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Washington Nat'l Opera Fall 2004


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#1 DancingGiselle

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Posted 20 September 2004 - 05:51 PM

I don't post often on this site, but I do keep up (or at least, try to keep up) with the threads!

The Washington National Opera recently opened its 49th season with Giordano's "Andrea Chenier" and premiered its second fall production, Britten's "Billy Budd," last Saturday. I went to both performances and enjoyed both quite a bit. Since this is more (live) opera than I've seen in the past two years combined, I'd love to discuss them with any one who went or is just interested in hearing about them.

The Kennedy Center ballet season doesn't begin until early October, but I'm happy to keep myself occupied with opera until then!

#2 Helena

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Posted 23 September 2004 - 11:11 PM

I'm another one who doesn't post often, though I do read Ballet Talk. Since so far you've had no replies, which is a shame, I thought I would ask you to say more. I'm English, and a fan of Britten, so I'd be very interested to read what you made of Billy Budd. I've read a few reviews from the American papers online, and they seemed positive, all except one (can't remember what paper) which had no understandimg of it, it seemed to me.

The other opera you mention I know nothing about at all!

#3 Ed Waffle

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Posted 24 September 2004 - 04:13 AM

I haven't seen this production, but the buzz on the internet opera boards has been very positive, especially for Dwayne Croft as Billy and Samuel Ramey as Claggart. Croft has had quite a career at the Met since since he was in the Young Artist Program there in 1989. He was Billy in the 1997 "Live from Lincoln Center" broadcast, which may be available on DVD.

Ramey is a terrific bass-baritone who has sung many of the great Mozart, Rossini and Verdi roles in his long career. He may be particularly well suited to portray the evil Claggart, since he has specialized in playing the Devil in his various incarnations in works by Berlioz, Boito, Gounod, Stravinsky (Nick Shadow) and Meyerbeer. He has a CD and a traveling concert titled "Date with the Devil."

If you have seen "Billy Budd" in Geneva, London, Paris, Houston, L.A., Seattle or Dallas over the past few years you have probably seen this production--it is a very popular one that is used by many leading houses.

The pairing of Croft and Ramey is interesting--the casting for these two roles in the Britten masterpiece often is. Both are written for baritone, although Billy is a lyric baritone with some very high-lying passages. It was originally written for Peter Pears, Britten's lifelong companion who found it too high for comfort. Claggart is a bit lower and much darker, which suits Ramey, one of the great Grand Insquisitors ("Don Carlos") of our time. Interestingly enough, both have sung the title role in Mozart's "Don Giovanni".

DancingGiselle, I would like to read more of your reactions to the performance. You seem to have an advantage over everyone else on this board who would be interested in it--like me, for example. You were in the opera house and experienced it first hand and there are a lot of people who read "BalletTalk" who would be interested in your thoughts.

For what its worth, some of the negative criticism of both the opera itself and some of the portrayals of Billy are that he is simply too good to be true and that no human being, especially a sailor on a British warship in the 19th century, could be as pure as he is. I think that Britten followed the sense of the Melville novella quite closely and created a character for the stage that is much the same as Melville's Billy. He actually is too good to be true, an unsullied and unbroken spirit who is both better than but is destroyed by the all too human environment around him. Whether this also makes Billy something else--Christ figure, sacrificial lamb, etc.--is another matter entirely.

#4 Helena

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Posted 24 September 2004 - 07:27 AM

Thank you, Ed. I think Billy is one of Britten's "sullied innocence" figures, isn't he? I have read the Melville, and the opera seems to me to be quite close in spirit, though quite a few surface details are changed. Some people find it just too miserable, but actually it is as much about love as anything else.

Just one point - Pears was a tenor, and it was the part of Vere that was written for him - it was one of his favourite parts. Pears had exceptionally clear diction, and in those pre-subtitle days that was very useful for an opera where words count. The part of Budd was written with Geraint Evans in mind, and it was he who found it unsuitable for his voice though I can't remember whether he found it too high or too low. In the event the part was taken by an American, Theodor Uppman, who, Britten said at the time "certainly looked like Billy". (Theres actually a signed photo of him in the part for sale on eBay at the moment.)

#5 Farrell Fan

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Posted 24 September 2004 - 08:30 AM

The other opera you mention I know nothing about at all!

Umberto Giordano's "Andrea Chenier" is set at the time of the French Revolution. The title character was a real-life poet, although the opera libretto doesn't have mucn to do with real life. Since its La Scala premiere in 1896 (the U.S. premiere was the same year), it's been a staple of the Italian repertory and a favorite of Italian tenors in particular. (There are separate videos and DVDs of Chenier performances with two of "the three tenors" -- Carreras and Domingo.) My own favorite Chenier was the incomparable Franco Corelli. I'd love to hear about the Washington Opera production.

#6 Ed Waffle

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Posted 24 September 2004 - 03:34 PM

Just one point - Pears was a tenor, and it was the part of Vere that was written for him - it was one of his favourite parts.

And quite a point indeed! :blushing: A very good example of why not to write posts early in the morning before one's first 3 or 4 cups of coffee. :speechless:

And while I am using emoticons/smilies, I will drop in :FIREdevil: and :devil: to illustrate Ramey's favorite roles.


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