champagne Celebration, to kick off the season. Guests enjoyed light hors d'oeuvres as they mingled and discussed the exciting night ahead.
Every night, a staff member hosts a pre-opera talk an hour before the performance. Saturday's preview featured Lucy Arner and tenor Joseph Gaines, who plays Mercury. Gaines, a member of Glimmerglass' Young American Artists Program, sang an aria from the 1874 version of the score that was not included in the production. Arner explained the history behind the piece and some of the operatic trends of the time.

While patrons enjoyed the sights, sounds, and tastes of pre-opening night festivities, members of Glimmerglass staff were busy behind the scenes making final preparation for the night. Marketing staff manned the Guest Services desk and Gift Shop, Development staff coordinated pre-opera picnics, ushers prepared the house, and the production team focused lights and tested backstage equipment.

Finally the moment everyone had been waiting for arrived. The doors opened, seats were filled, and the orchestra began to tune. However, opening night did not come without its share of drama. Soprano Jill Gardner, who was slated to sing the large role of Eurydice, became indisposed the night before. Fortunately, Glimmerglass makes it a policy to cast covers (understudies) from the Young American Artists Program for every major role in each season's operas, so the show was not cancelled. Soprano Juliet Petrus went on instead and, despite the short notice, gave a masterful performance.

After the opera, singers, staff, guild members, and guests rubbed elbows at an opening night party. General and Artistic Director Michael MacLeod gave an opening address thanking each and every one of the staff, and expressing his excitement for the season ahead.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Opera in Hell

Besides the four operas playing at Glimmerglass about Orpheus, there have been many other operas about the legendary poet, the Greek Underworld, Christian Hell, and Hell's posterboy the Devil.

An astounding number of operas feature the Orpheus myth itself, a popular subject for an opera when the genre was in its infancy. Most operas were based on Greek mythology, so the story of Orpheus, a poet and musician of epic proportion, truly lends itself to a sung musical story. Two of the most popular examples of these early operas are Monteverdi's L'Orfeo (1607) and Peri's Euridice (1600), but the earliest well-known example is Politan's 1480 Fabula di Orfeo (The Fable of Orpheus.)
Over the years, so many composers set Orpheus operas that yet more composers began to parody them, such as P.D. Deshayes who parodied Gluck's famous work. Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld (1858) is certainly the best known and most performed Orpheus satire.
Despite the existence of over 40 operas on the subject of Orpheus, interest in the myth continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. Composers like Darius Milhaud, Harry Birtwistle, Philip Glass set the opera, Stravinsky wrote a ballet, and most recently, Leslie Burrs and John A. Williams created a show re-telling Orpheus legend set during the time of the Underground Railroad.

Orpheus' Influence
  • Fidelio by Beethoven revolves around the rescue of Florestan from an underground prison by his wife Leonore.
  • In Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, Tamino rescues Pamina from imprisonment with only a magic flute at his disposal.
  • Wagner, who was heavily influenced by folklore and myth. The lead males in Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Tannhäuser are both singers with the ability to charm their audience.
Christian Hell or the Greek Underworld

  • Rameau, an 18th century opera composer whose focus was often Greek myth, set Castor and Pollux and Hippolyte et Aricie, both of which involve underworld scenes.
  • Don Giovanni by Mozart features the legendary lover Don Juan, who gets swallowed up by Hell.
  • Rachmaninov's Francesco da Remini is set in the set in the second circle of Hell a la Dante's Inferno.
  • Too Many Sopranos by Edwin Penhorwood--a cult classic amongst college voice students, the opera follows the hijinks of four sopranos trying to get get into Heaven's already full choir.

Devil of a Time

  • Faust by Gounod (1859) French grand opera, based on the wildly popular book by Goethe which set to poetry the legend of Faust, a man who sold his soul to the devil. Similar operas followed, including Mefistofeles by Boito and Damnation de Faust by Berlioz.
  • The Devil and Kate (1899) by Dvorak is a comedy based on Czech folk legend that parallels the Orpheus myth. A peasant girl is lured to Hell by the devil and is rescued by her shepherd love.
  • The Devil and Daniel Webster (1939) by Douglas Moore tell the story of another man, this time a politician from New Hampshire, who sells his soul to the devil and what happens when the devil comes to collect.
  • Paradise Lost (1975) by Krzysztof Penderecki depicts the courtship, marriage and temptation of Adam and Eve, with author John Milton as commentator. The piece uses semitones and is designed in the style of a Renaissance Florentine court drama.

All images courtesy of NYPL Digital Gallery.