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It's a smash hit.............or at least so I predict.

I saw this newly commissioned opera Sunday afternoon (its 2nd performance). I was thrilled and captivated. The music is goregous, the poetic libretto sublime, the sets stunning, the philosophical meaning profound, the story rivetting, and the singers were fantastic (especially Kate Lindsey as the grown Amelia). This is the first opera that Speight Jenkins has produced in his illustrious 25 years career as General Director of the Seattle Opera. Kudos to this brilliant man who was willing to take such a risk. IMO, he can be proud.

Judging by the audience's reaction when the curtain went down (and the reactions of the crowded Q&A session afterwards), I'm not alone in thinking that a superb piece of new art has just seen the light of day. For those of us who are old enough to have lived through the Vietnam War era, this new opera is particularly moving. New operas don't come along very often, and even fewer last......I think Seattle's new opera "Amelia" just might be in that rarified company (composer = Daron Aric Hagen; director = Stephen Wadsworth; Libretto by Gardner McFall; designer = Thomas Lynch; conductor = Gerard Schwarz)

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I am going Saturday night, will try to take notes...

Hold on to your hat.....you will be going on an emotional roller-coaster: from deep sadness and shock to the elation of the human spirit unbounded. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it (I've been twice now and will go again next week).

P.S. And don't worry about the complexity of the plot (especially the shifting of time periods) like I did when I read the synopsis before the performance. It is all quite easy to follow in actual practise (of course reading the program can only help).

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saw this Saturday night. Dramatically I really enjoyed the book, with the layered themes of flight, humanity's tug of war between adventure / risk vs safety / familiarity, the greek myth of Icarus, and the main character's name sake Amelia Earhart. The set and lighting design were finely excuted, and the scenes in Vietnam were great.

What worked less for me was the music and the libretto. I am not a fan of late 20th century genre of opera, so I am probably the worst person to evaluate it. Behind me, a gentleman commented that the music never rose above the paint by numbers movie soundtrack that one forgets as soon as one leaves the theatre. Perhaps it would have been better if a more melodious composer were in charge. If the music is going to resemble a movie sound track, I would have had Ennio Moriccone, or Patrick Doyle. But I'm sure they're a little rich for Seattle Opera's blood.

I would have liked this story better with a traditional rhyming libretto. Much of the libretto was banal and I was disappointed. The vietnamese was well sung (I took conversational vietnamese, so I understand a little). That said, English never sounds as good in the Opera genre as Italian. Something about the way the romance language rolls when sung...

Often the opera told multiple stories in the same scene with time shifting (there is a dramaturge word for this, but it escapes me) but I found it confusing, and it was over used, and not always necessary.

One niggling problem with suspension of disbelief / dramatic license: the "mad scene" is sung with the wife entering the husband's workplace, where he is involved in top secret planning. No way in hell she would be allowed inside, such places are guarded by multiple stops with security guards, screening with badges, etc.

The book would have worked great as a drama on broadway, I'm hoping Tony Kushner or Terrance McNally takes it on at some point. The themes are fascinating, the staging was brilliant, but the libretto and music were uninspired. JMTC.

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Behind me, a gentleman commented that the music never rose above the paint by numbers movie soundtrack that one forgets as soon as one leaves the theatre.

I can't imagine a more ridiculoous statement. Richard Wagner is widely seen as the composer who invented the kinds of themes and orchestration that eventually lead to movie sound tracks. Puccini is also often seen in this light. It's pretty hard to fathom a description of Wagner or Puccini music as "paint by numbers". My suspicion is that whoever said this ridiculous comment is a lover of bel canto opera and sees anything that doesn't sound like Rossini or Donizetti to be "not-opera". Personally, my guess is that anyone who doesn't love Wagner and especially Richard Strauss is not going to like this music. Influences of both Wagner and Strauss, without being derivative, can be heard everywhere in this opera.

Perhaps it would have been better if a more melodious composer were in charge.

I must say this is puzzling to me. Hagan's score is chock full of melodies (far more than say Wagner would have). True they usually come in short bits (but not always....take Jane Eaglen's long aria based on the Navy Hymn for example), and not easily whistled on the way home perhaps, but Hagan's score is one of the most melodious I've ever heard in a modern opera.

Much of the libretto was banal and I was disappointed.

Amazing. I found the libretto to be perhaps the most beautifully poetic (and most definitely non-banal) I have ever heard in any opera regardless of era. Normally I am 70% about the music and 30% about the words. This is the first opera I have ever heard where I actually loved the words as much as the music (perhaps even more than the music). Indeed, probably the comment I have heard more than any other regarding "Amelia" is how strikingly beautiful the words are, and the depth of the themes of human experience it explores.

Oh well, that's art for you....what you love, I may hate. Perhaps this opera doesn't appeal to a huge percentage of the audience, I don't know, but judging from the superlative comments I've heard in both the Q&As I have attended (I will go to a 3rd tomorrow night), this opera will have an devoted audience (I even heard one lady call it the most beautiful and moving opera she had ever seen).

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Ah well, to each his/her own. I doubt the gentleman behind me was unfamiliar with Wagner, this is Seattle Opera, after all! e

perhaps the dramatic theme of risk / reward also holds true for commissioning new operas. Sometimes Seattle audiences are accused of the "cheap standing O" - meaning they will jump out of their seats for just about anything. I don't think it was the case for Amelia. The response was may 1/3 standing, the rest standard seated clapping at the end.

The Crosscut reviewer probably best expressed my own sentiments:

The music (with one great, soaring exception) is the least memorable part of the production.
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I was not looking forward to "Amelia" not because it was new -- I've traveled for modern and contemporary opera, as recently as earlier in the month to see "Moby Dick", and I loved "Mourning Becomes Elektra" and "The End of the Affair" -- but because the plot reminded me of a story I'd expect to read in "Ladies Home Journal". I wasn't expecting the libretto, which wasn't flawless, but very strong, to be stronger than the music.

As someone who generally likes linear, I also wasn't expecting to particularly like the structure of layering simultaneous scenes, but I thought it worked clearly and succinctly in dramatic terms, both in differentiating the various individual times the story took place -- example: young Amelia talking to her father and her mother receiving the news that her father, Dodge, was missing -- and the multi-layered attitudes towards flight and risk. Although the cost of war to the family was shown clearly both in the loss of Dodge and the blackmail and killing of a young Vietnamese child, the gray was the tension between the cost of ambition, risk, and exploration that flight represented -- the Aviator's most memorable line was "I was never bored" -- and the sacrifices to be safe. Dodge's duty in the military is to accept whatever mission he is given, but that he liked to fly and that he chose another tour of duty, despite the risks to his family, are the underlying sources of this tension and the moral dilemma, at least for his family.

I loved the way the narrative was done in the scene that ended the first act, in which Amelia and her mother go to Vietnam in the '80's, having received communication from people who were there when Dodge was shot and taken away still alive. From there, instead of dialogue, Dodge's capture in the '60's was enacted, and the transitions in and out of the '60's were seamless.

The libretto was poetic, but where it did go to rhyme, I thought it was weakest. The sentimentality of the final scene of Amelia's child's birth, complete with her dead father and mother and her younger self, was leavened by the contrast in the hospital room next door, where a father watched his son, who had taken what turned to be a fatal fall, die, and the aftermath in mime: the return of the son's belongings, the minister, the hospital admin who was filing the paperwork, the nurse who plopped down to read a newspaper a half dozen chairs away, until she acknowledged his existence. This contrasting scene, enacted by the gifted young baritone Jordan Birsch, was great theater. Plus, the opera had a "Letter Scene" and a "Mad Scene"!

Apart from some parts that reminded me of Broadway, I missed where the music was particularly influenced by anyone. Gerard Schwarz, conducted the music brilliantly, as if this were a score he had known for decades. I was aware of how the orchestra was very "live" when it was playing, but apart from the orchestral interludes and Amelia's mad scene, as well as several a capella passages, none of the music was memorable, and I was more affected by the drama.

The women's voices were beautifully suited to the material: Ashley Emerson as Young Amelia, Jane Eaglen as Dodge's sister/Amelia's aunt, Luretta Bybee as Amelia's mother, Jennifer Zetlan as The Aviator, and especially Kate Lindsey, whose singing and acting were of one piece, and who nailed her mad scene. The men were weaker; Nathan Gunn was barely audible from where I was sitting in the Gallery Upper, which isn't that far from the stage, unless the orchestra was playing very softly.

The exception was the stellar William Burden, whose clear diction and honeyed, clear singing were the vocal highlights of the opera.

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Hello Helene,

I agree with a great deal of what you say about this opera. I wasn't expecting that because you and I often have very different opinions about new work (altho we almost always agree on the caliber of the performers). Bottom line: it doesn't appear that you think this opera has staying power, whereas I do.

I see Kate Lindsey impressed both of us immensely in her ability to create character so powerfully (not to mention her fabulous singing). I'm 100% with you on William Burden.....there is something I can't pin-point (but no doubt you can with your incredible ear) that captures me every time his voice raises up and pierces the air -- for example, in the last scene during the nontet when he wanders stage right removing his scrub hat comes to my mind. Like you, I was amazed how well the non-linear plot line worked -- I give credit to the director and lighting designer for that. You say "Gerard Schwarz, conducted the music brilliantly". I couldn't agree more. The orchestra positively sparkled. I understand that Schwarz has a particular passion for new music, so perhaps that is the source of his clear commitment to this music. The percussion and horns were particularly prominent, difficult, and superbly played I thought.

Interesting that you and I both loved the "I was never bored" line. I thought it the philosophical climax of the opera. The line doesn't sound like much isolated as it is in this paragraph, but in context of the overall interrelated themes of the opera, I thought it exceedingly powerful. Indeed, and as you know, I am in the midst of radically changing my lifestyle over the coming months, and that line spoke directly to me to have the courage to take the risk ("the risk is worth the love") in order to claim a life where I can each day say "I was never bored".

You say:

....apart from the orchestral interludes and Amelia's mad scene, as well as several a capella passages, none of the music was memorable, and I was more affected by the drama....

and I can't strongly disagree (especially since you excepted the orchestral interludes), but I will submit to you that it perhaps was the music that had you be so affected by the drama. I thought the music was particularly effective at creating drama in this opera (as it does in all opera of course).

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Yes, I heard Jenkins talk about this at a Q&A. He said there was a real possibility that this could happen. I don't remember if he said it would be the entire opera or just a compilation of the orchestral interludes (both possibilities were mentioned). At the time I wondered if Seattle Symphony might have the connections to get this done given Schwarz's involvement. Noramlly Speight always says "not possible" when asked about CD's of operas that the SO does.

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I just read an interesting review of "Amelia" by Anne Midgett (dated today) in her blog at The Washington Post:


Her main criticism of the opera was "Wadsworth’s relentless realism." I hadn't heard this before from Hagen (but I may have not been paying close enough attention):

Hagen ultimately felt that “Amelia” was a wonderful experience, but at first he says he “bitterly” resisted the literal direction in which Wadsworth wanted to take it. “Once I wrapped my head around it,” he said, “it became a metaphor for everything in my life I needed to get my head around: collaboration, getting out of the way, acknowledging that there are people out there who are linear thinkers. Just shut up, listen, do your job. And everything flowed out of that.”
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I believe Wadsworth is well known for his "relentless realism". I've heard more than one singer or artist comment on his obessive attention to detail. But I, for one, like this quality of his. I like how every move and expression seems motivated by nathural human reactions. The artists may complain about "too many takes", but they all seem to respect Wadsworth for his commitment, and like Hagan in the quote you give, eventually come around to appreciating the result that come from his apparently cast iron mind. I must repectfully disagree with Anne Midgett on this point.

(BTW, I did hear someone, at one of the pre- or post-lectures during the run, speak humorously of Hagan's epiphany on the benefits of Wadsworth's style....indeed, if I remember correctly the comment may even have come from Hagan himself.)

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