Dec 19, 2019

The Music of Carmen

Georges Bizet worked in opera theatres during much of his career, mostly as a rehearsal pianist. Prior to the composition of Carmen, he wrote some truly charming music, some salon music, a little symphonic music, and some incidental music for the theatre. He also wrote some operas, many of which were stillborn at birth and others which remained incomplete. None of these works gives us any inkling of the volcanic explosion of ideas that is the score of the four-act Carmen.

The choice of subject is in itself quite telling. In setting the potentially scandalous novella by Prosper Mérimée to music for the staid, family-friendly Opéra Comique, he was thumbing his nose at the social class that supported the very art within which he tried to make his living. So rabidly counter to the traditional fare of audiences that traveled to the Salle Favart was this opera, it couldn’t have been a mistake or a miscalculation. This was virtual artistic suicide, premeditated and fully committed. The music provoked rebellion amongst the orchestral players and chorus members, ignited a furor in the administration of the opera house resulting in the resignation of one of its directors, and scandalized a perplexed audience. The composer died feeling that the work was a complete failure, a tragic irony heightened by the fact that within months of his demise the work was well on its way to being hailed as one of the greatest operas ever written.

Surely one reason for the shock felt by the Carmen’s first audiences is the sheer intimacy of the Salle Favart, then a medium-sized theatre (at least by American standards) of fewer than 2,000 seats with a ‘live’ acoustic. In such close quarters the explosive energy of the overture, the sultry nature of Carmen’s seduction of Don José, and the violence of her murder at the climax of the opera must have stunned the polite bourgeois Parisian audience. The shock value has certainly been overcome with time and endless productions of the opera throughout the world, but the essential theatrical effect remains: Carmen is an opera that brilliantly interconnects plot and subplot with music that communicates an amazing array of the emotions and psychological states of the characters. And it does this at times subtly, and at other times with the blatancy of a velvet-covered hammer.

The opera is brilliantly orchestrated, of course, the composer taking advantage of every timbre at his disposal. The use of the wind instruments to add flashes of color and the brass to add a burnished quality to the bullfighting references brings the story to memorable life. Cymbals, tambourines and castanets add to the Spanish, martial flavor of many important passages. In many ways, it is a typical mid-19th century French orchestration, not dissimilar to the scores of Offenbach and early Massenet. But it is Bizet’s treatment of the orchestra as an equal member of the operatic team that is striking in the context of 1875. Why? Because the orchestra seems to always have the role of playing below the surface. Note how practically every solo moment for the character Carmen is accompanied by a dance rhythm, with the notable exception of the Act III card aria, “En vain pour éviter les réponses amères.” The habanera, the seguidilla, the castanet-accompanied Spanish song in the duet with José, and the gypsy song at the beginning of Act II all conspire to give us a total picture of this person. The dances identify her as a free spirit, a lover, an actor, and above all, a woman who follows her senses beyond all else and who will never be contained by societal, religious, or moral strictures. The music therefore communicates the essence of Carmen, just as the pretty, elegant lines of Micaëla’s music projects her maidenly, village girl persona and the lusty lilt of Escamillo’s Toreador Song portrays his wild, erotic nature.

Don José’s music is of a different quality and is the more remarkable achievement. Bizet’s music for José is sweet and lyrical in Act I, especially in his duet with Micaëla, “Parle moi de ma mere,” perfectly matching the relative innocence and naïve quality that he exhibits at that point. As José deteriorates psychologically, so does his music; by Act III, his vocal lines have become angular, dissonant, even disjointed. He is no longer the same person and his music brilliantly reflects that.

The characters in the opera whose music changes very little are, of course, Escamillo and Micaëla. Micaëla is a stock character from the opera-comique tradition, a peasant girl from the country with a sensitive spirit, but traditionally bound to the moral codes of the village structure, society as she knew it, the church. Her music never evolves from the lyrical nature of the Act I duet; in the Act III aria “Je dis, que rien ne m’épouvante” we meet exactly the same character we met at the beginning of the opera. She hasn’t grown, but then she doesn’t really need to. Escamillo is also a somewhat pivotal, unchanging character. His Toreador Song is lusty, self-confident, alluring, and his music constantly reflects these traits. His only moment of tenderness is the brief duet with Carmen in Act IV, “Si tu m’aimes.” This also happens to include Carmen’s one moment of unison singing with another character, signaling her complete unanimity with the bullfighter, something she never experiences with Don José.

Bizet’s musical characterization reminds one of the operas of Mozart, in which we see a style or type of music (and at times even an entire musical world) given to the characters in order to propel the dramatic action. It is in this accomplishment that Bizet has been most successful and remains the most important factor in the centrality of Carmen in the standard repertoire.

 

Courtesy of San Diego Opera

 

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Nov 16, 2019

COMPANY PREMIERE OF SUSANNAH OPENS 2019/20 SEASON

COMPANY PREMIERE OF SUSANNAH OPENS 2019/20 SEASON

NOVEMBER 23, 26, 29

A Story of Survival and Standing Up for Your Truth

 

The moving story of a young woman’s stand for truth against the hypocrisy of her secluded community and the preacher who has designs on more than just her soul, opens Manitoba Opera’s 2019/20 season. The company premiere of Susannah, by the esteemed American composer Carlisle Floyd, will be presented at the Centennial Concert Hall Saturday, November 23 (7:30 pm), Tuesday, November 26, (7 pm), and Friday, November 29 (7:30 pm). Susannah will be sung in English with English projections.

For tickets call 204-944-8824, go online at mbopera.ca, or in person at the MO Box Office, lower level, Centennial Concert Hall (9:30 am – 4:30 pm, Monday to Friday).  Seniors, students, and youth discounts are available.

Susannah is the most-performed American opera after Porgy and Bess. This “powerfully emotional piece is among the finest achievements in American opera.” (Nashville Music Scene 2015).

Floyd, the son of the southern Methodist Minister, reset the Apocryphal Bible story of Susanna and the Elders to rural Tennessee during a revival meeting. Floyd’s music for Susannah is rooted in Appalachian folk melodies, Protestant hymns, and traditional classical music with hints of Copeland and Bernstein. The opera features memorable songs and folksy arias like “Ain’t It a Pretty Night” and “The Trees on the Mountains.”

“With themes of intolerance, religious hypocrisy, social harassment, and alienation, this gripping drama with unforgettable music continues to be so very poignant over sixty years after its debut,” commented Larry Desrochers, Manitoba Opera General Director & CEO. “Floyd’s opera is thoroughly American and is a very relatable work.”

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Oct 29, 2019

The English of the Appalachian Area

While all of the text in Susannah is in English, it may sound different than the English you speak. Susannah is written in a verismo style, meaning that the characters, language, and plot are rooted in reality as much as possible – everything in the opera must be believable. Operas in this style often employ colloquial language, and Susannah is no exception. To create a believable opera set in America’s Deep South, Carlisle Floyd chose words and a dialect that are uniquely Appalachian. Here are some of the more noticeable characteristics of this dialect.

Vowels are formed towards the back of the mouth rather than the front: “can’t” sounds like “cain’t”; “get” sounds like “git”; “forgive” sounds like “fergive.”

The “s” sound that ends some words may be replaced with an “n” sound: one might say “her’n” instead of “hers.”

Participles and gerunds ending “-ing” are pronounced as though they ended “-in,”
as in huntin’ or preachin’.

The letter “a” is often added as a prefix to verbs; such as  a-bathin’, aspyin’, or a-prayin’.

As with any dialect, some words have a colloquial usage. Examples in Susannah include:

Afore – before
Allers – always
Brickbat – a piece of brick; also an insult
Chitlins – fried pig intestines
Crick – creek
Jaybird – a blue jay; also someone who talks too much
Jest – just
Out’n – out of
Mighty – very
Mite – small amount
Plum – completely, absolutely
Reckon – to suppose
Seed – saw
Spell – length of time
Sum’mers – somewhere
They’s – there is or they are
Twarn’t – it wasn’t
Varmint – vermin

Floyd’s mastery of this dialect is playfully displayed in the silly “Jaybird” song in Act 1 of the opera, into which he sneaks some clever wordplay:

“Oh, jaybird sittin’ on a hick’ry limb,
He winked at me an’ I winked at him.
I picked up a brickbat
An’ hit him on the chin.
‘Looka here, little boy, don’t you do that agin!’”

Taken literally, it could describe an easily imagined and somewhat comic scene; a blue jay sitting on a branch catches a youth’s attention, and the youth throws a rock at it. Startled, the bird squawks angrily at the boy. Read a bit differently, knowing that in the Appalachian dialect a “jaybird” is someone who talks too much, and a “brickbat” is an insult, it describes an interaction between a youth and a person who is heckling him.

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Jul 9, 2019

MATCHING GIFTS CHALLENGE CATAPULTS 2018/19 SEASON TO UNPRECEDENTED FINANCIAL SUCCESS

Manitoba Opera (MO) announced this evening at its 2018/19 Annual General Meeting (AGM), held at the McKim Building in Winnipeg, that the 2018/19 season, which ended May 31, 2019, was the company’s most financially successful season in its 46 years of operation, resulting in the elimination of a decades’ old accumulated debt.

The company posted an operating surplus of $86,312 on a budget of $2,585.965. An additional $374,755 was raised towards the elimination of the debt of $450,652, accumulated since the 1980s. MO’s accumulated debt had reached $654,000 by year end June 30, 2000.

The debt was retired by a matching gifts challenge issued by a donor who committed $150,000 to the campaign. In total, more than 190 individuals, corporations, foundations, and governments rose to the challenge with gifts from $5 to $150,000.

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Jun 13, 2019

The Best Opera Gifts for Dad

Father’s Day is this Sunday! It can be hard to find a gift that Dad will like. To help you out, here’s a few gift ideas sure to have Dad singing.

Night at the Opera

Double the experience for Dad with a subscription so that he can see two operas this season – Susannah and Carmen!

Saturday & Friday Nights $71 – $261

Add a special treat to the Saturday performance of Susannah with the Opening Night Dinner.
The Opening Night Dinner is catered by Bergmann’s on Lombard and includes complimentary parking all for just $150 per person.

Tuesday Nights $46 – $241

 


Enhanced Opera Experience

Does your dad already have a subscription? Not to worry, we have just the thing to enhance his opera-going experience – OPERA GLASSES ($50 – $75)

      

Visit our Box Office or call us at 204-944-8824 to inquire.

 


Let Dad Choose

Not sure what Dad would enjoy? Let him choose by gifting him with the freedom to build his own opera experience.

Manitoba Opera gift cards never expire and can be used to purchase Subscriptions, Single Tickets, Opera Glasses, Merchandise, and more.

There is no set amount for a gift certificate. No matter the budget, this is a gift that Dad will love.

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May 22, 2019

Kelly Robinson to direct Manitoba Opera’s Susannah

Award-winning director, dramaturge and choreographer Kelly Robinson has been secured as the director of Manitoba Opera’s premiere of Susannah which opens the 2019/20 season this November. He last directed for the company in the 1990’s when he was at the helm of The Marriage of Figaro (1992), The Dialogues of the Carmelites (1993), The Pearl Fishers (1994), and The Turn of the Screw (1998).

With a career that spans theatre, opera, and film, Kelly’s work has been seen at the Stratford and Shaw Festivals, the National Arts Centre, CanStage, the Palace Theatre in New York, the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Centre, Theatre Royal in Plymouth, England, and in London’s West End. His work in opera includes the companies of Vancouver, Calgary, Portland, Dallas, Minnesota, Montreal and Québec City. Film and television credits include choreography for Columbia Pictures, CBC, NBC, and ABC Television.

Recent work as a director includes the world premiere of the dance musical, VIDA! for The Luminato Festival and Mirvish Productions at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre, The Inventor for Calgary Opera, High Society for the Shaw Festival, Guys And Dolls for the Stratford Festival, and Dead Man Walking for Calgary Opera. Kelly’s production of Evita broke the record for highest tickets sales in Vancouver Opera’s history; his West Side Story at Stratford and High Society at Shaw both set new attendance records as well.

He is a former artistic and executive director of theatre arts for The Banff Centre. Kelly holds a law degree from York University, and continues as Director of New Work Development for Toronto’s Mirvish Productions.

For more information on Kelly Robinson, go to http://kellyfrobinson.com/biography/

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May 17, 2019

Carlisle Floyd

Carlisle Floyd is one of America’s most celebrated composers of opera. His operas are rooted in America, both in subject and in style, and are widely performed in the United States and abroad. They include Susannah (1955), The Passion of Jonathan Wade (1962; revised, 1990), Of Mice and Men (1970), Bilby’s Doll (1976), Willie Stark (1981), and Cold Sassy Tree (2000).

As he celebrated his 80th birthday in 2006, he told the Houston Chronicle he considered the acclaimed Cold Sassy Tree to be his professional finale. However, he went on to write another opera, Prince of Players, which received its premiere at Houston Grand Opera in March 2016.

“With a commitment that rivals Smetana’s in Bohemia or Britten’s in Britain, Floyd has striven to create a national repertory … He has learned the international language of successful opera in order to speak it in his own accents and to enrich it with the musical and vernacular idioms of his own country.”  – Andrew Porter, The New Yorker

Born in 1926 in Latta, South Carolina, the son of a Methodist minister, Floyd earned both a bachelor and master of music degree in piano and composition at Syracuse University. He began his teaching career in 1947 as part of the piano faculty at Florida State University (FSU), eventually becoming a professor of composition. It was at FSU that he wrote his first nine operas, including Of Mice and Men (1969) and his most popular, Susannah (1953–54).

Aside from composing, Floyd is also his own librettist, having written the libretto for all 12 of his operas. His works are among the most performed operas by American composers. He is said to speak in a uniquely American voice, capturing both the cadences and the mores of that society.

“It is my opinion that Susannah and the Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess mark the two finest American operas ever composed. It brings me great joy and satisfaction to bring Carlisle’s important work to San Francisco Opera’s main stage season where it rightfully belongs.” – David Gockley, General Director, 2006 – 2016

Carlisle Floyd taught at Florida State University from 1947 to 1976, and in 1976 became the M. D. Anderson Professor of Music at the University of Houston. In Houston, he and David Gockley established the important Opera Studio, which for more than three decades has helped train young artists in the full spectrum of opera. Graduates include Erie Mills, Denyce Graves, and Joyce Di Donato.

A 2001 inductee of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Floyd has received numerous honors, such as a Guggenheim Fellowship and the National Opera Institute’s Award for Service to American Opera. He was the first chairman of the NEA’s Opera/Musical Theater Panel, which the agency created in 1976. In 2004, he received a National Medal of Arts. In 2008, Floyd was the only composer to be included in the inaugural National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors.

“When I began writing my operas, there was no American opera, and there were very few American opera companies, and just to see what has happened in my lifetime is just… extraordinary.” – Carlisle Floyd

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Mar 28, 2019

Stage Director’s Notes: The Barber of Seville

Stage Director’s Notes: The Barber of Seville

By Alain Gauthier

 

‘’What on earth is all this love which makes everyone go mad?’’

– Berta’s Aria, Act II

 

Berta’s commentary summarizes perfectly the whole atmosphere of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, one of the most beloved works in the repertoire. Nothing in this opera goes the way it should be (just like every good comedy, no?) and the intrigue is, on purpose, jubilantly entangled and crazy.

The challenge with directing this opera is to make sense out of the inextricable chaos originally created in 1775 for the theatre by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, son of a clockmaker. Beaumarchais was also a clockmaker prior to becoming one of the greatest writers of his time. And one must admit that it helps to have a watchmaking mind (not to mention a twisted one!) to imagine such an intricate plot, for under this apparent chaos lurks the mechanisms of relentless clockwork.

For me, comedy is like a clock mechanism. It has to be very precise to work. My goal when directing a piece like The Barber of Seville is to make sure that all the elements of this mechanism work perfectly together. In the opera version of this story, the music adds an even more accurate degree of preciseness. One of my tasks is to try to illustrate visually how this crazy machine works and how it affects the characters on stage. Maybe Rossini, with his notorious sense of humour, deliberately alluded to Beaumarchais’ clock-making background when he wrote the brilliantly silly finale of the first act where the orchestra and the singers seem to imitate the sound of a screwy clock!

Supported by a genius libretto, the opera is filled with bewildering, dazzling, and inventive music. What’s more, the arias and ensemble appear to be packed with a kind of humorous craziness. In The Barber of Seville, madness is contagious, and the common disease making all the characters go a little crazy seems to be love.

As a starting point of many classic comedies, love (ideally an impossible one) leads the action. Here, the ardent and youthful Almaviva falls for the sparkling Rosina, unapproachable pupil of Doctor Bartolo. We witness, throughout this joyful adventure, a passionate love obstructed, of course, by countless difficulties. And it’s precisely those obstacles, brilliantly orchestrated by Rossini, that make this opera such a thrilling piece of art.

In this world completely disturbed by love, Figaro alone seems to be sane. Adept at managing the craziness, he takes an amused look at those disrupted characters. With our barber’s lucidity, combined with his wit, and his obvious excitement for handling this craziness, he becomes the audience’s accomplice and turns out to be our guide throughout this crazy journey.

The Barber of Seville’s energetic music and witty plot has no other purpose than to charm you and make you laugh. In this same candid and unpretentious way, we’ll try to give life to this masterpiece, hoping  – if it’s not already happened – to make you mad about Rossini!

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Mar 12, 2019

2019/20 Season to Feature the Iconic Carmen & the Company Premiere of the American Classic Susannah

Manitoba Opera will present an iconic opera and a company premiere in its 47th season. Susannah, American composer Carlisle Floyd’s third and most well-known opera, opens the season November 23, 26, 29, 2019. This opera will be paired with the most popular of all operas, Bizet’s Carmen, March 28, 31, April 3, 2020. Both productions will be staged at the Centennial Concert Hall.

Winner of the New York Music Critic Circle Award for best new opera in 1956, Susannah is the most-performed American opera after Porgy and Bess. This “powerfully emotional piece is among the finest achievements in American opera.” (Nashville Music Scene 2015) and was chosen by the United States to represent American music at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels.  (more…)

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Feb 27, 2019

Shave and a Haircut…and LEECHES?!

At the time that The Barber of Seville was premiered, the role of the professional barber was changing throughout Europe. Up through the 1700s, barbers – then called barber-surgeons—performed a wide range of tasks relating to caring for the personal needs of others. These tasks included trimming hair and shaving beards, cleaning and pulling teeth, and even rudimentary surgery and blood-letting (for centuries it was believed that “bad blood” was a cause of many maladies, and needed to be periodically drained from the body). (more…)

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Feb 19, 2019

Personal Care Products Drive at The Barber of Seville

Whether it’s just-washed hair, a shave, or the feel of freshly brushed teeth, we all want to take care of ourselves and look our best. For the homeless in our community and others who are down on their luck, this is not always an option.

Manitoba Opera is asking patrons to consider bringing much-needed personal care products and toiletries to The Barber of Seville. Donations will be distributed to Lighthouse Mission, Siloam Mission, and the Main Street Project. (more…)

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Feb 14, 2019

A Real Manitoba Opera Love Story

It was the fall of 2004. Dawn had returned home to Winnipeg earlier that year from her studies at McGill in Montreal. She entered the post baccalaureate program at the University of Manitoba’s School of Music (now known as the Marcel A Desautels Faculty of Music)

Enter Paul who was in his second year of his Bachelor of Music and feeling quite adventurous after having finished a Bachelors of Commerce at the Asper School of Business.

While Paul and Dawn met at the School of Music, they rarely talked until their time together on the stage at Manitoba Opera’s 2004 production of Rigoletto. Paul, the oblivious one, was standing in for Gaétan Laperrière – Rigoletto – as he was not arriving until later in the rehearsal period. Dawn, Ms. Va Va Voom, was Countess Ceprano. (more…)

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