|Our night at the Morgan Library
Thanks to some original programming at the Morgan Library and Museum, we have experienced another side of opera-going. Having focused so strongly at the opera on the singing and direction, we have, perhaps, given short shrift to stage design. It took just one instructive lecture and a tour of the galleries to open our eyes as well as our ears. Yes, we heard some fine singing as well, which we will get to shortly.
Our engaging lecturer was Christopher Mattaliano, Artistic Consultant of the Portland Opera. Now a renowned director, Mr. Mattaliano was mentored in his youth by the team of Stage Director Frank Corsaro, a pioneer in bringing theater direction to the field of opera, and Artist/Illustrator Maurice Sendak; he was generous with his personal anecdotes from working with them on three operas. Their approach to Mozart's The Magic Flute, Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen, and Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges was different for each opera but always creative, always original.
All three productions were created in the 1980's; since the post-lecture performance involved the Mozart, let us focus on The Magic Flute, created for Houston Grand Opera in 1981. The team decided to allow all three themes of the opera to be brought out--the fairytale aspect, the serious Masonic theme, and the ribald vaudevillian business as well. Slides of the sketches and the sets derived therefrom illustrated the talk. Although the sets were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Mattaliano was able to meticulously reconstruct them. The production had a lot of "mileage" and was intensely popular.
The Cunning Little Vixen was given a dark emphasis with "cuteness" avoided. The strange opera The Love for Three Oranges was set at the time of the French Revolution and staged as a play within a play.
Please visit our Facebook page (Voce di Meche) to see a selection of photos.
After this informative lecture we were ready for some entertainment and were delighted to see and hear Joshua Jeremiah, whose mellow baritone is well known to us, as a very playful Papageno. Although he was not in costume his expressive delivery gave us everything we needed to know about the character.
Soprano Lindsay Ohse made a very sweet Pamina with her affecting timbre in the sad aria "Ach!, Ich fuhl's" but was even better as Papagena, joining with Mr. Jeremiah for the well-loved duet. Their interaction was spirited, even without feathers! Kristen Kemp was the fine accompanist.
Although we prefer the opera in German, we must admit that the translation into English worked well. Rather than trying to shoehorn the English word for word into the vocal line, the translator wrote lyrics that scanned and rhymed whilst preserving the intent of the text.
The next time we go to the opera and a bunch of people come out at the curtain call after the singers and conductors, we won't have to scratch our head; we will know that they are the team responsible for the "look" of a piece. Although we generally credit them in our reviews we had no idea what went on behind the scenes--the drawings and the models, all resulting from intense artistic collaboration.
We were inspired to peruse the exhibit after the lecture to see the sources of inspiration for Sendak, often the works of Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770). We recommend this exhibit if you would like to see what goes on before the opera reaches the stage.
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