PREVIEW: IU Opera ‘Cendrillon’ production marks stage director’s American debut

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IU Opera production marks stage director’s American debut

Also, Chamber Singers to present masses and madrigals
By Peter JacobiH-T Columnist
November 4, 2012

It’s a fairy tale week and one also for masses and madrigals.

The fairy tale comes in operatic form: Massenet’s “Cendrillon” or “Cinderella,” in an IU Opera Theater production that runs Thursday evening through next Sunday afternoon at the Musical Arts Center.

The masses and madrigals come our way via the Bloomington Chamber Singers on Saturday at First Christian Church in a program titled “Masses and Madrigals: Ancient and Modern.”

The opera

Turn-around has been quick for “Cendrillon,” which IU Opera Theater introduced in a new production as recently as February 2009. Now it returns, one trusts, with all of its charms in place.

Chances are good. The C. David Higgins sets and costumes were eye candy and will be ours to see again. The excellent Belgian conductor Ronald Zollman returns to take charge of orchestra and singers, as he did so effectively last time around. A new stage director is on the scene, however. He’s Albert-Andre Lheureux, another Belgian, a veteran with rich experiences directing opera, theater and film. This production marks his American debut.

Lheureux was an easy interview. I merely made the call last Monday afternoon. It was expected. “My English is limited,” he said immediately, “and I’ve been thinking what to tell you.” He proceeded to tell me what he’d been thinking. And with only the rarest of prodding, he enthused for 20 to 25 minutes about “Cendrillon” and the talents he’s been working with here.

“The students are so professional and excited and attentive,” he said. “Their level of concentration is wonderful. It is a big surprise what we’ve accomplished in two weeks: the two fine casts, the chorus, the dancers, the 16 children. To work at such a high level is thrilling. Massenet, of course, wrote a beautiful opera. He was a master. For Cendrillon, Cinderella, he wrote music that fits her and, for Prince Charming, music for him. In this production, we have one cast with a man singing the Prince and the other with a woman. Both work very well, you will be surprised. The Fairy Godmother has music different from Cendrillon’s father and her stepmother and her stepsisters.

“The types of music differ,” Lheureux continued. “There are Wagnerian moments. There is music from the French operatic tradition, like ‘Faust,’ and the Italian, like Verdi, and even some hints of impressionism, like Debussy. But it is all Massenet. He gives us fairy tale music, music for dreams and nightmares, music for a husband and wife in a troubled marriage, music for the spoiled and foolish stepsisters. For them we have comic scenes we can treat like the Marx Brothers. Massenet has gone beyond the Charles Perrault fairy tale to please a larger audience. He and librettist Henri Cain have created a fantastic construction.”

Conductor Zollman called the music “beautiful and happy when the situation calls for that, triumphal at the ball. It is lovely fairy tale music. This is my second time with ‘Cendrillon.’ Preparing for these performances has been a wonderful experience. The score is so rich, so full of imagination, and so stimulating for one’s thoughts. Every encounter with it reveals new aspects, both on the musical level and regarding the psychology of the opera’s protagonists. These are permanent rediscoveries for the curious performer, and it is proof that we are in the presence of a real masterwork.”

To which the ebullient Lheureux added: “The opera tells us, if you find love, don’t avoid it, that we need to hope and dream, that dreams can become reality, that nothing is impossible.”

The choral event

Music director Gerald Sousa told me “Masses and Madrigals: Ancient and Modern” “explores the relationship between words and musical style or — on an even more fundamental level — between meaning and sound, the semiotics of music, as it were. The musical vocabulary and compositional processes that composers use have evolved remarkably throughout the 500 or so years that encompass the span of Western music. Meter, rhythm, melody, harmony, counterpoint, texture and myriad other aspects of the compositional palette vary dramatically among chronological periods, among nationalist boundaries, and among individual composers.

“In instrumental music,” added Sousa, “those differences are strikingly evident. However, in compositions which use words — vocal and choral works — musical vocabulary and dialect are the means through which a composer interprets the meaning of the text.”

For Saturday’s concert, Sousa has split his 70-singer choir into two smaller ensembles. One, performing under his leadership, will sing music of the Renaissance (William Byrd’s “Mass for Four Voices” and a series of madrigals by Claudio Monteverdi). The other, led by assistant conductor Gregory Geehern, will perform modern counterparts (“Missa Syllabica” by the Estonian Arvo Part and a set of “Firesong Madrigali” by the American Morton Lauridsen).

Sousa explained: “Over the ages, Western composers have turned repeatedly to certain musical forms. The most endearing and challenging of these is the Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Mass. Throughout, the Mass text has inspired some of Western civilization’s most profound compositions. Its secular counterpart was the madrigal, or partsong, a form that originated in Florence in the mid-16th century and quickly spread throughout Europe and England, where it influenced and transformed regional variants such as the French chanson, German lied, and English partsong. Much of its great popularity came from the profound and emotional texts of contemporary poets that inspired composers, particularly during the late 16th century when madrigals reached their maturity. Though the madrigal waned in popularity as the Baroque era blossomed, it has returned in recent years to attract contemporary composers, many of whom were drawn to the same great Renaissance poets that inspired the early madrigalists.”

We get, predicted Sousa, “a concert of comparison and contrast,” with the Masses anchoring the two halves of the program. It all sounds like a provocative idea, worth exploring along with Maestros Sousa and Geehern and their halves of the always interesting-to-hear Bloomington Chamber Singers.

Reach Peter by sending an email to features@heraldt.com with “Jacobi” in the subject line.


If you go to “Cendrillon”

WHAT AND WHO: Jules Massenet’s operatic version of the Charles Perrault fairy tale is presented in a lavish IU Opera Theater production by C. David Higgins first seen in 2009. Guest conductor Ronald Zollman and guest stage director Albert-Andre Lheureux have worked with two alternating casts.

WHERE: Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Ave., on the IU Bloomington campus.

WHEN: Thursday evening at 7, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8, Sunday afternoon at 2.

TICKETS: Available at Musical Arts Center box office. Opening night, Thursday, general admission, $25 for adults; $12 for students; date night special, two for $20. Remaining performances, reserved seating, $15-$38 for adults; $10-$27 for students.

If you go to “Masses and Madrigals”

What and Who: The Bloomington Chamber Singers, conducted by Gerald Sousa and Gregory Geehern, present ”ancient and modern” samplings of masses (William Byrd’s “Mass for Four Voices” and Arvo Part’s “Missa Syllabica”) and madrigals (those of Claudio Monteverdi and Morton Lauridsen).

Where: Bloomington’s First Christian Church, 205 E. Kirkwood Ave.

When: Saturday evening at 8

Tickets: General admission $15; $10 for students, available through the Buskirk-Chumley Theater box office, 114 E. Kirkwood Ave., 812-323-3020, www.bctboxoffice.com

Show times

This afternoon at 3 p.m. in Second Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis, 7700 N. Meridian Ave., the IU Pro Arte Singers and Chamber Orchestra, conducted by William Jon Gray, perform Haydn’s oratorio, “The Seasons.” Free.

This afternoon at 4 in Auer Hall, the Mu Phi Epsilon Founders Day Program features faculty, guests and students performing music of Schumann, Respighi, Scriabin, Marcello and Puccini. Free.

Tuesday evening at 8 in Auer, the IU Wind Ensemble, conducted by Stephen Pratt, plays works of Stock, Wilson, Benson, Grainger, Debussy, Bolcom and Schmitt. Soloists are William Ludwig, bassoon, and Chih-Yi Chen, piano. Free.

Tuesday evening at 8:30 in Ford-Crawford Hall, IU Jazz Combos present another “Hot Tuesdays” concert. Free.

Wednesday evening at 7 in Simon Music Center Room 344 (and again Thursday at 7 in Ford-Crawford Hall), the Five Friends Master Class Series presents Baroque violinist and violist Judy Tarling. Free.

Thursday evening at 7 at Bloomington High School North, 3901 N. Kinser Pike, the Southern Indiana Wind Ensemble, led by its new director, Eric Smedley, offers a “Remembering Our Heroes” concert that includes Randall Thompson’s “The Testament of Freedom” (with the Quarryland Men’s Chorus), Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” Joseph Wilcox Jenkin’s “American Overture,” David Gillingham’s “Heroes, Lost and Fallen,” and Morton Gould’s “American Salute.” Free.

Saturday evening at 8 in Auer, Stanley Ritchie conducts the IU Baroque Orchestra in music of Schmelzer, Muffat, Albinoni and Telemann. Free.

IU Opera’s “Cendrillon,” the Charles Perrault Cinderella story, is seen here in its 2009 incarnation. Guest stage director Albert-Andre Lheureux leads this season’s production. Courtesy photo

Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2012

 

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