Saturday, April 12, 2014

Show Me The Way to the Next Pretty Opera



Opera Parallèle presented a preview on Wednesday evening of their upcoming avant-garde chamber opera production, a mashup of Kurt Weill's Mahagonny Songspiel and Francois Poulenc's 1947 Les Mamelles des Tirésias. Singers from the show, including present and past Adler fellows Hadleigh Adams and Renee Rapier above, sang selections in German and English (Mahagonny) and French (Tirésias), offering a taste of a rich, extravagant stew.



Conductor Nicole Paiement, above, took the audience through the various musical styles in the two pieces, which range from Weimar Germany era cabaret to French vaudeville and lyric grand opera.



She explained the concept of sprechgesang, where the text is spoken on certain musical pitches, which provides a striking contrast when the performer suddenly bursts into a sung lyrical refrain. As an example, Renee Rapier and Rachel Schutz above spoke/sang Weill's The Alabama Song that became a hit for Jim Morrison and The Doors in the 1960s with its "Oh, show me the way to the next whiskey bar/pretty boy/little dollar" chorus. In its original incarnation, the song is both sarcastic and potently beautiful.



In collaboration with Bertolt Brecht and Elisabeth Hauptmann, Weill wrote the "dramatic cantata" Mahagonny in 1927, one of his first forays into the melding of classical and popular music that characterized his career. The original piece was supplanted by the full-length "epic opera," The Rise and Fall of The City of Mahagonny in 1930, which was promptly banned by Hitler's government, and which is still only fitfully revived. Hearing the original Songspiel is a rare treat. (Pictured above is baritone Daniel Cilli who like everyone else in the show is cast in multiple parts.)



The production follows a theater troupe crossing a desert in a dystopian future, where overpopulation and its consequent depletion of every natural resource has left the world in a serious mess. Instead of a circus wagon, these modern gypsies are pulling a beached boat on wheels which turns into a theater where they perform the opera-within-an-opera, Les Mamelles des Tirésias, for a nomadic desert tribe. The latter piece is taken from Guillaume Apollinaire's 1903 surrealist play that is a riot of gender swapping, word play, and absurdist babymaking. Cast members at the preview above are (left to right) Hadleigh Adams, Renee Rapier, Andreas Ramirez standing in for Thomas Glenn, Daniel Cilli, Gabriel Preisser, Rachel Schutz and John Bischoff standing in for Aleksey Bogdanov.



There are also four ancient supernumerary roustabouts with the troupe that include yours truly, Mike Harvey and Charlie Lichtman above. We were at our first rehearsal last night and the sensurround singing and music was so good it just about knocked us over. This is going to be a very interesting, musically beautiful show, and you shouldn't miss it. There are three performances on Friday, April 25th, Saturday, April 26th and a Sunday matinee on April 27th at the LAM Research Theater at Yerba Buena. You can buy tickets online by clicking here, or call the Yerba Buena box office at (415) 978-2787, or go to the box office in person at 700 Howard Street to avoid annoying ticket fees. For a special Civic Center blog 10% off, use the code DISC.

7 comments:

janinsanfran said...

Your supernumerary pictures are always a delight!

Michael Strickland said...

Then I'll be sure to take some. We're rehearsing next weekend in the old Palace of Fine Arts theatre with the huge boat prop onstage, which should be a kick.

Axel Feldheim said...

The boat! I should attend that open rehearsal next week to see this beast. Based on the preview, it's going to be an interesting & beautifully sung show.

Michael Strickland said...

Dear Axel: It's impossible to predict if something's going to be fabulous or not, but there are a lot of good indicators so far. Principally, the music is so good in both pieces, and the German/French vernacular of the between-wars period is a really interesting musical mix. Can't decide which I'm preferring, the Weill or Poulenc.

Hattie said...

Damon.I am so jealous. I would love to have experiences like this!

Hattie said...

Pardon the above autocorrect. Should be "Damn!"

Michael Strickland said...

Dear Hattie: I rather loved "Damon" as a new oath.