Both productions of the Peabody Opera Theatre this year are comedies, but both also have serious dimensions. Mozart wrote Così fan tutte on the most absurd of premises, yet the opera can reveal uncomfortable truths about the relations between the sexes. Johann Strauss may have filled Die Fledermaus with the nostalgia of old Vienna, and its plot could outdo any French farce, yet it could not have been written without experience of the pains and well as the joys of marriage. Transformations, this year’s chamber opera at Theatre Project, is ostensibly a series of Grimm fairy tales set to catchy jazz-inflected music by Conrad Susa, yet the poetry by Anne Sexton is the bitter testament of a tormented mind. The three one-act French operas in our October program have no such shadows, though, and our run-out production Papageno! is an adaptation of The Magic Flute shorn of its Masonic seriousness. But the Opera Etudes program of new operas that ends the year will doubtless contain both comedy and drama, according to the individual inspiration of the various composers.
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One-act Operas in FrenchFriedberg Hall, October 19
A trio of one-act operas in French, by composers of different nationalities. Rameau’s erotic myth Adonis (1748), about the irresistable love of Venus for a handsome youth, is a co-production with the Early Music Department, accompanied by an instrumental ensemble under the direction of Adam Pearl. Rounding out the program are two operas sung with piano accompaniment. Gluck’s L’ivrogne corrigé (1760), is a farce in which a drunken tyrant gets sobered up as the result of a “hellish” experience conjured up by his much put-upon womenfolk. In Donizetti’s Rita (1860), two men fight for the privilege of not remaining married to the title character! This lively comedy shows the composer’s mature style in miniature. The operas are directed by Roger Brunyate. Admission is free.
Peabody Opera Outreach
Outreach performances, November through April
Throughout the year, the Peabody Opera offers condensed versions of well-known operas, complete with scenery and costumes, for performance in Maryland schools, including pro bono performances at Peabody itself. This year’s presentation is a 50-minute version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, in an English adaptation by Roger Brunyate, that tells the story from the point of view of its chief comic character. It will be prepared by Eileen Cornett, and staged by Jennifer Blades.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s
Così fan tutteFriedberg Hall, November 19–22
Premiered in 1790, Così fan tutte was the last of three operas that Mozart wrote with the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. Its premise is the stuff of a smoking-room joke: two young men set out to prove the fidelity of their fiancées by pretending to be called away, only to return in disguise to woo the opposite women. But soon real emotions come into play, resulting in some very uncomfortable lessons about love and honesty. This is an opera that absolutely benefits from being performed by singers of an age to be working through such lessons in their own lives, training together over a long period to do justice to the musical ensembles that are the glory of this score. The opera will be performed in Italian, with supertitles. JoAnn Kulesza conducts the Peabody Symphony Orchestra, and the stage direction is by guest artist A. Scott Parry.
TransformationsTheatre Project, February 18–21
Shortly before she took her own life in 1975, poet Anne Sexton collaborated with composer Conrad Susa in bringing her collection, Transformations, to the musical stage. Her sources were the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, familiar and not so familiar. Why “Transformations”? Sexton’s characters, like their originals, are transformed by the powers of magic, whether good or more frequently malevolent. The stories themselves are transformed to reflect the flip contemporary sensibility of the television sitcom and the movies. On a deeper level yet, Transformations refers to the many aspects of being a woman, and in particular to the tormented struggle with her own demons that formed the script for Anne Sexton’s life and the key to her death. Fittingly, for Sexton herself used to tour with a rock band, Conrad Susa’s music refers to a wide range of popular styles, yet he has moments of ravishing lyricism that are entirely operatic. This new production of a work last presented by the Peabody in 1999 will be directed by Jennifer Blades and conducted by JoAnn Kulesza. It marks yet another in the series of challenging contemporary music dramas that the Peabody Chamber Opera has staged at Theatre Project over the past decade.
Die FledermausFriedberg Hall, March 10–13
Die Fledermaus, or “The Bat,” the work that surely defines the entire genre of Viennese operetta, actually began as a stage play by Meilhac and Halévy, Offenbach’s librettists. Nevertheless, this Parisian origin did not prevent Johann Strauss from putting his personal stamp on the piece, with a score in which almost every number seems infused with the spirit of dance: polka, galop, czardas, and of course the waltz. The situation of Così fan tutte is taken several steps further here, with husbands and wives, mistresses and maids, donning disguise for brief flirtations beyond the bonds of marriage, but there is sadness amidst the gaiety, and a wordly wisdom that returns with the light of day. Whatever the period in which it is set (and this has yet to be determined), this is an opera that is timeless, since it springs from long experience of the joy and pain of marriage. The opera will be performed in English. Hajime Teri Murai conducts the Peabody Concert Orchestra, and the stage director and designer is Roger Brunyate..
Peabody Opera Workshop
Friedberg Hall, May 4
The Peabody Opera Workshop presents another evening of new operas by Peabody student composers in its ground-breaking program of Opera Etudes. The unique aspect of this process is that the operas are written from the beginning in collaboration with the singers who will perform in them, and their texts are based on dramatic improvisations by the performers before a note of music has been composed. The half-dozen scenes will be staged by Roger Brunyate, and student directors Jon Carter, Stephanie Miller, Andrew Sauvageau, and William Schaller.