A Cinderella That Creates Genuine Magic

Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, Opera del West performance of Jules Massenet’s Cendrillon. Music by Jules Massenet, Libretto by Henri Cain. Artistic Director: Eve Kochen Budnick. Stage Director: Rebecca Kratzer. Cendrillon: Jennifer Jaroslavsky; Prince Charmant: JoAnna Pope; Pandolfe: Craig Juricka; Madame de la Haltiere: Suzanna Guzman; La Fee: Sulgi Cho.

August 11, 2019

Kudos to Eve Budnick, Artistic Director for Opera del West’s Boston Plaza Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts in the South End! She performed miracles in such a small performance space, turning it into a magical version of Jules Massenet’s opera, Cendrillon (Cinderella). The production included hefty vocal work by Craig Juricka as Pandolfe and Suzanna Guzman as Cinderella’s conniving mother. Jennifer Juroslavsky was stunning as Cinderella, based on her wide ranging mezzo and emotionally nuanced performance. Her pairing with JoAnna Pope as Prince Charming was splendid, particularly in the second half, when these two marvelous mezzo-sopranos came together. There was excellent choreography in this production by a set of wide ranging young women who imparted this tiny stage with a sylvan atmosphere. Such a fairytale-like quality was a large part of Massenet’s frame of reference and it lended excellence. The use of broad-based humor when appropriate (such as the scene with drunken sisters at the ball) kept the opera light.

Cendrillon included a spectacular South Korean lyric coloratura soprano, Sulgi Cho, as the fairy wielding a goodly amount of power over the fairy tale. Her soprano voice had a high tessitura and seemed pretty effortless most of the time. Her excellent makeup and costume made her look suitably otherworldly.

On a personal note, I think it’s a real shame that superb groups like Opera del West are limited to such tiny spaces that do not fully allow the dancers to be graceful and the opera singers to really let loose when the librettos require. However, such limitations will not prevent me from going back to future productions. I expect them to contain just as much magic as this one does.

The Straz Presents La Bohème

Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème started with a feud between him and fellow composer Ruggero Leoncavallo, who’d composed the immortal Pagliacci (1892).

La Bohème. Maestro: Anthony Barrese. Singers: Raquel González (Mimi), Todd Wilander (Rodolfo), Ashley Kerr (Musetta), Keith Harris (Marcello), Jean Carlos Rodriguez (Schaunard) and Lawson Anderson (Colline). Opera Tampa Orchestra and Chorus.

Original Poster

Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème started with a feud in the early 1890’s between him and fellow composer Ruggero Leoncavallo, who’d composed the immortal Pagliacci (1892). At that time this short opera was better than anything Puccini had written, including his earnest yet muddled Manon Lescaut (1893). So Leoncavallo was no slouch and definitely a formidable competitor. Nevertheless, Puccini’s La Bohème prevailed and quickly became one of the immortals in the repertoire while Leoncavallo’s version, although successful in its day, sunk into obscurity and is rarely performed today.

Why?

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STOP TYPING!

The beauty of a how-to book is not just that it teaches you what you know nothing about, but also that it nudges you back toward something you have known about but never tried.

STOP TYPING!: Write Better with Speech Recognition Speech-to-Text Software! by Keith Connes. $.99 (or free with Kindle Unlimited via Amazon).

Had I read this book six months ago, it would’ve saved me at least six hours of labor. I was writing an article that initially involved recording a phone conversation. I then had to transcribe that conversation with my nimble fingertips. Had I known more about Dragon NaturallySpeaking software, I would have not spent so much time transcribing. Continue reading “STOP TYPING!”

Review of John Coltrane’s Both Directions at Once

Here’s my review of a Blu-ray recording of John Coltrane’s “lost album,” Both Directions at Once, as it appears in Audiophile Audition (www.audaud.com).

 

Coltrane: Both Directions at Once

I don’t get to say these words very often: here’s a review of the latest killer John Coltrane album!
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“. . . the Twist, the Stomp, the Mash Potato too . . .”

Chris Montez1 had it right. “Any old dance that you wanna do.” When I was 13 at Holton-Richmond Junior High2, attending class in wooden desks with dried-up ink wells, I used to go to the school dances that happened third Friday each month. They were called “mixers,” because that’s what the girls and boys were supposed to do. Mix with adults gaping on. Of course not many of us did. The concept of a sock hop, with minimal supervision and an outta sight disk jockey, was yet to be in Danvers, Massachusetts. Continue reading ““. . . the Twist, the Stomp, the Mash Potato too . . .””

The Adventure of My Last Job Interview

To find out how I answered this, the trickiest of all job interview questions, read the following short story, which I had gotten published twenties years previously.

My last job interview occurred at Cisco Systems. I’d been working as a contractor, and soon afterwards was offered a “permanent position.” I walked into the HR office and was greeted by a chirpy young woman, perhaps in her late twenties. After some pleasantries, she settled down to serious interviewing. Continue reading “The Adventure of My Last Job Interview”

The Sarasota Opera’s Manon Lescaut: Handling a Flawed Masterpiece

Much creativity and planning went into the Sarasota Opera’s stage settings, casting, and musical conducting.

Manon and Des Grieux in the Louisiana Desert

Manon Lescaut: Sandra López; the Chevalier Des Grieux: Matthew Vickers; Lescaut: Filippo Fontana; Geronte: Costas Tsourakis; Conductor: Victor DeRenzi; Stage Director: Stephanie Sundine; Scenic Designer: David P. Gordon; Costume Designer: Howard Tsvi Kaplan; Lighting Designer: Ken Yunker; Chorus Master: Roger L. Bingaman

Giacomo Puccini’s Manon Lescaut (1894) had much going against it from the start. His previous operas had been lukewarm forays, not exactly successes. A previous (and successful) version, Manon, had been completed just 10 years previous by Jules Massenet. Puccini kept changing librettists and in the end nobody even wanted their name on the opening program. He pared down the plot of Abbé Prévost’s novel Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut so much that even today, audiences scratch their heads over its awkward transitions and strange omissions. For some reason, he concentrates all of the gaiety in acts one and two, and all of the gloom in acts three and four.

But in the end, very little of this matters. Nineteenth century operas are rarely strong arguments for sterling plot creation. Later in life, Puccini did improve significantly, as any opera fan can see from his last and greatest opera Turandot (that of Luciano Berio’s ending, not Franco Alfano’s). The Sarasota Opera performance dives gleefully into ML’s optimistic first act and beautifully conveys the spirit of youthful infatuation. As Des Grieux, Matthew Vickers pours out his feelings beautifully in the famous soliloquy “Donna non vidi mai,” made famous by Enrico Caruso and attempted by every other tenor since. As Manon Lescaut, Sandra López sings her brilliant and joyous aria while living with the libertine Geronte,“Lora, or Tirsi.” The audience suddenly senses it’s not going to go on forever.

Much creativity and planning went into the three stage settings. While done in period style, the opening village street scene is kinetic rather than static, buzzing with life, and the resulting intrigue is exciting from the start. In Act II, as Manon luxuriates in her mansion with Geronte, the very walls cry out “nobility.” But the final act in the Louisiana desert (don’t ask how they got there) is most stunningly well designed. A huge twisted fallen tree in the foreground underscores the twists and turns that their love affair has taken and contrasts with the gloriously ruddy sunset behind them. Dense emotional expression is reached in the final duet between Manon and Des Grieux. In “Tutta su me ti sposa,” Manon succumbs to grief and despair, realizing how her selfishness has brought tragedy upon her and her lover. As Geronte, Costas Tsourakis is the right kind of vile and cursed scoundrel. Filippo Fontana’s Lescaut is convincing as an unreliable ally, shifting his loyalties back and forth.

The orchestra – through the tidy wand of conductor Victor DeRenzi – showed its skill in the Act III instrumental “Intermezzo,” which is one of Manon Lescaut’s most unusual features. Why does it even exist? Good question. Some believe that it abstractly conveys Manon’s sentencing and her transportation to Le Havre. Seems plausible. Toward its conclusion it grows tempestuous and seems to careen toward disaster. But it avoids tragedy and lulls us with a descending motif that deceptively shimmers with hope. However, as clever as the device is, it’s a bit subtle for the uninitiated. In later years, Puccini made sparse use of such lofty intermezzi (Suor Angelica, 1918). Perhaps he realized that straight plotting conveyed emotions more efficiently?

So is Manon Lescaut “grand opera?” Not quite. But parts of it are pretty good. In focusing on the show’s highlights, like the inherent spectacle of the lovers’ plight, the Sarasota Opera made us realize that its cracks & flaws, Puccini’s youthful “experiments,” were not really that big a deal.