MUSIC REVIEW: ‘SOUTH PACIFIC’

Production’s 2 casts honor this musical favorite

By Peter Jacobi

 

For decades, when the Jacobs School added two summer productions to its annual opera season, one spot was reserved for a musical. In recent years, with the disappearance of summer activity, musicals have invaded the fall-to-spring lineup.

The stated argument, and it is an appropriate one, goes this way: We have vocal students whose voices and dramatic talents are more likely to lead them professionally toward musicals than opera, and we must give them the needed exposure and experience. Rarely brought up, but surely a factor, is that inclusion of musicals is good for strained budgets. A number of musicals continue to prove themselves as popular choices; they attract ticket buyers.

Scott Stauffer, left, and Kayla Marie Eilers perform in a rehearsal for their roles in “South Pacific,” playing at the Indiana University Musical Arts Center.

Scott Stauffer, left, and Kayla Marie Eilers perform in a rehearsal for their roles in “South Pacific,” playing at the Indiana University Musical Arts Center.

“South Pacific” certainly is proving to be an attraction for many. Friday and Saturday audiences in the Musical Arts Center were healthily large. An extra Sunday matinee brought additional fans, and ticket sales for the concluding performances next Friday and Saturday have been strong. As for this Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite being invasive in a lineup of operas, well, it deserves to be, particularly when the product is as entertaining and well put together as is Indiana University’s Opera Theater’s current revival. Quality makes this “South Pacific” a welcome part of the season.

The musical has breeding. It is based on a collection of stories by James Michener, “Tales of the South Pacific,” that earned a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. Later, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway show piece won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. So, the content, the story, is worthy as a reminder of another critical time in our history, the World War II years. And Richard Rodgers’ score, to which Oscar Hammerstein added such clever lyrics, remains a wonder, containing as it does a profusion of songs both pertinent for the story and delightful to listen to.

The production’s two casts, industrious and talented, honor the musical. So does the Walter Huff- trained chorus assigned to portray Seabees and nurses. So does the University Orchestra in the pit, sounding far better than a large percentage of professional theater orchestras. All matters musical have received careful attention from music director and conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos, a returning guest who on each visit seems to understand how to get the best out of young musicians.

To work with the singers, soloists and chorus, to have them become individuals in the story and integrated as an ensemble of players, the powers that be assigned Vincent Liotta who, since he joined the Jacobs faculty 20 years ago, has stage directed more than 50 productions here. He has always brought to his work not only knowledge of the theater and all musical extensions of it, not only an inherent skill at enhancing singers’ acting abilities, but an abiding enthusiasm and loving devotion to thus serve each work on that long list of operas, operettas and musicals.

Officially, “South Pacific” is the last of those assignments. He’s retiring. He’s retiring on a high note. As theater, the “South Pacific” on view is most effective; it is funny and poignant, romantic and a part realistic-part nostalgic return to the past. As one watches, one feels that the actors have come to inhabit their roles. Someone has led them to that level of involvement; it is Vince Liotta.

“South Pacific” tells two love stories. One — involving the nurse Nellie Forbush and French emigre planter Emile de Becque — ends happily, despite a problem of race brought on by the presence of his two children, birthed by a Polynesian woman. Two sopranos, Kayla Eilers on Friday and Jessamyn Anderson on Saturday, gave Nellie the vocal thrust and ebullient personality to belt “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” and so much more.

Two fine, mellow-voiced baritones, Bruno Sandes and Johann Schram Reed, made the mature de Becque a sympathetic figure. The two were excellent choices and sang beautifully Emile’s romantic anthem, “Some Enchanted Evening.”

The other love affair, between Marine Lt. Joseph Cable (Rafael Campos Salles and James Reynolds) and the island girl Liat (Meadow Nguy and Marianthi Hatzis) does not end happily. Cable’s death, while on a military mission, destroys the liaison. Their scenes contain the passions of youth.

Eileen Jennings and Marlen Nahhas offer tours de force as Bloody Mary, an island native, Liat’s mother, and — as in the best productions — a scene stealer. Luther Billis, a Seabee cutup, obtains personality from baritones Scott Stauffer and Evan Forbes. As de Becque’s children, Nathaniel Cox-Thurmond and Marielle Berin steal hearts when they appear.

The new physical production by William Forrester features moving parts that comfortably and quickly make scenic changes possible. Pleasant to look at, they’ve been effectively lit by Patrick Mero. Linda Pisano has contributed the costume designs with, as usual, a keen eye for historical validity. A sound engineer, Julie Randolph Sloan, amplified music and talk adroitly, even though a few of the performers should have been told to speak louder.

 

© Herald Times 2015

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IU Opera takes on classic Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘South Pacific’

By Peter Jacobi

 

“Once launched, ‘South Pacific’ immediately joined that rare company of such musicals as ‘Oklahoma!,’ ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ which are not only successful stage productions but major social, theatrical, historical, cultural and musical events.” So wrote Richard Rodgers in his autobiography, “Musical Stages.”

“We even made it into something of a philanthropic occasion,” he continued, “by setting aside preferred locations at every performance for people who made sizable contributions to the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund.”

“Musical Stages” includes a fascinating narrative of how “South Pacific” came to be such a successful theatrical extension of James Mitchener’s collection of short stories, “Tales of the South Pacific;” how it came to have two intertwining and very different love stories; how it lured Ezio Pinza, the great operatic basso, into the cast as the middle-aged planter Emile de Becque, and how the Broadway star Mary Martin was wooed to become his love interest, Nellie Forbush.

“She was apprehensive,” Rodgers recalled. “She’d played opposite musical comedy juveniles and leading men but, my gosh, this was Don Giovanni himself? How could we possibly expect her to sing on the same stage as Ezio Pinza? Because there was some logic in what she said, I assured her that we’d write the score without a single duet for her. Mary promised to think it over.

Some months later, she sat down to listen to five songs Rodgers and his professional partner, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, had written. Martin promised a call the next morning with a yes or no answer. “That evening at dinner the telephone rang” noted Rodgers. “It was Mary. She said that she couldn’t wait until the morning for fear that we might change our minds and give the part to someone else overnight.”

One suspects there were no such dramatic hesitancies among Indiana University voice students who auditioned and earned a part in the Opera Theater production set to open at the Musical Arts Center Friday evening.

“Everyone seems to be enjoying the experience,” says Vincent Liotta, the revival’s stage director. “They’re all much involved. The show has so much heart. One cannot help but be excited to do it. Rehearsals have been going quite well.”

To that, Constantine Kitsopoulos, the production’s music director and conductor, adds: “We’re all having a great time. The kids are doing beautifully, those on stage and those in the pit, the University Orchestra. Also, what a difference it makes to have extra strings to add to the sound, far more strings than we’d have on Broadway. Just listen when we play the overture.”

“It’s the best of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals,” insists Liotta. “They all have great music, but ‘South Pacific’ is more profound, dealing with serious issues and universal messages about war and racism, yet all within the framework of a musical.” Mitchener’s stories won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical won the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

“The tunes are unforgettable,” says conductor Kitsopoulos, “and Hammerstein’s lyrics are natural, not made up, as they seem in many musicals. He and Rodgers had an organic way into and out of the music. The dialog gives way to music smoothly. It becomes obvious that when things get so emotional, the script has to shift into music.

 

The performers will accomplish their acting and singing on a set designed by William Forrester and wearing costumes by Linda Pisano. Forrester explains that the set must facilitate “lots of different locations. The singers need to get from here to there. What we’ve done is to create scenery that can be moved by cast members, thereby minimizing halts in the performance. What you’ll see is a Pacific island, basically palm trees and the ocean, nothing to get in the way of the story and the music. The music and the content are why we do this musical. Vince and I had really long discussions on what ‘South Pacific’ is about. It’s not just a happy musical. It is wartime, and there are prejudices that come into play. There’s tension among people brought together by war. They face the task of accepting others who have different cultural backgrounds.”

Costumer Pisano says she did extensive visual research. “Even though this is a musical comedy, it’s one about war and fighting for a cause. The costumes needed to be correct and natural and, in a subtle way, individual, with identifying nuances. I had a great time going through countless photographs. Some I had at home. My father was stationed on a ship in the South Pacific. I even have one photo of my father on shore leave in his white uniform on the day he met my mother. All this strengthened my investment in this project. The candid photographs, so many with their smiling faces, were a lesson in history and sacrifice.”

“South Pacific” followed “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel,” two other Rodgers and Hammerstein triumphs. Its initial Broadway run started in 1949 and lasted five years, just short of 2,000 performances. Other productions and touring companies came along to spread the pleasures to waiting audiences in many cities, including those overseas. The music helped shape a universal appeal: “A Cockeyed Optimist,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “There Is Nothing Like a Dame,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy,” “Happy Talk,” “Carefully Taught,” “This Nearly Was Mine,” “Younger than Springtime” and “Bali Ha’i.”

I asked each of the above what he or she would like us in the theater to leave with at final curtain fall. Here’s what they said.

Linda Pisano: “I hope the audience will have enjoyed the show and come to understand the important issues of a not-so-distant history.”

William Forrester: “I want them to remember or, if younger, to learn what it was like in the war and how we must overcome our prejudices”

Vincent Liotta: “I hope you’ll take seriously what Hammerstein wanted to tell us, that it’s time to grow up and take to heart what he and Rodgers and Mitchener pointed out 60 years ago about acceptance of those different from you. I want you also to have enjoyed the performance.”

Constantine Kitsopoulos: “I would hope folks walk out of the theater thinking about prejudice and, if necessary, start personal struggles to overcome such feelings. I’d like them also to remember what these Jacobs School students have accomplished as performers. They’ve done a great job.”

Come and see if “South Pacific” affects you.

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‘South Pacific’ opens Friday

By Audrey Perkins

 

“South Pacific,” the top Tony Award-winning Broadway revival, is IU Opera and Ballet Theater’s newest production.

The World War II-themed musical opens at 8 p.m. Friday at the Musical Arts Center.

The show focuses on the experiences of soldiers stationed on an island in the South Pacific. The story dives deeper into America’s history as the characters meet the island’s Polynesian inhabitants and struggle with conforming to racist societal norms.

The show is double-casted, meaning there are two actors for every part.

Jessamyn Anderson plays Nellie Forbush, a cheerful, naïve U.S. Navy nurse who is stationed on the island.

Casts act in the dress rehearsal of "South Pacific" in the Musical Arts Center on Thursday night. "South Pacific" opens Friday.

Casts act in the dress rehearsal of “South Pacific” in the Musical Arts Center on Thursday night. “South Pacific” opens Friday.

She meets and falls in love with Emile de Becque, a French plantation owner. However, she struggles to accept the idea that he has mixed-race children. Anderson said the biggest aspect of her character she had to conquer was the difference in their upbringing.

“We’ve grown up in a place where racism is wrong,” Anderson said.

This wasn’t the case for her character, Forbush.

“South Pacific” was written in the late 1940s, right after World War II ended. In those days, racism had a more common place in American culture. While racism still exists today, Anderson said it didn’t have such an obvious and public role as it did when the musical was first released.

“One of the hardest things is trying to figure out where she’s coming from,” she said.

This show is special because the antagonist is not a single person, she said, it’s a notion. It’s racism as a whole.

“‘South Pacific’ was one of the first musicals to deal with serious subject matter,” Vince Liotta, stage director for “South Pacific,” said.

Bruno Sandes plays Emile de Becque, Anderson’s middle-aged love interest. Jóhann Schram Reed also plays Becque in two of the production’s shows.

One of his favorite parts about the show is that the plot was created organically. The drama is not something writers Rodgers and Hammerstein made up. Instead, they picked up on taboo cultural problems, he said.

“They talk about something everybody avoids talking about,” he said. They weren’t scared of
conflict.

Part of the musical’s success comes from the fact that it communicates a message without making it feel insignificant or boring. How does it do this? Through song.

Music is more effective at communication than speaking, Sandes said. It’s because the melody pulls people.

The music keeps spinning in your mind, he said, and in turn strengthens the musical’s anti-
racist message.

“They (Rodgers and Hammerstein) expose all of the ugliness,” he said. “It’s really powerful.”

Like Sandes, Anderson said music influences emotion. It’s more powerful than the spoken word. Without the music, the dialogue is naked, she said.

Anderson described how racism is musically depicted to solidify her point. In the beginning of the show, the racist undertones are more subtle. There is not as much music underscoring the dialogue. However as the plot thickens and race becomes a bigger factor, the music builds in the 
background.

“It’s easier to hear when it’s trapped in something beautiful,” she said of “South Pacific’s” social criticism. “You get truth that’s hidden in this beautiful art form.”

Sandes said this show acts like a mirror. It’s a show that makes people think, 
he said.

“I think we see ourselves in this show,” he said. “The problems that they were facing at that time was not so different from today.”

People still don’t know how to deal with the difference, Sandes said. Even 
after 50 years.

Sandes said he wants people to open their hearts when they watch his performance. “South Pacific” has the capability to use music and comedy to push people forward, to keep growing.

“We are all human beings,” he said. “We are still learning.”

 

© Indiana Daily Student

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In Performance | Ailyn Pérez

BY Erik Piepenburg and Erik Braund | Feb. 9, 2015 | 3:20

Soprano Ailyn Pérez sings an excerpt from Micaëla’s aria in Bizet’s “Carmen,” which runs through March 7 at the Metropolitan Opera.

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IU Opera’s new show opens Friday after months of preparation

By Audrey Perkins

The line between reality and artificiality will be unveiled in the Jacobs School of Music’s newest opera, “Alcina.”

The show opens 8 p.m. Friday at the Musical Arts Center and will be performed in Italian with English subtitles over the stage. For those unable to attend, the opera will also be streamed live through 
IUMusicLive!

Alcina, played by Elizabeth Toy, and Ruggiero, played by Michael Linert, perform during the dress rehearsal of Alcina.

Alcina, played by Elizabeth Toy, and Ruggiero, played by Michael Linert, perform during the dress rehearsal of Alcina.

Elizabeth Toy is one of two doctoral students who plays the role of Alcina. She portrays a sorceress who controls a magical island and charms her way through multiple lovers.

“There’s many different ways to think about it,” Toy said about her character. Rather than having physical, almost Disney-level magic, Alcina’s power manifests itself in her charisma and manipulation.

It’s her persona. Alcina is a person who can pull you in, she said. However, when she falls in love with deceptively antagonistic Ruggiero, according to the two actresses who play the role, Alcina’s facade falls apart.

Despite her outward strength displayed in the beginning of the opera, Alcina is a fragile, relatable character.

“She just wants everyone to love her,” Toy said.

Morgana, played by Monica Dewey, and Bradamonte, played by Rachel K. Evans, perform during the dress rehearsal of Alcina.

Morgana, played by Monica Dewey, and Bradamonte, played by Rachel K. Evans, perform during the dress rehearsal of Alcina.

To aid this manipulation, she creates an island that she and her sister Morgana rule. Everything is lavish and red. The atmosphere of this world speaks to her power over people, Toy said.

“Alcina has created a world to live in,” Toy said. “It’s passionate, yet dangerous. … It evokes reactions out of the audience.”

There is disconnect among how the actors are costumed. Some people will be dressed in modern clothing. However, when characters cross the boundary between the real world and the world Alcina created, costumes change. Everything is designed to aesthetically fall into history.

All actors are dressed in historical costume. Think Marie Antoinette, Toy said. Actresses wear foot-tall wigs, corsets and men are in tights. Yet, everything is all bewitched.

Shannon Love, also plays Alcina, said this production is designed to juxtapose the artificiality of Alcina’s world with the farce commonly associated with the 
theater.

Oronte, played by Issa Ransom, performs during the dress rehearsal of Alcina.

Oronte, played by Issa Ransom, performs during the dress rehearsal of Alcina.

Love made this comparison. When an audience regards a stage set, they know that it is all artificial.

“You accept it for this false reality,” she said.

This is the same case for Alcina and her world represented on stage.

“This is the only way she knows how to get what she wants,” Love said of Alcina’s magic. “She’s insecure with what she is on the 
other side.”

Most of the props on stage are two-dimensional. While painted to appear beautiful, Love said the backs of all props are left bare. The entire scene is set upon a rotating set. As Alcina’s character falls apart, Love said, her character loses the ability to maintain the artificial beauty of 
the stage.

Finally, as her façade diminishes into nothing, the stage turns to reveal that Alcina’s world is in fact made up of wooden cutouts.

Love described the moment as “lifting the veil.”

“It’s just all visually enticing, but it’s all empty,” she said. “There’s no real depth. … There’s nothing of meaning.”

She described Alcina’s love as her “demise.” Until Ruggiero comes into the scene, Alcina remains relatively detached to her love interests. In fact, when she is done with them she usually used her magic to turn them into animals. However, in this case, Ruggiero has an effect on her, Love said.

Michael Linert plays the romantic lead. His character leaves Bradamante, his fiancé, after being enchanted by Alcina. However, by the end of the show, he shakes off Alcina’s spell and tries to flee the island with Bradamante.

Linert said that despite his character’s heroic tendencies, Ruggiero can be seen in a bad light. The audience feels for Alcina, 
he said.

Love described Linert’s character as the most “villainous.” It is he that left his own fiancé to be with Alcina, however when her magic deteriorates, he no longer wants her, Love said. Ruggiero almost ventures into being vengeful, she said.

Despite this character aspect, Love said she 
believes the audience will be rooting for Ruggiero and Bradamante. People have a tendency to root for “true love.” However, she also said she hopes that the audience is able to see through Ruggiero’s façade of heroism.

Love said she believes heroes come across too perfect. Heroes are not 
realistic, she said.

“Bad guys are more relatable than good guys,” she said. “Villains are easier to make human.”

Even though Alcina’s weaknesses and insecurities are unveiled to the audience, she is still strong, Love said. This strength is Love’s favorite part about her character.

“She is a fighter,” 
she said.

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Students benefit from class by bass-baritone Eric Owens

By Peter Jacobi

 

I arrived early, way early on that last day of January afternoon, so early that, by silently entering Auer Hall, I heard the concluding portions of Beethoven’s D Major Piano Sonata, the Opus 10, No. 3, performed by Master of Music candidate Gregory Wang. It was Wang’s Graduate Recital that I had invaded. I’m glad I did because his Beethoven was excellent.

Wang’s Beethoven was a bonus. I had come for Auer Hall’s next scheduled event, a master class to be given by the distinguished American bass-baritone Eric Owens, this as part of the Five Friends Master Class Series, this particular class in memory of Chris Carducci, one of the five gifted Jacobs School students so tragically killed in a plane crash.

Bass-baritone Eric Owens visited IU as part of the Five Friends Master Class Series.

Bass-baritone Eric Owens visited IU as part of the Five Friends Master Class Series.

Once the generous applause for recitalist Wang ended, the hall emptied out, and for a few minutes I was there alone. I switched seats from the back to the front, the second row, and I began to read program notes about Eric Owens. As I did, I could hear other folks arriving for his class, set to start at 3:30. It must have been about 3:15 when a voice from someone hovering above startled me.

“Whatcha reading?” said the voice. I looked up. It was Master Owens himself. “Your life,” I answered, and quickly rose to shake the hand of an artist I admire. He smiled. I smiled. And off he took up the aisle to shake more hands, then headed down the other aisle still meeting members of his audience.

He was making friends. He was establishing an aura of informality. Maybe, he was also trying to make his six master class singers relax. By the time the first of those to-be-taught students took his place on stage, along with Katie Gleiser at the Steinway, the air in the hall seemed warmer, friendlier, and perhaps the tension had eased.

Owens sat quietly, off stage, as bass-baritone Christopher Seefeldt sang Robert Schumann’s “Die beiden Grenadiere” (“The Two Grenadiers”) without interruption. Seefeldt sang this sad musical depiction about two defeated French soldiers returning from imprisonment in Russia; he sang it quite well but somewhat stiffly. After applause, the visiting master took over. For the next 15 minutes, he had his student repeat and repeat and repeat a passage of that song, striving for nuances that, from time to time, Owens voiced as well as explained. Sometimes, what he sang seemed a clearer, more direct means of instruction, show versus tell moments. But it was the combination of both that brought change.

“Do me a favor,” he told Seefeldt. “I want to clearly hear what you’re saying. Do it as if you never had a voice lesson. Tell me a story. That’s what the song is, a story. Take your position. Breathe. Hold. Sing. And enjoy it.” There was student-teacher conversation during those 15 minutes. There were stories and asides. There was laughter. There was at least external patience on Christopher Seefeldt’s part as he obeyed the calls for repetition. Who can know save Seefeldt what was going on internally?

But when, at the end of their session, the two shook hands, there seemed to be student gratitude for the opportunity of having worked with a star performer and caring teacher. That’s what these master classes are all about: a chance to learn from an acknowledged practitioner. The Jacobs School brings in dozens of them a year, some of them more famous than others, yet each with artistic gifts to give.

But I wondered what was already going through Bruno Sandes’ mind, having observed the Owens-Seefeldt lesson. He was next and must have been thinking if a similar reception would greet his singing of “Ich hab’ ein gluhend Messer” (“I Have a Red-hot Knife”) from Gustav Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer,” an ultra-passionate piece about thwarted love, the composer’s own.

Sandes earned an Owens “Bravo” at the end of his run-through. His baritone proved potent in size and expressive. But, yes, he would face a similar string of requests and commands: “I want more clarity of tone.” “I want more frantic.” The master also snapped his fingers and clapped hands to sharpen the phrases and pace. The concluding handshake came with “That was awesome.”

Marcus Simmons unwrapped his bass-baritone for “O du, mein holder Abendstern” (“O You, My lovely Evening Star”)the dreamy aria from Wagner’s “Tannhauser.” “Sing it without words,” he was told. “Don’t fuss. Just sing.” And “Color doesn’t happen in the throat. It happens up here” (those words as Owens’ hand chopped between his nose and cheek). And “Tape yourself. Listen.”

Bass Michael Hyatt sang the stately, hymn-like “O Isis und Osiris” from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Demands for him included: “Do it in English.” And “Sing it like it’s a pop song.” And “Open your mouth.” And “Forget your training. You’re drunk. Sing the aria without words. Just let go.” Hyatt did and showed improvement. “The sound is there,” said Owens, “because you weren’t worried about it.”

A soprano followed: Anastasia Talley. She focused on a highly fragrant song of Debussy based on a poem of Paul Verlaine, “C’est l’extase langoureuse” (“It is the Languorous Ecstasy”) from the composer’s “Ariettes oubliees” (“Forgotten Ariettes”). Owens told her, “Have a seat,” from which she took the treatment to come. “It is the fatigue after love,” go the words following the title. “You’ve worked hard, the song tells you,” Owens reminded Anastasia Talley. “You’ve just come out of the ether. Don’t perform. The voice should be smoky, liquidy. Take super-sized breaths. And consider you’re eating puff pastry, not German pork and potatoes or Italian pasta. Think food, French. Think puff pastry.” Most likely then, Talley did.

One more singer was to come, with slated time in the hall soon to expire. But bass-baritone Rafael Porto got his fair share of attention after he sang “Come dal ciel precipita” (“As the Sky Falls”), an aria of foreboding sung by Banquo in Verdi’s “Macbeth.” Master Owens continued to take things apart and even raised the piano lid. “Be frightened,” said he. “Sing into the instrument,” advice to help Porto capture the claustrophobic nature of Banquo’s predicament.

When the class was over, it was left for the students, on their own and with their teacher, to put back together what Eric Owens had taken apart. The master class had become part of the process that is each singer’s life path to improvement and perfection. In the longer run, most likely, not everything worked on will be followed. But the views of the master will not be forgotten. Nor will the time itself on that Saturday afternoon in January 2015 when Eric Owens came to share his mastery, his ebullient personality, and his love for music and the human voice.

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IU opera to stage a ‘treasure’ with Handel’s ‘Alcina’

DSC_2938_web
(Photo credit: IU Jacobs School of Music)

IU opera to stage a ‘treasure’ with Handel’s ‘Alcina’

By Peter Jacobi

 

Asked what feelings we should go away with when the Musical Arts Center curtain closes at the end of Handel’s opera “Álcina,” stage director Chas Rader-Shieber says: “You should feel more human than when you came in.”

That, he explains, goes for “any kind of theater, any sort of art offered an audience, and it should be especially easy after ‘Alcina,’” which he insists is “an amazing, funny, charming opera, part drama, part comedy, part romance, all kinds of theater in a single evening.”

Rader-Shieber comes to Bloomington as guest stage director. He spends much of his time at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where, over the years, he’s directed some 16 opera productions. Seventeenth and 18th century operas seem to have become a specialty for him, and they include previous productions of Handel operas including, just to list a few, “Alcina” at Curtis and Chautauqua, “Giulio Cesare” in Pittsburgh and Minnesota, “Orlando” at the New York City Opera, “Tamerlano” in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, and “Tolomeo” at the Glimmerglass Opera.

“What a fantastic opportunity for people in Bloomington it is,” says Rader-Shieber, “to experience a Handel opera live. Though his operas are now in an upswing of productions, they are still somewhat rare, and such treasures he left behind, so many of them worthy of greater attention. ‘Alcina’ certainly is a treasure,” a “treasure” to be staged the next two Fridays and Saturdays. As such, it marks the first time that IU Opera Theater scheduled this Handel work.

Jacobs School faculty conductor Arthur Fagen, in charge of “Alcina’s” musical elements, labels the opera as “very special Handel, really, basically a flood of arias, the next one more beautiful than the last. I happen to like the piece very much and have since the first time I conducted it, in Palermo 1985. It was my Italian debut.”

Another visitor, Robert Perdziola, has created the physical production, the sets and costumes. For him, this visit is a return. He was here two years ago for Handel’s “Xerxes.” “At the time, I expressed my desire to return,” says Perdziola, “and I find myself enjoying ‘Alcina’ more than I did ‘Xerxes.’ Of course, back then, my father was dying, and I probably wasn’t as fully wrapped in the project. But I’ve been really drawn in by ‘Alcina,’ the character herself, a sorceress, compulsive, temperamental. As her world comes apart, the audience becomes increasingly aware that this is theater, that her obsession with love is filled with illusion, nothing else. The stage must reveal that conceit and its unraveling.”

According to the story, the sorceress Alcina co-rules an island with her sister Morgana. Both are evil creatures. Alcina has made it a tradition to seduce the knights who come to the island because she’s lured them there. Once they arrive, she uses them, tires of them, rejects them, and finally transforms them into inanimate objects and animals, from rocks to lions. Along comes the knight Ruggiero who, at first falls for Alcina, in the process forgetting that he’s betrothed to Bradamante. Later, he remembers the betrothal and, when he does, rejects Alcina. She is furious and also desperate to retain her magical powers. These, too, she loses, along with the island’s magic. The sisters disappear as transformed knights are returned to their former selves. Illusion has given way to reality to bring the opera to a happy close.

Add disguises to the above, and you have a plot of twists and turns. “Visually,” says designer Perdziola, “little by little, we reveal what’s behind Alcina’s domain, the illusion that has been her life. Things begin to deteriorate. The stage picture reflects what’s happening to Alcina, what is transpiring to undo the harm she caused.”

All three gentlemen praise the singers. “It’s always good to work with young performers,” says Perziola. “They’re open for guidance and flexible. Certainly, these at IU are, and they’re amazingly talented.”

“So far, so good,” says director Rader-Shieber. “It’s been a joy. They are talented people. Of course, I try not to anticipate problems, and the singers here haven’t given me any. It all starts with me. I need to love the opera I’ve been asked to do. And I love ‘Alcina.’ With that attitude, I go into rehearsals, hoping for the best. Then, I tell the singers of my concept, in this case a magic opera that, like magic itself, deals in illusion. They need to know what’s on my mind so they can begin to accept my approach, perhaps question it, but also take on the specified personality of their character. The quicker they do that, the easier we can move through rehearsals because they’re ready to enter the world of the story.”

Maestro Fagen must concern himself with singers and with an orchestra, more specifically the IU Chamber Orchestra. “We’re not using period instruments,” he explains, “but there are critical aspects of historic performance that must be dealt with: the cadenzas, the holding back on vibrato, articulation and phrasing, and declamation that must be clear. There are colors in the vocal writing and in the instrumental. There is ornamentation, too. And there are matters of interpretation. Handel did not mark his scores with the precision, say, of Stravinsky. He has left many decisions to us, as performers. But isn’t that an important part of what interests us as musicians, of why we want to tackle a work. The Chamber Orchestra is in good, flexible shape. The casts are really very good. There are a few standouts, but the overall level pleases me.”

“Alcina” was one of Handel’s most popular operas during his lifetime, so favored because of the music’s emotional range and the multiple arias he wrote to fill the evening. It remains so for modern audiences. We get an opportunity to try it out. I think that’s fortunate.

© Herald Times 2015

 

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Marietta Simpson named IU Rudy Professor

SimpsonMezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson, professor of voice, was recently named an Indiana University Rudy Professor.

This spring, Simpson will be artist-in-residence for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ Monsanto Artists Training Program. She’ll be the mezzo soprano soloist in the Felix Mendelssohn realization of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with the Mendelssohn Choir of Philadelphia and will serve as guest clinician for the National Association of Teachers of Singing.

In addition, she’ll travel to Kenya to begin gathering material for a collection of arrangements titled Mosaic Melodies of the Diaspora, one of the first collections of songs that combines the vocal folk music of Kenya with American Negro Spiritual music.

Rudy Professorships are awarded to attract and retain outstanding IU faculty members who are viewed by peers as superior in their fields of study. It was established by the estate of James Rudy, an IU alumnus and an Owensboro, Ky., farmer who died in 1956.

Read the full story.

 

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Three Jacobs students finalists in Grand Concours Vocal Competition

Three Jacobs School of Music students will be finalists in the Grand Concours Vocal Competition. Jeremy Johnson, Claire Lopatka and Erik Krohg will be competing in the finals which will be held in the University of Texas in Austin on February 21, 2015. This competition focuses on exclusively French repertoire. Best of luck to our Jacobs finalists!

grand concours comp finalists

 

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Alumna Nadja Michael Returns to the Metropolitan Opera Stage

nadja_michael_02____g__gellerIndiana University Jacobs School of Music Alumna, German Soprano Nadja Michael will return in February to the Metropolitan Opera performing the lead female role in Bela Brartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle.
Miss Michael studied with Professor Carlos Montane.
PERFORMANCES DATESA: JANNUARY 26, 29, FEBRUARY 3, 10, 14, 18 AND 21.
For more on Nadja Michael, visit her website: http://www.nadja-michael.com/wp/?cat=1&amp%3Blang=en&lang=en
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