Saturday, January 21, 2012

Opera Feast at Mark Mandel's home

While attending Seattle Opera last weekend, I talked with fellow critic Mark Mandel, who writes for Opera News. Mark told me about the ongoing opera series in which the public is invited to come to his home to watch opera DVDs on his large screen TV. You are also invited to bring a vegetarian dish to the days in which a potluck is scheduled.

Here's the invitation from Mark with his schedule of operas. His contact information is at the end of the posting.


Welcome to the season’s second half! We mark the Massenet death centenary with three of his operas: Manon, Werther and Thaïs. Sunday matinee options exist for Werther and Atys, which along with Jenůfa are the greatest performances here. Saturdays: dinner at 5, intro at 5:45, show at 6:15. Sundays: lunch at noon, intro at 12:45, show at 1:15. Show lengths and estimated finish times are given. Bring friends!

Sat., Jan. 28, 5 p.m. Vegetarian potluck. 129 min./8:49

LA FINTA SEMPLICE – Mozart was 12 when he composed this farcical, somewhat bawdy opera buffa about a “pretend simpleton” who feigns simplicity to further the amorous designs of herself and others. Outdoors in the Residenzhof at the Salzburg Festival, it gets a spiffy white-and-red staging by director Joachim Schlömer and designer Jens Kilian. In the title role, Malin Hartelius is exquisite, enchanting, superb. She is ably backed by singers Josef Wagner, Matthias Klink, Marina Comparato, Silvia Moi, Jeremy Ovenden, Miljenko Turk, actress Marianne Hamre and dancer Anna Tenta. Michael Hofstetter conducts the spirited Camerata Salzburg.

Sat., Feb. 4, 5 p.m. Vegetarian potluck. 145 min./9:05

MADAMA BUTTERFLY – Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s film of Puccini’s opera delves the minds of Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton, both victims, revealing their hopes and fears; the action unfolds as their dream/nightmare. Musically, none of Butterfly’s many recordings beats this one. Herbert von Karajan’s protracted pacing and wide dynamics yield strong climaxes, magnificently executed by the Vienna Philharmonic. Mirella Freni’s lovely, vulnerable Cio-Cio-San and Plácido Domingo’s unusually sympathetic Pinkerton get top support from Christa Ludwig’s exemplary Suzuki, Robert Kerns’ sensitive Sharpless and Michel Sénéchal’s oily Goro.

Sat., Feb. 18, 5 p.m. Mark cooks. 175 min./9:55

MANON – Little is more French than Massenet’s opera about a girl torn between love of luxury and the love of a fervent chevalier whose better sense and religious calling can’t prevent his being dragged down with her. A French Manon is a big plus, and Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu has one in Natalie Dessay, whose acting and singing are finely nuanced. Her passionate Des Grieux is the intense Rolando Villazón. David McVicar’s detailed, unsentimental staging stresses the 18th century’s seamy, mercenary side and vividly evokes the era. Manuel Lanza, Francisco Vas, Didier Henry and Samuel Ramey are in the cast. Victor Pablo Pérez conducts.

Sat., Feb. 25, 5 p.m. & Sun., Feb. 26, noon. Vegetarian potlucks. 161 min./9:21 & 4:21

WERTHER – Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther inspired a wave of suicides and Massenet’s best opera. No finer lyric tenor and lyric mezzo roles exist than poetic Werther and his beloved, unattainable Charlotte. For Opéra National de Paris at Opéra Bastille, Jonas Kaufmann and Sophie Koch are emotionally overwhelming, staggeringly superb. Ludovic Tézier is ideal as Charlotte’s husband Albert; Anne-Catherine Gillet is winsome as her sister Sophie. Conductor Michel Plasson expansively, expertly draws out the score’s beauty. One of the greatest stage performances triumphs over stage director Benoît Jacquot’s sometimes-goofy video direction.

Sat., March 10, 5 p.m. Vegetarian potluck. 138 min./8:58

THAÏS – Massenet’s opera sets Anatole France’s tale of ships passing in the night: the courtesan Thaïs treks from worldly Alexandria to desert convent and to God, guided by the monk Athanaël, who drifts from ascetic Cenobite order into the thrall of carnal passion. For Venice’s Teatro La Fenice (at Teatro Malibran during La Fenice’s reconstruction), Eva Mei and Michele Pertusi are the rare Thaïs and Athanaël who are believable at each step of their journeys – and sing strongly too. Director/designer Pier Luigi Pizzi tells the story clearly, stressing not the obvious contrasts but the similarity of sexual and religious fervor. Marcello Viotti conducts.

Sat., March 17, 5 p.m. Vegetarian potluck. 155 min./9:15

SEMELE – Handel’s sensual/sublime music and Congreve and Pope’s rich poetry treat the myth of ambitious Semele, ardent Jupiter and jealous Juno. Great arias abound: “Endless pleasure,” “Iris, hence away!” “O sleep, why dost thou leave me?” “Where’er you walk,” “Myself I shall adore” and many more. Zurich Opera teams three reliably terrific artists in conductor William Christie, director Robert Carsen and singer Cecilia Bartoli, a scintillating Semele. Charles Workman and Birgit Remmert head a good supporting cast. Add strong work by Zurich Opera’s chorus and period orchestra La Scintilla and spare, stylish, elegant Patrick Kinmonth designs.

Sat., April 7, 5 p.m. Vegetarian potluck. 118 min./8:13

JENŮFA – Janáček’s masterpiece is a searing music drama of passion, jealousy, betrayal, infanticide, guilt, forgiveness and the transfiguring power of love. In an outwardly bucolic but morally stifling Czech village, repressed emotion erupts like a volcano. The luminous, febrile music glows and burns like lava. Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s superbly taut Glyndebourne Festival staging has an excellent cast headed by Roberta Alexander’s tender Jenůfa, Anja Silja’s haunted Kostelnička, Philip Langridge’s intense Laca and Mark Baker’s driven Števa. The London Philharmonic conducted by Andrew Davis plays as if possessed; the tension never sags.

Sat., April 14, 5 p.m. Vegetarian potluck. 141 min./9:01

DIE GEZEICHNETEN – The title of Schreker’s gorgeous, disturbing opera refers both to artists’ models and to those branded by fate. An ugly man craves beauty and creates an idyllic grotto where, to his horror, others seduce and rape women and girls. A beautiful “painter of souls” with a heart defect paints his portrait; he falls for her, but a rival vows to take her by force. Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s Salzburg Festival staging takes place on a toppled, broken statue of a woman. Robert Brubaker, Anne Schwanewilms, Michael Volle, Robert Hale and Wolfgang Schöne head a strong cast. Kent Nagano leads the plush Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin.

Sat., April 21, 5 p.m. Mark cooks. 196 min./9:56

THE CORONATION OF POPPEA – In Monteverdi’s amoral, unsettling masterpiece, Emperor Nero orders the death of his mentor Seneca and the exile of his wife Octavia and crowns as empress the courtesan Poppea. Robert Carsen’s incisive, brilliant Glyndebourne Festival staging in modern dress stars Danielle de Niese as a ravishing, riveting Poppea and Alice Coote as a ruthless, lava-voiced Nero. Tamara Mumford, Iestyn Davies, Marie Arnet, Paolo Battaglia, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Dominique Visse and more add strong support. Emmanuelle Haïm extracts vibrant, beautiful playing from the period Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Sat., April 28, 5 p.m. Vegetarian potluck. 148 min./9:08

DIALOGUES OF THE CARMELITES – Ten days before the Reign of Terror ended in 1794, 16 Carmelite nuns were guillotined. Poulenc’s poignant, powerful opera treats their doubt and faith, their fear and courage, their humility and heroism. At Milan’s Teatro degli Arcimboldi during La Scala’s renovation, Riccardo Muti and Robert Carsen superbly conduct and direct La Scala forces. Dagmar Schellenberger as the fearful Blanche de la Force and Anja Silja as the tormented Old Prioress are gripping actresses. Gwynne Geyer is the serene New Prioress. Barbara Dever is the disciplined Mother Marie. Laura Aikin is the ebullient Sister Constance.

Sat., May 5, 5 p.m. & Sun., May 6, noon. Vegetarian potlucks. 196 min./10:16 & 5:16

ATYS – The catalyst of the French baroque opera revival was the 1987 production of Lully’s Atys by Les Arts Florissants, William Christie and director Jean-Marie Villégier. Many who saw it in Paris and on tour thought it the apex of their operagoing, and one man paid $3.1 million to finance this 2011 revival so that he could see Atys again before he died. At the Opéra-Comique, Christie leads Les Arts Florissants and a great cast: Bernard Richter, Stéphanie d’Oustrac, Emmanuelle de Negri, Nicolas Rivenq, Sophie Daneman, Marc Mauillon, Paul Agnew, Cyril Auvity and more. The rare production and performance where every facet seems exactly right.

Sat., May 12, 5 p.m. Vegetarian potluck. 117 min./8:37

CANDIDE – Bernstein’s most ambitious project was his idea-packed setting of Voltaire’s stinging little book skewering philosophical optimism. Brainwashed that “all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds,” Candide and his beloved Cunegonde trot the globe and suffer sobering misadventures. At last, free of illusion, they determine to cultivate their garden. Lonny Price’s semistaging isn’t the best of all possible Candides, but it may be the liveliest and funniest. Paul Groves, Kristen Chenoweth, Patti LuPone, Thomas Allen, Stanford Olsen, Jeff Blumenkrantz and Janine LaManna head the cast. Marin Alsop leads the New York Philharmonic.

Mark Mandel

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