Karyl Charna Lynn
The Opera Critic

OperaDelaware Opera Festival

Grand Opera House, Wilmington

Now in its 2nd season, the OperaDelaware Opera Festival proved that its outstanding singing, productions and unearthing of the forgotten opera Amleto in its inaugural season was not an anomaly. The company repeated its success with a stellar second season—this one dedicated to Rossini in celebration of his 225th birthday with the rarely performed Semiramide and  popular La Cenerentola. With themes of incest, matricide, power, forgiveness, and revenge, Semiramide is the last great opera composed in the classical structure/Baroque tradition, more akin to Mozart’s Idomenea and Clemenza di Tito than to Rossini’s best known opera, Il barbiere di Siviglia. The prima assoluta of Semiramide took place in 1823 at La Fenice, a theater similar in size to the Grand Opera House, the opera festival’s performance venue. The work’s popularity has waxed and waned during its almost two centuries of existence, but Opera Delaware successfully solved the two primary drawbacks for its neglect, length: by thoughtfully and carefully cutting an hour from the score giving the work new life and meaning with a cohesion and energy often lost in the 4 hour version with its numerous recitative secco; and difficulty in casting the vocally demanding roles: by finding outstanding talent for every part. The opera unfolded on a uniset, the focal point of which was a soaring arch with zig-zagged steps leading up to it, flanked by two massive columns to evoke the Temple of Baal that was illuminated by lights which rotated through a gamut of colors to reflect changing atmosphere and characters’ emotions, though not original it worked, and proved the ideal backdrop for the lush period costumes. Modern geometric-shaped “props” appeared and disappeared to indicate location changes. Lindsay Ohse excelled as Semarimide, imbuing the role’s challenging vocal fireworks with power and feeling. Aleksandra Romano in the trouser role of Arsace admirably mastered the demanding vocal acrobatics, and Daniel Mobbs made an evil, pompous prince Assur. Maestro Anthony Barrese’s taut pacing gave energy to the performance, making for an engrossing evening.

We all know the Cinderella fairy tale. Rossini turned it into a hilariously entertaining opera, only changing the matching slipper to a matching bracelet. Filled with mouth-watering melodies, the opera vacillated between hyperactivity and stasis with amusing characters and a storm scene rivaling Barbiere. The opera, nevertheless, has an undercurrent of serious themes still relevant today—greed, hypocrisy, superficiality, love and forgiveness. Only occasionally the production fell into over-caffeinated silliness with the excessively exaggerated stereotypical acting of Don Magnifico (Steven Condy), Tisbe (Alexandra Rodrick), Clorinda (Jennifer Cherest) , and Dandini (Sean Anderson). But there were also humanizing gestures like when Prince Ramiro (Jack Sawnson) first attempted to kiss Angelina/Cenerentola (Megan Marino) and she spurned him. He then tried to smell his breath, wondering if that were the reason. Sawnson possessed that elusive feature that many otherwise good tenors lack, those lusciously sweet, strong high notes. Marino easily handled the vocal acrobatics required for Cinderella. The remaining cast were equally top-notch.  Michael Borowitz drew lush sounds from the orchestra.

Portland Opera’s inauguration of summer festival 2016

 

Perhaps it was only a coincidence, but Portland Opera’s general/artistic director, Chrisopher Mattaliano chose Italiana in Algeri and Eugene Onegin as the two operas to inaugurate their new opera summer festival format, complementing their two-opera spring season, the same two operas that the Garrison country house opera circuit in England successfully staged albeit in different productions and singers.

 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Two years ago I attended Portland Opera’s sparkling Fledermaus, celebrating their 50th anniversary season, around the same time Mattaliano told me about the company’s change to a spring/summer festival format in 2016, performing two lesser known operas in repertory in non-traditional productions to attract new audiences outside the Portland area, thereby making Portland an opera destination. This has been a popular move among small- and medium-sized US companies not only for survival, but to expand and grow the companies in this difficult financial climate.  The company staged Italiana in Algeri and Eugene Onegin in repertory in updated, non-traditional productions in the cozy, 880-seat Newmark Theater, their summer festival’s new home.

                   

Eugene Onegin was cleverly updated to 1980s Russia by director Kevin Newbury who reset the work predominately in a public neighborhood park filled with playground equipment.  Bright colored striped and plaid clothing and electronic gadgets of that era were much in evidence among the younger generation.  Although a clever idea and visually stimulating, Newbury took the concept too far introducing too much visual stimulation by having his lead singers climb on the monkey bars, spin on a merry go-round, and ride a bicycle while assaying their beautiful melodies that both distracted and detracted from the opera’s essence, Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous music and vocal lines.  

 

Nevertheless, a praiseworthy cast of young singers, especially Alexander Elliott’s Onegin whose transformation was effective both vocally and physically from a pompous, bored aristocrat who lectured Tatiana (Jennifer Forni) about her “letter”, (in this production an audiotape) to a haunted man after having killed his best friend Alexander Elliott in a senseless duel, to an excruciatingly desperate lover when Tatiana refused his pleas to run away. Forni showed equally commendable character development and vocal competence, metamorphosing from an innocent, love-sick girl pouring out her heart to Onegin in the “audiotape” to her steely determination at the conclusion to not compromise her noble position as the wife of Prince Gremin (Konstantin Kvach). Kvach with his harsh, grating sound, and not always in tune was the only disappointment in the cast. Abigal Dock (Olga) whose soaring singing and Aaron Short (Lensky) whose heartfelt yearning  were also commendable.  Maestro Fox drew the best sound possible given the reduced orchestra size, which at times sounded thin.

                                                      

Rossini’s amusing  Italiana in Algeri contrasted with the somberness of Eugene Onegin. The work is inherently funny so director Christian Rath’s slapstick approach came across as overkill. Unfolding on a uniset formed by a gigantic carpet, the updated opera opened with the chorus dressed as a group of tourists in Bermuda shorts taking selfies. But by the end, the choristers were having a pillow fight with feathers flying all over the stage.  Nevertheless, the uniformly outstanding singing from the cast and chorus made it an entertaining evening. 

Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera House

London, UK


The concept looked good on paper: make Lucia a strong-willed woman, one that fits with the role of women in today’s society, instead of a weak girl going mad in succumbing to her brother’s wishes. But it lost something in the transition to the stage. Despite moments of brilliance and genius in director Katie Mitchell’s concept, the production suffered from excesses and fussy contrivances: too many pails of water washing blood from the stage; too much dressing and undressing; too many appearances of ghosts of dead characters; too literal a reading of the script; and too many simultaneous activities on different parts of the stage. In sum, the plethora of superfluous activities distracted from the emotional power and beauty of Donizetti’s music. If Mitchell’s ideas were streamlined, it could have been a unique and gripping experience.

 

With themes of love, betrayal, deception, and power, Lucia di Lammermoor unfolded in different areas of a recreated 1800s house. Almost immediately we saw Lucia dressing, disguised as a man, to meet Edgardo. In addition to exchanging rings, they ripped off each other’s clothes, had sex (in rhythm with Donizetti’s music) while singing exquisitely. We witnessed Lucia throwing up (she’s pregnant) and Alicia cleaning the toilet afterwards; Lucia climbing all over a pool table while assaying the mad scene; Lucia seemingly forever suffocating and stabbing Arturo in an act of pre-mediated murder (not madness) as afterwards, Lucia and Alisa methodically cleaned up the bloody mess. Finally, Edgardo slit his throat sitting next to Lucia who took poison while sitting in a bathtub.

 

Aleksandra Kurzak (Lucia) made up in acting ability what she lacked in high notes, which by the end of the evening were reduced to screeches. Nevertheless, she possessed fine tone, nuance, and inflection in executing in the middle and lower registers. Stephen Costello (Edgardo) assayed with an ideal Italianate sound, showing a beautiful timbre. Despite that fact that at times the singers and orchestra were not always on the same page, Daniel Oren drew solid playing from the ROH orchestra.

                   

 

 

 

Delaware Opera Inaugural Grand Opera Festival, Wilmington

Faccio’s Amleto, Verdi’s Falstaff

 

The global recession during the past several years has forced many opera companies to permanently close or retrench to survive. Opera Delaware was very close to joining the ranks of USA’s defunct opera companies when Brendan Cooke took the helm in 2012. He took the path that other regional opera companies have taken, both large and small, that of metamorphosing into a festival format from a fall/spring season to survive. The advent of HD Met broadcasts has also played a role in the financial problems of the regional companies, decimating their audiences. One goal of an opera festival is to be regarded as a destination, attracting audiences from outside their region. To succeed, they must offer new, rarely performed or forgotten operas to make it worthwhile for patrons to travel. Opera Delaware in their inaugural festival format season offered the “forgotten” Faccio’s Amleto and Falstaff to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

Amleto had not been heard for almost 150 years when the conductor Antony Barrese unearthed it and painstakingly reconstructed the opera, revealing a work that didn’t deserve the neglect it had been accorded. It also appeared to play a role in the evolving of Italian opera from Verdi to verissimo.

Unfolding on a stark set with multi-level metal scaffolding (essential to fit the dozen principals, almost three dozen choristers, and four dancers on the tiny stage) with changing projections including a huge flag of Denmark, ghost of murdered king, and copious amounts of blood, this tragic Shakespearean story’s quest for revenge and justice explored themes of madness, corruption, unrequited love, and appearances and reality, taking place on different levels, both physically and psychologically.

  

Filled with animated melodic music with majestic chords and lush orchestral interludes, maestro Barrese kept a brisk tempo and ideal pacing so the action flowed seamlessly. The theater’s lively acoustics and ideal-sized-for-opera auditorium made it easy for the outstanding cast of young singers to make a dynamic statement, filling the space with their lovely voices. Especially noteworthy were Joshua Kohl assaying Hamlet with heartfelt and beautifully wrenching Italianate sound, expressing his indecision and conflict. Sarah Asmar’s was a devastatingly beautiful and tragic Ofelia. But the precision of execution and quality of the production was amazing for such a small company, even amazing for one ten times its size.  

One heard both Verdian influences including the funeral march from Nabucco and some middle Verdi melodies along with precursors to verismo in Faccio’s music, especially in the famous “to be or not to be” aria” which had a distinctly verismo quality. There were beautiful solo instrumental line introducing character’s monologues, especially the arias of Claudio and Gertrude where they expressed guilt. Flute and strings accompanied Ofelia’s mad scene, but the coloratura was not at Donizetti’s level.  

Despite the inherent risk in performing unknown works, it is clearly the better road to follow than offering another Boheme or Traviata, that couldn’t possibly measure-up to the Met’s extravagant productions of the same operas.

 

 

Il Volo – Italian Opera Pop – Kennedy Center, Washington DC

For those not familiar with the singing group Il Volo (The Flight), it is a trio of young Italian men, Piero Barone (tenor), Ignazio Boschetto (tenor), and Gianluca Ginoble (baritone), with beautiful voices that harmonize magnificently who have taken the pop music world by storm, not unlike the Beatle-mania more than half a century ago. But unlike the Beatles whose following were predominately screaming young women, Il Volo appeals to a very different and unusual audience, at least in the USA, the kind that attend opera--  baby boomers and senior citizens--who are just as enraptured, although their screams are not as loud or piercing.  You might ask, “Why would an opera crowd be attracted to an Italian opera pop group.”  The answer lies in their repertoire, songs made popular by Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, mixed with classic Neapolitan songs like O Sole Mio and Torna a Surriento sprinkled with famous opera arias like E lucevan le stelle, but with 21st century trappings: changing colors of piercing beams of lights and almost unbearably loud playing accompanied by their quartet and a mini-orchestra, which often almost drown out their singing, despite ample amplification of their voices. Adding to the operatic touch, each received a bouquet of roses after a moving solo piece, and to spice up the pop aspect, they added some hip and pelvic gyrations, ala Elvis Presley which in the 1950s was shocking, but today was just amusing and appeared to thrill the elderly ladies. They also broke that invisible barrier between stage and spectators by going into the audience, taking selfies with some very happy spectators, sitting down next to others, and even singing while standing on the back of a seat. 

This group has sold-out the 15,000-seat Arena in Verona, Italy and 18,000-seat Madison Square Garden, in New York, but in Washington DC, they performed in the Concert Hall in Kennedy Center. And that was the only negative aspect of their show. With a little more than 2,000 seats, it was essential that the volume of the music and quartet be modified, but it wasn’t leading to sounds that at times were deafening and often covering this groups amazing harmonizing.   They could be the answer to the dearth of young Italian opera singers, none of whom were finalists in three of the opera world’s most prestigious singing competitions for emerging opera stars: Cardiff Singer of the World, Operalia, and Jette Parker Young Artists. It used to be that American and British groups dominated the pop music world and Italians the opera world. It looks like the tables have turned, with Il volo dominating the pop world, and American and British singers (along with Eastern Europeans, Russians, and Asians) dominating the opera world.






Better Gods, Luna Pearl Woolf and Caitlin Vincent

World Premiere, Washington National Opera


The world premiere of Better Gods was part of the company’s American Opera Initiative, whose goal it is to give rising young American artists a platform for their work. The opera is creatively original, fusing traditional Hawaiian music and language into a grand opera format to tell the historically-based story of the last queen of Hawaii, Queen Lili’uokalani, who was overthrown by greedy white American businessmen, who wanted to preserve their business interests and wealth. They staged a coup d’état against the queen when she proposed a new constitution to limit voting rights to native Hawaiians. An AP reporter sent to write about the situation, was duped by the business men to write a positive report of the coup and provisional government. When the native Hawaiians staged an unsuccessful coup to regain power, the queen was convicted of treason on circumstantial evidence, despite her innocence, forcing her to abdicate and sentencing her to 5 years in prison rather than watch those loyal to her be executed. This paved the way, a half a century later, for Hawaii to become the 50th state of the USA.

Unfolding against a backdrop of a gorgeous Hawaiian sunset with Hawaiian instruments played on either side of the stage and relevant props appearing and disappearing denoting changing locations including the queen’s palace and the trial, Better Gods was a heroic effort and definitive statement about yet another injustice white Americans caused a native population. (WNO had just performed Appomattox about racial injustice in America.) Woolf fused classical genre with authentic Hawaiian music that resulted in dissonant and strident music that carried a harshly surreal sound. Atonal recitatives (parlando) infused with Baroque’s endless word and phrase repetition were sprinkled with a modern take on coloratura.  Perhaps the music reflected the injustice and desperation felt by the Hawaiian people but the result was so grating, harsh, and discordant, especially the sextet near the conclusion, it sounded more like excruciatingly painful noise. Nevertheless, the vocal executions, especially Daryl Freedman as Queen Lili’uokalami, were commendable, especially considering the difficulties inherent in the vocal line.

There is no question that this young composer has talent and originality, and has tackled a significant topic in a unique manor. But for this historical event to warrant being an opera, some degree of lyricism is essential, especially when borrowing from Baroque and bel canto, particularly with the sextet because at only 75 minutes, it felt too long. Otherwise, this story is be better told as a play.

Glass/Hampton’s Appomattox (revised world premiere) Washington National Opera, Kennedy Center

In the Penal Colony (new production) Boston Lyric Opera, Cyclorama, Boston Center for the Arts


 To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the Washington National Opera, in its justification to being the “national opera” of the USA, presented a “revised world premiere” of Appomattox. First premiered eight years ago by the San Francisco Opera, it told the story from the fall of Richmond and Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, which ended the Civil War, to the murder of three civil rights workers in Tennessee.  In the revised version, the first act ends with the 1865 Confederacy’s surrender, and Act II deals with President Lyndon Johnson and his groundbreaking Voting Rights Act legislation,  with a chilling postscript, the jailed murderer of the civil rights works spewing racial epitaphs and boasting of his crime. The real subject, however, is racial inequality in America, and the topic couldn’t be more germane with the continuing storm over the Voting Rights Act, and the current unrest with Black Lives Matters movement.

Despite the works relevance to today’s society, for an opera to succeed, it must be dramatically intense, emotionally forceful, and musically strong, all of which, with a few exceptions, were missing. Glass’s trademark surging arpeggios and rolling variations never went anywhere, and at crucial moments were MIA. The only memorable music from the first act was the musical expression of Ulysses Grant suffering a migraine with piercing chords and explosive harshness. Although the second act fared better musically, Appomattox was much better suited as the theatrical piece into which Hampton had already turned this historical narration.

The recreations of these historic encounters,  including diplomatic wrangling, stylized dancing, and rousing orations, with a comic interlude of President Johnson’s bodily crudeness unfolded on a functional sets with props and scenery suggestive of the ever changing locations. The opera featured an extensive cast of historical figures: from Lincoln, Grant, Lee, Douglass, Chester to Johnson, King, Hoover, Wallace, Killen, and many of their wives, all of which sang with conviction.

 

Five days earlier I attended Glass’chamber opera, In the Penal Colony, based on Kafka’s short story written in October 1914, only a few months after the onset on WWI. It was uncannily prophetic of the tyrannical dictators and mechanization of death that followed with the horrors of the two world wars. Based on the premise that guilt is always beyond doubt and the only punishment is torturous death, the opera’s themes of abuse of power and moving on from the old order are still relevant topics. Kafka’s tale is simple: a Visitor arrives at a penal colony to witness the gruesome execution by a torture machine of a Prisoner who is never informed of his crime. The Officer is obsessed with the virtues of the torture machine and wants the Visitor’s affirmation of its benefits. But the Visitor is appalled and leaves. The Officer takes the Prisoner’s place and experiences a gruesome death by this machine. Kafka himself, as an onlooker and narrator, was added to this operatic adaptation!

Director R.B. Schlather minimalistic, abstract approach meshed with an excruciating stylized performance, fitting the unbearable punishment awaiting the Prisoner and the relentless repetition of Glass signature arpeggios. But his heavy directorial hand mitigated the impact of Kafka’s chilling allegory. The Prisoner (Yury Yanowsky) is a bare-chested muscular ballet dancer, performing endless grotesque acrobatic pantomime, joined by the Visitor (Neal Ferreira), who is equally athletic, leaping, spinning, writhing around the stage, dressed in a T-shirt and jogging pants . Only the Officer (David McFerrin), in a red, hazmat-like suit seems Kafka-esque, firm in his belief in the torture machine. Both Ferreira and McFerrin sang with conviction, despite the disturbing homoerotic overtures of the Officer to the Visitor. The Prisoner is a silent role.  The string quintet was thoughtfully led by Ryan Turner.    

 

Sibelius Festival 150
th anniversary celebration of Sibelius’s Birth

Lahti, Finland

My first visit to Lahti was in the dead of winter, when everything was white, covered with a foot of snow. Vesijarvi Lake was frozen solid and it was impossible to see where land ended and water began. It is there, on the shores of Vesijarvi Lake in Lahti that an annual summer festival devoted to Finland’s most famous composer, Jean Sibelius, takes place in a magnificent concert hall, Sibelius Hall. So when I arrived for the festival, it was amazing to see this frozen tundra now lushly green, teeming with people and activities on a vibrant waterfront.

In the 16 seasons since the festival’s inception, Lahti has become to Sibelius what Bayreuth is to Wagner, renown as a festival devoted exclusively to the music of its namesake, showcasing the range of his work.  The previous 15 festivals had taken place over a long week-end, but the 16th festival, coinciding with the 150th anniversary of Sibelius’ birth, was turned into a weeklong celebration of his music with all seven of his symphonies performed, along with his symphonic poems and fantasies, his violin concerto, ballet for orchestra, and an assortment of his chamber music, and works for piano, voice, and stage. One of his early master works, Kullervo, called the “window into the Finnish soul” mirrored the eruptive nature of its then young composer: ferocious, expressive, and tormented, a reflection of his emotional state. The week-long festival was a complete immersion into his works, and both an education and delight for me whose familiarity of Sibelius’s music was limited to his best known work and the “calling card” of Finnish culture, Finlandia.

To find out what was next for the Sibelius Festival and Lahti Symphony Orchestra, I had lunch with Teemu Kirjonen, the general manager of the orchestra. There will be a changing of the guard, so to speak, as Russian born Dima Slobodeniouk will take over next season as the festival’s artistic director and orchestra’s chief conductor. Unlike the previous artistic directors and chief conductors, Slobodeniouk is not a Sibelius expert. But as Kirjonen explained, “We feel he is right person at this time for the festival’s and the orchestra’s development. Our goal is to make the festival and orchestra more international in scope. Although Slobodeniouk knows Sibelius, he is not a Sibelius expert, but an expert in other composers. This will help increase the profile of the orchestra and festival. We play 18 concerts in Lahti and 18 concerts in Sibelius birthplace, Hämmeliana, during the regular season. 90% of our funding comes from the city.” The 2016 Sibelius Festival will feature a trio of concerts by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, taking place September 8-11 . www.sinfonialahti.fi

I found the range of Sibelius’ music astounding, from barely audible to explosive, daunting yet familiar, riveting but also at times puzzling. So for additional insight I visited Hämeelinna Historical Museum and birthplace of Sibelius, only an hour drive from Lahti. www.hameenlinna.fi/historiallinenmuseo. There I learned about the driving forces and emotions, conflicts, hardships and successes in the composer’s life and how they influenced his music. Also to know more about Sibelius’s life and music, I visited Ainola, his family home near Lake Tuusula, a few-hour drive from Lahti. He lived at Ainola for more than half a century and composed many of his works there. www.ainola.fi.

Read more about Lahti and Sibelius Hall below, after my article on Helsinki and Russian era architecture.

L’amour de Loin by Kaija Saariaho and Amin Maalouf

Quebec Opera Festival

 

Director Robert Lepage created a mesmerizing visualization and symbolization of this story of idealized love, death and redemption, inspired by the 12th century historical figure of Jaufré Rudel, troubadour and Prince of Blaye, France and his idealized love for Clémence, countess of Tripoli, Libya, whom he heard about from a pilgrim who frequently crossed the sea that separated them physically and symbolically -- West from East. LaPage’s concept was an ingenious solution for translating a psychological drama into a meaningful opera. The set transformed the stage into a sea of changing passions which propelled them towards their unreachable dream.  

 

The work is internalized and reflective with Lepage creating an ethereal world of air and water to reflect the simmering passions of Rudel and Clémence which broke through as giant waves both on the continuously changing colors of a sea of 28,000 LED lamps and a moving, rotating, tower-like contraption, rising high above the sea that held the prince and countess, at first separately and then together as their desires and passions overwhelmed, compelling the prince to cross the sea to meet her. The pilgrim traveled between them in a tiny gondola-boat. The chorus appeared as floating heads on the sea, their bodies beneath the surface. But the prince fell ill during the voyage and died in the countess’s arms with Clémence then realizing that the only “love from afar” was that of God.

 

This psychological work of repressed passions and feelings was accompanied by controlled, structured music which only occasionally erupted into stirring passages of voluptuous sounds mirroring the characters’ emotional states. There was an unearthly fusion of sounds: jarring electronic tones, medieval modal harmonies, troubadour songs, melancholic tunes, a sprinkling of dissonance and piecing overtones. The chorus ranged from conversational to melancholic spiked with shouts and handclaps.

Although the opera was composed as five continuous acts (and so performed at its world premiere at the Salzburg Festival in 2000) this production had an intermission after the third act.

 

Phillip Addis’s Jaufré Rudel was sung with a heartfelt dynamism and reflective tonality, Tamara Mumford made a contemplative pilgrim, but it was Erin Wall’s transcendent vocal expressiveness and touching vulnerability that “stole the show.” Maestro Ernest Martinez Izquierdo drew stunning sounds from the Orchestre symphonique de Quebec.

 

Halka - New Production, Teatr Wielki, Poznan, Poland


Halka, considered the national opera of Poland, could be called a polish-version of Lucia di Lammermoor. Although I would not view it as a masterpiece, Halka, with its lushly Romantic score and tightly knit libretto has been unjustly neglected, deserving a place in international opera houses' repertory.


Based on Wolski's narrative poem of the same name, inspired by the 1846 Peasant Rebellion and focusing on the poisonous tension between the mountain peasants and land-owning nobility, the opera dealt with class structure and conflicts, noble privilege, national identity rooted in folk tradition, and unrequited love. Set in the Tatra mountains, this story of a naïve young girl's love, which ignored the era's rigid social order and convention, led to her madness and suicide. Initially one could equate Halka to Donna Elivra, pursuing a man (Janusz, a nobleman) who seduced her and left. But when Janusz married a wealthy noble lady Zofia, despite Jontek, a fellow Highlander's efforts to save her, she metamorphosed into Lucia with a superb mad scene, as she went insane and died, singing exquisite music.


Due to its iconic status in Polish culture (first Polish opera to include folk motifs) Halka has been resistant to non-traditional productions. Director Pawel Passini, however, brought cutting edge concept. The delineation between the two cultures--nobility and peasants--was razor sharp. Act I opened not on stage, but with all nobility, male and female, identically attired in white tie and tails sitting in the audience, only standing to sing. A grotesquely-stylized Polonaise was danced in the aisles. The implication was unsettling but immediacy was involving, although it caused some stiff necks. The remaining three acts were on stage, unfolding against an abstract depiction of mountains with crisscrossed, randomly placed logs and beams in the background suggesting a church. Symbolic, subliminal videos were intermittently projected on the proscenium sides. The contrast of the noble's formal attire (symbolic of industrialized society) to the voodoo-inspired peasant attire (symbolic of the third world) was striking: Halka's white (wedding?) dress was a series of long paper tubes, Jonek's primitive attire was decorated with Rams' horns, and mountain villagers were dressed like savages wearing masks and horns. Although the libretto is steeped in Polish history, its themes are universal. And Passini added a message of his own: nobles raping peasant women was akin to the industrial world raping the third world.

 

The score drew operatic elements and idioms from Italian, German, and Russian sources, specifically Donizetti, Mussorgsky, and Shubert, which were interspersed with folk tunes, hymns, and dances--polonaise, godak, and mazurka--along with magnificent chorus pieces. The music was heartfelt, tightly-knit, filled with leit-motifs and thematic sounds. The Polish cast sang with aplomb. Although conductor Gabrial Chmura kept good pacing, the orchestral music lacked shading, nuance, and needed a finer distillation of sounds.

 

 

Space Opera – World Premiere by Aleksander Nowak and Georgi Gospodinov

Poznan Opera, Teatr Wielki, Poland

 

Space Opera was a visually striking, philosophically provocative, and musically challenging work infused with satire, irony, and symbolism. There were a diverse potpourri of themes ranging from endless tributes to the flies, dogs, and chimpanzees sacrificed for man’s dream of conquering space to the relationship crisis of the first (middle-aged) space couple (aptly named Adam and Eve) caused by their inability to communicate, realizing they had different dreams; from the consequences of lies and deception of a producer in a snake-skin suit from the (ostensibly American) media company sponsoring the expedition as the greatest reality show ever to the unanticipated consequences of “progress”(advanced technology) making earth a prison as claustrophobic as the space capsule in which Adam and Eve were confined for interplanetary travel. The opera’s conclusion: the only hope for the human race to survive is to find a new home on another planet and revert to a simpler life.

 

The opera took place against a backdrop of extraordinary video projections of outer space and a Mars landing with various sets and props appearing and disappearing, indicating location changes. The most impressive set was the space module supplemented by trip-simulating video suspended above the reality show’s producer and audience.

 

Composer Aleksander Nowak amalgamated music from a wide array of styles and eras, ranging from the Greek chorus to a Hollywood soundtrack similar to the space movie Interstellar I watched flying back to the USA. There were Gregorian-like chants in memory of the sacrificed creatures with visuals of their encapsulation hurling across the stage; Philip Glass mantra-like chords and notes with names and pictures of sacrificed dogs recited; opening chords from Das Rheingold along with other Wagnerian references, American swing, jazz, and lots of drum percussion. Adam (Bartlomiej Misiuda) and Eve (Magdalena Wachowska) communicated predominately in recitative. A pair of flies, soprano (Martyna Cymerman) and cross-dressed counter-tenor (Tomasz Raczkiewicz) in identical long evening dresses, commanded the best vocal lines with elaborate bel canto and pseudo coloratura, the only music with any emotional heft; and the producer (Andrzej Ogorkiewicz) barked in Sprechstimme. The vocal lines often ended as a cacophony of sound and the music as noise, perhaps as opera in space might be perceived. Maestro Marek Mos expertly coordinated these diverse and complex sound-threads with formidable results.

              

To take an art form born at the end of the 16th century and create a work anchored in future space exploration, making it appealing to a 21st century audience accustomed to instant gratification and visual overload is a difficult task. Space Opera succeeded on an entertainment level, but miscarried in the opera-music-driven emotional experience level, partially hampered by Georgi Gospodinov cerebrally complex libretto.


See more on Lahti and Sibelius Hall below, from my previous winter visit. It is after article on Helsinki and Russian era architecture

 

Ariadne auf Naxos – Virginia Opera

George Mason’s Center for the Arts, Fairfax, Virginia

 

From its birth, opera has always been dependent upon wealthy patrons for support, making Strauss’ opera which deftly and seamlessly fuses hilarious comedy with larger-than-life emotions and achingly beautiful music as germane today as it was at its premiere, around a century ago. A wealthy patron has hired an opera company and a commedia dell’arte troupe to entertain his guests, forcing them at the last minute, to perform simultaneously to the horror of the opera company but the delight of the comedy troupe, who cleverly insert themselves into the opera, spoofing the stereotypical overblown operatic singing and acting.   

 

Director Sam Helfrich’s moved the opera to an American city and updated the commedia dell’arte troupe to an American burlesque led by the saucy comedienne Zerbinetta dressed in a black and green lacy bodice, and surrounded by four quintessential American characters, including the Lone Ranger. The troupe inserted uproarious stunts, such as a shark’s fin moving around the island (a green couch) where Ariadne lie as the three Nymphs (dead ringers for the Rhinemaidens) bemoaned her sad fate, causing the Nymphs to lose their solemn composure and climb on the couch. When the four comedienne try to seduce Zerbinetta, the island-couch opens into a bed, and when Zerbinetta surrendered to Harlekin,  explicit sexual acts take place. Backstage during the prologue, the contrast between the two troupes is sharply delineated, perhaps reflecting the division in society regarding the arts. The burlesque troupe are dressed as punks, in black leather, spiked hair, and lots of tattoos. The properly-attired, impassioned  composer vehemently resists performing with the comedy troupe and cutting his work, until reminded he must accept it to get paid with the tenor and soprano each try to have the others’ role diminished.

 

This crisp, clean production was wonderfully accessible and delightfully sung. Of special note were Christina Pier (Ariadne) with her soaring voice, Audrey Luna (Zerbinetta) with her acrobatic and comic appeal, but the entire cast executed their roles with aplomb with maestro Garrett Keast keeping excellent pacing.

 

This wealthy man throwing a party for friends pointedly demonstrated the culture clashes present in society and how art and artists are beholden to the wealthy patrons.  The questions about funding for the arts that the opera raises are as relevant today as they were when the piece was composed: one is always at the mercy of the patrons who pay the bills.

 

Cyberiada (The Cyberiad) by Krzysztof Meyer – Premiere

Teatr Wielki, Poznan, Poland

 

Based on short stories by Stanislaw Lem, Cyberiada is an allegorical dark comedy with serious overtones, dealing with the evils of totalitarianism, oppression, greed, deception, sexual addiction and the mysteries of life. Using a story within a story format, the opera fuses the science fiction world of flying through space, a brilliant fiery red-haired constructor Trull who journeys from planet to planet and builds machines which narrate three different allegorical tales symbolized by huge suspended masks, and a pseudo-Medieval world populated by kings, queens, witches, knights, and obedient subjects encased in identical multi-colored boxes. This strange variety of characters re-enacted the stories with visually compelling images and entertaining acting that captured its essence.

         

Conceived as a Theater of the Absurd by director Ran Arthur Braun and set/costume designer Justin Arienti, the precisely-executed production unfolded on a stage dominated by five huge percussions located on two levels. Each instrument incorporated 12 different percussions which produced 60 different types of sounds and noises, (noise being as integral a part of the opera as the musical tones). The percussionists were clad as astronaut. A parade of characters in “over-the-top” costumes, (including “advisors” who were gray featureless, blown-up balloon-men) acted with exaggerated and stilted mannerisms, parodying societal roles. From breath-taking acrobatics, including two red-clad ballerinas pantomiming erotic dreams for King Zipperupus, to the conniving King Mandrillion to the finale of constructor Trull killing a clone of himself as he had been granted eternal life by Queen Genius as payment for his three story telling machine, the opera was simultaneously amusing and thought provoking. Although composed during the 1960s, the final message touched on 21st century technology, nothing is eternal, not even machines.  

 

The music included twelve-tone, sonorism, and aleatoric techniques, resulting in a work with unconventional sounds and vocal lines almost devoid of melody, harmony or rhythm in the traditional sense. Instead it generated its own by combining serial and electronic music, jazz, repeated chords, sound clusters, and the grotesque to reflect the action and feelings of the characters. The extensive spoken dialogue was delivered melodically, ranging from rhythmical recitation to story-telling. The singers, acrobats, dancers, chorus and orchestra of Teatr Wielki of Poznan, under maestro Krzysztof Stowinski did a superb job in keeping  the complex elements of the work together to offer a worthwhile and admirable execution of the multi-faceted opera

Savolinna Opera Festival July 1-27, 2011

Olavinlinna Castle, Savollina, Finland

 

Karyl Charna Lynn

 

Only reachable by crossing two bridges, one of which opens occasionally to allow ships to pass through, the 15th century Olavinlinna Castle, built by the Swedes as a defense against the Russians, is a unique and magical setting for opera, which takes place in the Castle’s courtyard, filled with 2,260 seats and covered by a wave-like plastic roof during the festival. The surrounding stone walls offer ideal acoustics and as a launching pad for the stars of tomorrow, it’s idyllic by adding a natural resonance to their young voices. However, the very wide and shallow stage, with steep stone side staircases, is a challenge for directors, producers, and designers, but for those with a creative bent, there is a world of opportunities. I attended five productions, two of which were from the visiting opera company, Hungarian State Opera.

 

Before the first chords of Lohengrin were played, “Gottfried” appeared, playing with a toy swan in a (stage) pond. The opera ended in a similar fashion. In between, director Roman Hovenbitzer created a multifaceted, multi-leveled, symbolically laden production that kept for the most part true to Wagner’s intent: Lohengrin as the misunderstood, lonely artist--he’s painting and making videos in this production--made superhuman (artist worship), dressed as the “knight in shining armor,” who becomes very human after his marriage to Elsa, dressed in painter’s work clothes, taking “wedding night” videos of his bride and painting a stylized red and white z-like shaped swan figure on her white gown.

 

Mirroring today’s politics, Telramund was a contemporary military dictator symbolizing the evil of Totalitarian governments, and Lohengrin, leader and founder of the “Swan party,” with its stick-like swan symbol of his party and power, was possibly inspired by the swans painted 3,000-7,000 years ago on prehistoric rocks around Savolinna. But like many directors with creative ideas, Hovenbitzer carried the symbolism too far. There were hundreds of swans, swimming, floating, flying, on jackets, armbands, shields, paper airplanes, and in videos and paintings. Even some chorus members were dressed and moved like ballerinas from Swan Lake. But the quintessential swan (and only real misstep) was a gigantic one carried in by soldiers before Lohengrin’s entrance, and de-winged and set on fire by Lohengrin when, his identity revealed, was forced to depart. (Although his power and party were gone and therefore burning its symbol seemed logical, the swan is a messenger from the realm of the dead in Finnish Mythology.) Lohengrin then climbed up a high aluminum scaffold, fastened the swan’s wings to his arms and spread them. No swan was left to pull a boat for his departure!

 

Nevertheless, Hovenbitzer succeeded in making the long opera dramatically riveting and grippingly effective. And dividing the stage for the different locations and scenes, designer Hermann Feuchter gave an intimacy to the action. Set simultaneously in three different time periods (Medieval, late 1800s, and contemporary) the production had some jarring juxtapositions and anachronistic actions.

 

Richard Crawley’s Lohengrin was a narcissistic and charismatic leader with divine deportment, who also displayed humanizing characteristics after his wedding. He sang with a clear and supple voice. Amber Wagner as Elsa displayed a voice of ethereal beauty, commanding the role with her powerful instrument, filled with feeling and sensibility. Jordanka Milkova exuded piercing evil and wickedness as Ortrud while Telramund’s transition from absolute dictator to henpecked husband was credible. Although his sound was harsh, it was, perhaps, suitable for his character. Maestro Philippe Auguin had Wagner in his blood, coaxing thrilling playing and spine-chilling power from the Savolinna Opera Festival Orchestra, making the long evening fly by.

 

I’ve seen Don Giovanni where sex (Festival de Mexico) or death wish (Teatro Colon) or fear to commit (Washington National Opera) were the overriding themes. Here director Paul-Emile Fourny kept more to Mozart and Da Ponte’s concept that Don Giovanni is about the disintegration of the class society, and Fourny made the tensions between the classes the theme that Mozart brilliantly demonstrated with his minuet for Donna Anna and Don Ottavio, a folksy German tune for Leporello and Masetto, and a contradance for Giovanni and Zerlinda, along with the rebellion against the droit du seigneur (or droit de cuissage) at the wedding celebration.

 

Set against the backdrop of the castle’s ancient stone wall with steep stone stairs at either end of the very long but narrow stage, the opera unfolded amidst three moveable fragments of palatial facades that were twisted, turned and occasionally joined to suggest the different locations. The production was straight forward with a couple of exceptions. At the final supper, a defiant Giovannni instead of eating at the dining table had intercourse with a nude woman on the table in response to Donna Elvira’s pleas, and the Commendatore did not become a stone statue but instead was dressed in a white suit, appearing at the top of the stairs amidst a smoky background. Giovanni’s hell is the “ghosts” of his conquests (women in diaphanous black dresses) chasing him up the stairs.

 

Carlo Colombara made a defiant and dissolute Don Giovanni, capturing the opposing aspects of his character while properly nuancing his expansive voice, from powerful to smooth to cunning allowing him to deceive, command, persuade, and seduce with equal believability. Carlo Lepore’s Leporello was the ideal counter-balance to Colombara singing with well-balanced intensity. Jennifer Rowley captured Donna Anna’s anguish and conflicting emotions with a magnificently vibrant voice. Alyson Cambridge as Donna Elvira was convincing as wronged woman, singing with ardent concentration. Michele Angelini’s Don Ottavio displayed some forceful singing and good high notes, though occasionally strained. Will Humburg drew admirable playing from the orchestra.

 

The high point of Tosca was the mesmerizing singing that kept one completely engaged, despite an unusual heatwave plaguing Savolinna. Keith Warner’s “literal” production (opening with Angelotti’s shimmying down the side of the castle wall on a rope and ending with

Tosca jumping into the water (video) surrounding the castle), had, however, some bizarre and incongruous moments. A couple of examples, Scarpia’s dining table opened to be his casket, and Mario climbed a steep staircase to exit after being tortured. Tiffany Abban showed depth and breadth as Tosca, beautifully floating her high notes. Massimo Giordano possessed the role of Cavaradossi, fervently singing with a voice of pure Italianate lyrical sound. Juha Uusitalo was convincingly evil as Scarpia and under the baton of Srboljub Dinic, there was finely nuanced orchestral playing.

 

The Hungarian State Opera’s Don Carlo was a conventional production, the stage set with only a large iron gate and basic props. After Attila Fekete in the title role overcame some initial nervousness and note fishing, he was a very intense and believable Don Carlo. Eszter Sümegi assayed Elisabeth with a regal voice and deportment. Although Bluebeard’s Castle was presented in concert form, the psychological implications of dark gloom and horror were painted in the music and hauntingly melodic vocal line of Judith, which Andrea Meláth captured with her soaring voice. Changing colored lights reflected the horrors behind the different doors.

 

2012 Savolinna Opera Festival will run from July 5-August 4, 2012. There are two world premieres: Kimmo Hakola’s La Fenice and Vapaa Tahto’s Free Will, along with Aida, Magic Flute, Flying Dutchman. The visiting opera company, Den Norske Opera, presents Gisle Kvernokk’s Den Fjerde Nattevakt (The Fourth Night Watch) and Peter Grimes

 

Guide to Helsinki: World Design Capital 2012

 

With Helsinki celebrating its designation as World Design Capital in 2012, the city and its surrounding area should be on the must-visit calendar of every design-, architecture-, and opera-lover. From the legendary Finnish designs to its architectural treasures, especially the new Musiikkitalo (Helsinki Music Center) and the Opera House (Oopperatalo) you will find here all you need to best experience and enjoy Finland’s architecture and design either in person or from the comforts of home.

 

Architecture and Design in Helsinki and Lahti

Helsinki’s Modern Architecture

 

Musiikkitalo (Helsinki Music Center) Mannerheimintie 13a, (http://www.musiikkitalo.fi/web/en)

The newest addition to Helsinki’s modern architecture along Mannerheimintie is the Music Center which held opening ceremonies on August 31, 2011. An enormous, imposing glass rectangular structure housing a 1,708 seat concert hall and five smaller venues, the center includes one venue suitable for chamber opera. At the center of the building, the concert hall is approached via glazed foyers. Encased in sound-insulating glass, it is visible from the foyer and lobby areas. The architecture and overall design was by LPR-Arkkitehdit Oy (www.ark-lpr.fi) with acoustic design by Yasuhisa Toyota and Keiji Oguchi from Nagata Acoustics, Inc. (www.nagata.co.jp). It is a joint project of the Sibelius Academy (www.siba.fi), Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra (www.hel.fi/filharmonia), and Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (www.yle.fi/rso), the three resident companies.

 

Oopperatalo (The Opera House) Mannerheimintie and Helsinginkatu; www.opera.fi sits on a site once occupied by a sugar mill. Opening in 1993 at a cost of $190 million, and designed by Eero Hyvämäki, Jukka Karhunen, and Risto Parkkinen, the Oopperatalo is an imposing white concrete structure faced with white square ceramic tiles, granite slabs, and brickwork fused into a variety of geometric shapes and forms. Large expanses of glass windows and walls allow commanding views of Töölö Bay, Hesperia Park, and the "green-heart" of Helsinki . On the Mannerheimintie plaza main entrance, a large sculpture Alkunäytöksi (First Act) by Kain Tapper welcomes visitors. Inside, hanging on the walls of the entrance foyer is Alla Marcia (In the Style of the March) by Juhana Blomstedt, a four part work of art in terrazzo concrete that weights more than two metric tons. On the foyer’s end walls, textile artist Kirsti Rantanen created a two part rope sculpture: the red hued one is called Carmen and blue-hued Juha. The foyer’s spaces are defined by stark white walls reflecting natural light from the skylights and muted blue-grey Carrara marble floors. In contrast to the cool outdoor feel of the foyer, warm reddish-yellow beechwood wall surfaces, cherry wood floors, three sparkling white parapets topped by chrome railings that contrast with rows of black cloth seats, and an unadorned black proscenium arch crowned by two acoustic panels define the intimate feel of the horseshoe-shaped 1,365-seat auditorium. Of special note is the abstract fire curtain on which Kohta, by Kristiina Wiherheimo is painted. The building also holds a self-contained performing arts factory with large rehearsal spaces, production facilities for scenery- and costume-making, and a black box for experimental works. If there are no performances, tours of the Opera House are available.

 

Finlandia Talo (Finlandia Hall) Mannerheimintie 13, www.finlandiatalo.fi. Opened in 1975, it is a striking geometrically shaped structure, designed by Alvar Aalto. It was the former home of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra but since the opening of the Musiikkitalo is used exclusively for conventions.

 

Museums of design, architecture and famous architect-designed houses: in/around Helsinki:

Designmuseo (Design Museum) Korkeavuorenkatu 23, www.designmuseum.fi. Suomen rakennustaiteen museo (Museum of Finnish Architecture), Kasarmikatu 24, www.mfa.fi. The two museums are only a block apart and part of Design District Helsinki www.designdistrict.fi. Villa Didrichsen, Kuusilahdenkuja 1, www.didrichsenmuseum.fi designed by Viljo Revell in 1957, with a museum wing added in 1965 which houses Didrichsen Museum of Art. Aalto House, Riihtie 20, www.alvaraalto.fi . The house and adjoining studio Alvar Aalto designed for himself, opening in 1936. Hvitträskintie, Hvitträskvägen 166, Luoma (on the shores of Lake Vitträsk, 30 minute drive west of Helsinki), www.hvittrask.fi. was build between 1901-1903. It is a collection of three houses designed, built, and lived in by architects Eliel Saarinen, Armas Lindgren, and Herman Gesellius. A bit of a soap opera also took place here: Gesellius’ sister married Eliel after Eliel divorced his wife who, in turn married Gesellius, who was a bachelor.

 

Helsinki’s Russian era architecture (1808-1917)

Around the Senate Square are elegant Empire Style buildings. Examples of Carl Engel’s most important works are Cathedral (1852), Council of State Palace, main University building, and University library. At the turn of last century, National Romantic style came into favor. Examples of this style are seen in the National Museum by Saarinen, Gesellius, and Lindgren, the Central Railroad Station by Saarinen, and the National Theater by Onni Tarjanne.  

 

Lahti

Only 60 miles north of Helsinki, there is direct train service between the two cities which takes less than an hour. Lahti is the home of Sibelius Hall, Ankkurikatu 7, http://www.sinfonialahti.fi, an architectural marvel in wood, and the Wood Architecture Park www.woodinculture.net. Lahti Symphony Orchestra, resident company of the concert hall, hosts an annual Sibelius Festival which takes place in September 8-11, 2011. www.sinfonialahti.fi. Lahti was established as a woodworking town that essentially died when the woodworking factory, which had operated for 130 years, closed. The construction on the shores of Lake Vesijärvi of Sibelius Hall in 2000 as a wooden addition to the historically preserved factory, revitalized the area, not only architecturally but also culturally. Opening on March 9, 2000, the Hall was the largest wooden structure built in Finland in the past 100 years. A marvel of wood craftsmanship and design, it boasts perfect acoustics, designed by the late Russell Johnson (Artec Consultants, N.Y.). Architects Hannu Tikka’s and Kimmo Lintula’s design made innovative use of wood, both structurally and decoratively. The branches of the massive wooden pylons in the middle of the foyer, known as Metsähalli (Forest Hall) extend towards the ceiling and one of the most unique features of the space: the position of the small lights on the ceiling replicate the position of the stars in the sky when Sibelius was born, and are reflected on the walls of glass on either side. The glass also allows the fusion of views of the lakeside exterior with the foyer’s interior. The hall is decorated with contrasting colors and woods, with a French Romantic style 52-pipe the hall’s focal point. Its acoustics are adjustable by a canopy that can be raised or lowered from the ceiling depending upon the type of performance. More than 30 wooden sculptures and other works of art by Mauno Hartman are displayed around the building. Wood Architecture Park (Lahden Puuarkkitehtuuripuisto) www.woodinculture.net The park, located near Sibelius Hall, the lake and the harbor, is an ongoing project. Currently one can visit the Illuminated Canopy (2005) by Kengo Kuma with its slatted wood top and side construction and nighttime illumination symbolizing the Aurora Borealis. Wooden Spiral (2006) by Richard Leplastrier consists of four blocks of stone topped by a spiraling grid of logs. Piano Pavilion (2008) by Gert Wingårdh resembles a ship about to be launched, celebrating the history of Lahti habor. Viewing Terrace by Peter Zumthor (2010) is a place from which to admire the view across Lake Vesijärvi.

 

For Aalto enthusiasts, 170 miles north of Helsinki there is the Alvar Aalto Museum, Alvar Aalon katu 7, Jyväskylä. www.alvaraalto.fi, a special museum of architecture founded in 1966 that is housed in a building designed by Aalto (1973) on a slope leading to Lake Jyväsjärvi.


 

Art Museums of note in and around Helsinki: Museum of Contemporary Art, Mannerheiminaukio 2, www.kiasma.fi. Ateneum Art Museum, Kaivokatu 2, www.ateneum.fi. Didrichsen Museum of Art and Sculpture Park, Kuusilahdenkuja 1, www.didrichsenmuseum.fi; Villa Gyllenberg, Kuusisaarenpolku 11, www.villagyllenbrg.fi. EMMA-Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Näyttelykeskus WeeGee, Ahertajantie 5, Espoo www.emma.museum

 

For Sibelius lovers - Jean Sibelius sites: Ainola, (Sibelius’s home) Ainolantie (www.ainola.fi). is in the Tuusula Lake Road Artists’ Community, around 30 minutes from Helsinki. Sibelius and his family lived in Ainola for more than 50 years. He and his wife are buried in the garden. Sibeliuksen Syntymäkoti (Birthplace of Sibelius), Hallituskatu 11, Hämeenlinna www.hameenlinna.fi/historiallinenmuseo. around 60 miles north of Helsinki. Sibelius was born in 1865 in a wooden house in the center of the town, which is now the museum. Sibelius Museum, Biskopsgatan 17, Åbo (Turku) www.sibeliusmuseum.abo.fi, around 100 miles northwest of Helsinki. The museum is devoted to music with exhibits on Sibelius’ life and work. The building, designed by Woldemar Baeckman and constructed of concrete, glass, with funnel-shaped pillars around an atrium garden, is itself architecturally interesting.

 

Opera in Helsinki (in addition to the Finnish National Opera)

The opening of the Musiikkitalo (Helsinki Music Center) in August 2011 brought the world premiere of Olli Kortekangas’s Yhden yön juttu (One Night Stand) in October 2011 by the Sibelius Academy, one of center’s resident companies. The Opera Skaala Kapsäkkia is a small adventurous company that commissions new Finnish Opera each season, performing in a variety of unique and challenging venues.

 

Practical Information for visiting Helsinki

 

Information on the World Design Capital 2012 (Ramander House, Aleksanterinkatu 16; www.wdchelsinki2012.fi.

How to get there: Fly British Airways (www.ba.com) to Helsinki’s International Airport (HEL). Bus service by Finnair Airport Bus into Helsinki leaves every 20 minutes with stops at the Central Railway Station and Scandic Continental Hotel. The cost is approx. €6.00 and takes 30 minutes. Taxis are quite expensive from the airport into town. Probably the most convenient way to get around Helsinki is to buy either a tourist ticket (www.hkl.fi) for unlimited travel on public transportation or the Helsinki Card (www.helsinkiexpert.com) for both unlimited travel on public transportation and entrance to museums, and discounts on tickets to the opera and symphony, restaurants, shopping, car rentals, and tours.

Suggested Reading: on Finland: Portraying Finland: Facts and Insights (Otava Publishing), Find Out about Finland (Otava Publishing); on Finnish National Opera: 100 Years Finnish National Opera (100th Anniversary souvenir book); Finnish Opera by Pekka Kako (Finnish Music Information Center) on internet at http://www.fimic.fi/contemporary/opera; Oopperatalo (The Opera House) editor Tapani Eskola, Kustannus Oy Projektilehti Publisher,1995 in English, Finnish, German. An illustrated book on the architecture and construction of Helsinki’s Opera House. Recommended DVD: excellent FNO performance of the Finnish opera, The Red Line.

 

For more information, contact the Helsinki Tourist & Convention Bureau, Pohjoisesplanadi 19, email: tourist.info@hel.fi. www.visithelsinki.fi

Grand Opera House, Wilmington, Delaware
Set for Semiramide, Delaware Opera Festival
Lindsay Ohse, Semaramide
Aleksandra Romano  (Arsace)
Cenerentola
Don Magnifico's livingroom 
Sean Anderson (Dandini) Young-Bok Kim (Alidoro) Megan Marino (Cenerentola) Jennifer Cherest (Clorinda) Alexandra Rodrick (TIsbe) Steven Condy (Don Magnifico)
StormScene
Megan Marino,JackSwanson (Prince Ramiro)
credit above photos to Moonloop Photography 
Newmark Theater, Portland, Oregon
Tatiana recording love letter on audiotape (boom box)
Lensky watching Onegin flirting with Olga (Abigail Dock) 
Above Eugene Onegin Photos by Cory Weaver
Pillow Fight concluding Italiana in Algeri - photo James Daniel 
Royal Opera House, London, Facade
Royal Opera House banner
Detail of Royal Opera House facade
Posters for Lucia di Lammermoor
ROH - view towards stage
Grand Opera House, Wilmington, Delaware
Detail façade, Grand Opera House, Wilmington, Delaware
Grand Opera House auditorium
Grand Opera House, view toward stage and Amleto production
Auditorium ceiling of Grand Opera House, Wilmington
Grand Opera House auditorium detail of lighting
Auditorium of Grand Opera House, Wilmington
Below are pictures from Il Volo concert at Kennedy Center and of Il Volo
Better Gods photos by Scott Suchman
Rexford Tester as Lorrin Thurston, Timothy J. Bruno as Judge Albert Judd, Daryl Freedman as Queen Liliʻuokalani, Ariana Wehr as Kahua, and Hunter Enoch as James Miller
Timothy J. Bruno as Judge Albert Judd, Rexford Tester as Lorrin Thurston, and Daryl Freedman as Queen Liliʻuokalani
Daryl Freeman is Queen Lili'uokalami




The below photos are from the revised world premiere of Appomattox at the Kennedy Center and are by  Scott Suchman

Solomon Howard (Martin Luther King Jr.) Tom Fox (President Lyndon Johnson
David Pittsinger (Robert E. Lee)
Robert Baker (Edward Alexander) David Pittsinger (Robert Lee) Aleksey Bogdanov ( John Aaron Rawlins) Richard Paul Pink (Ulusses Grant)
Solomon Howard (MLK)
Appomattox
In the Penal Colony Photos by T.Charles Erickson. Yury Yanowsky (Man) rear. Neal Ferreira (Visitor) David McFerrin (Officer)
Neil Ferreira (Visitor)
Yanoswsky (Man) McFerrin (Officer)
From top: Man, Visitor, Officer
Sibelius Hall on Lake Vesijarvi evening.
Foyer Sibelius Hall during intermission.
Lake promenade outside Sibelius Hall during intermission.
View towards stage with Lahti Symphony Orchestra in Sibelius Hall
Awards for recordings received by Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Staircases leading up to auditorium's tiers
Music Institute recital
Room of Sibelius' birth.
Setting sun over Lake Vesijarvi. End of perfect Sibelius week.
Phillip Addis as Jaufre RUdel, troubour and Prince of Blaye and Erin Wall as Clemence, Countess of Libya
 Phillip Addis as Jaufre Rudel and Erin Wall as Clemence
Tamara Mumford as the Pilgrim and Phillip Addis as Jaufre Rudel
Erin Wall as Clemence, Countess of Libya
Tamara Mumford as the Pilgrim and Phillip Addis as Jaufre Rudel
Grand Theatre de Quebec, exterior
Auditorium of Grand Theatre de Quebec
Auditorium of Teatr Wielki, Poznan with singer in audience
"Nobles" singing amidst audience in auditorium
Halka, Zofia, and the mountain peasants
Halka (Magdalena Molendowska) and Jonek (Piotr Friebe)
Halka, Jonek, with the mountain peasants with masks
The Nobles: Zofia (Natalie Puczniewska) and Janusz (Bartlomiej Misiuda)
Adam and Eve  (Bartlomie Misiuda and Magdalena Wachowska) in Space Capsule landed on Mars

Adam and Eve in space capsule:greatest reality show ever

"Two flies in space capsule, Martyna Cymerman and Tomasz Raczkiewicz

Cross-dressed fly (counter-tenor Tomasz Raczkiewicz

The producer (Andrzej Ogorkiewcz)  cajoling the crowd.
Adam and Eve above in Space Capsule preparing for lift-off with producer below of greatest reality show ever
Producer of greatest reality show ever - Space Opera
Space Opera
Harrison Opera House, home of VIrginia Opera
Foyer of Harrison Opera House
Chandeliers of stacks of sandblasted acrylic disks connected by stainless steel rods in foyer of Harrison Opera House
Proscenium arch and stage of Harrison Opera House
Boxes in Harrison Opera House
King Kipperupus and erotic (dream) dancers from Cyberiada
Suspended mask with Queen Genius and percussion instrument - Cyberiada
Erotic dream acrobatics - Cyberiada
Constructor Trull with two suspended story telling masks and flying astronauts in background among percussion instruments
King Mandrillion with gray blow-up advisor and astronaut
King Mandrillion's subjects in identical boxes with Queen Genius in background.
Pseudo medieval knights
Views of Olavinlinna Castle, Savolinna Opera Festival and surroundings
Jan Hultin, SOF General Director at helm
Jan Hultin, Karyl Lynn, Artistic director of SOF,  Finnish Ambassador
Images from Helsinki
New Helsinki Music Center
Concert Hall in Music Center
Foyer in Music Center
Facade Opera House on Mannerheimintie
Opera House facade facing lake

Auditorium of Opera House

Art Work in Opera House
FInlandia Hall auditorium
Lahti - Sibelius Hall auditorium 
Lahti - lake in front of Sibelius Hall
Lahti Sibelius Hall foyer
Didrichsen Museum of Art and Sculpture Park

Hvittraskintie: house of Saarinen, Lindgren, Gesellius

View of lake from Hvittraskintie
New Music Center
Sonora Hall in Music Center
 One Night Stand - world premiere opera in Sonora Hall
One Night Stand