Previews (and one review)
Opera-Lytes just finished their run of RUDDIGORE, OR THE WITCHES CURSE, an operetta by Gilbert & Sullivan, and you can read my review below. Of course, the very British G&S operettas are sung in the Queen’s (Victoria) English, but, as it turns out, so are most of the next 5 operas coming to town. In fact, three of them were even written in English. So, if you like musicals, and have always wanted to try opera but felt that there might be a language barrier, I have some recommendations.
Let’s preview some shows.
THE MAGIC FLUTE, an opera by Mozart, shortened to 2 hours, sung in English, conducted by JoAnn Falletta, stage directed by Julie Newell, Adam Luebke, chorus master, featuring the Hillman Opera Program at SUNY Fredonia Hillman Opera program, will be presented by The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Two performances only, Saturday, April 22 at⋅7:30 and Sunday, April 23 at 2:30 at Kleinhans Music Hall, 3 Symphony Circle, Buffalo, NY, 14201. 716-885-5000 www.bpo.org
THE MAGIC FLUTE will be sung in English and is often cited as a good way to get children interested in opera. There’s a villain, a damsel in distress, her mother who’s really annoyed with her damsel-daughter, a brave but clueless hero, a goofy birdcatcher and his girlfriend, and of course lots of great tunes by Mozart.
New Orleans-born jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard, now in his 60s, shows no signs of slowing down. He’s already won six Grammys, and composed over sixty film scores, and the Metropolitan Opera is about to broadcast his opera CHAMPION, via HD transmission, into movie theaters around the world (including Western New York) on Saturday, April 29, as part of this season’s “Met in HD” series (details below). The Met has already broadcast Blanchard’s opera FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES and I can tell you that his music is hypnotic and the stories he chooses are compelling. I am so looking forward to CHAMPION.
What’s it all about? It’s the dramatic story of boxer Emile Griffith, a closeted young hatmaker-turned-prizefighter who becomes a world champion and (true story!) who kills his homophobic archrival in the boxing ring. Singing the role of the young Emile Griffith will be Bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green. In the role of Emile Griffith in later life will be Eric Owens. I have heard both of these giants of the Met stage before and we are in for a vocal treat. The libretto is by Michael Cristofer and the opera will be conducted by the Met’s Music Director himself, Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
There is a Content Advisory: Champion contains adult themes, sexually explicit language, and physical violence. Sung in English, the estimated run time is 2 hours and 50 minutes including intermission. It will be shown live in HD transmission locally in three theaters on Saturday afternoon, April 29, at the usual start time of 1:00 pm. The local participating theaters are:
- The Dipson Amherst, 3500 Main St, Buffalo, NY 14226
- The Regal Elmwood 16, 2001 Elmwood Ave, Buffalo, NY 14207
- The Regal Transit, 6707 Transit Road, Williamsville, NY, 14221
Listeners to our local radio WNED Classical (94.5 fm) will be able to hear a pre-taped performance a month later on Saturday, May 27, also at 1:00 pm.
For more information, visit metopera.org.
THE MEDIUM and THE TELEPHONE, two 1940s operas by Gian Carlo Menotti, written in English, will be presented in the usual double bill format by Buffalo Opera Unlimited on Friday, June 2nd at 7:30 pm and Saturday, June 3rd at 5:00 pm in the Warren Enters Theatre at Buffalo State University. For information, contact (716) 882-1692 or visit www.buffalooperaunlimited.org
THE MEDIUM is an opera about a seance that leads to gun violence and tragedy while THE TELEPHONE is a lighthearted tale of a young man trying to propose but every time he’s about to pop the question, she answers the telephone. Finally, he calls her from the pay phone on the street, and she says yes. Certainly, both gun violence and people overly focused on their phones are two topics that remain very contemporary.
THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, a comic opera by Rossini, directed by Giorgio Lalov and Steve Vaughan will be presented by Nickel City Opera. Since its inception, in 2004, NCO has produced full-scale opera productions including works by Verdi, by Puccini, as well as Rossini’s THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO. They even premiered an opera by local composer Persis Vehar called SHOT! about the assassination of President McKinley.
As usual with Nickel City, the performances will be mounted with a full set, orchestra, chorus, costumes, and props and will star Metropolitan Opera basso Valerian Ruminski as the old windbag Bartolo who gets his comeuppance in the end. Sung in Italian with English supertitles, there are two performances only (and note two different venues). The Saturday, June 24th, 7 pm show will be at Nichols Flickinger Performing Arts Center, 1250 Amherst Street, Buffalo, and the Sunday, June 25th, 5 pm show will be at the Hollywood Theater, 39 W Main Street, Gowanda.
RUDDIGORE, OR THE WITCHES CURSE, an operetta by Gilbert & Sullivan (a favorite of Queen Victoria) directed by Lisa Berglund, was presented by Opera-Lytes from March 24 to April 2, at the Alleyway Theatre, in Buffalo’s Theatre District. For information on upcoming activities, visit www.operalytes.com or the Opera-Lytes Facebook page. While 19th-century operettas might not be everyone’s genre, I find Gilbert and Sullivan to be a lot of fun.
This operetta had some great elements of melodrama, with a despicable villain, a maiden in love with someone whom she thinks is a simple farmer (although we know his secret), a randy hornpiping sailor, and a chorus of Professional Bridesmaids.
With an on-stage picture gallery that comes to life (the set was by David King) it may have been Opera-Lytes’ most ambitious production in years. The cast featured several singers with advanced performance degrees as well as singers who have appeared on a variety of Buffalo stages. Emily Barger (working on her Master’s degree at UB) appeared as the innocent Rose Maybud; Michael Warner was Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd / Robin Oakapple), her love interest; Mariami Bekauri (who absolutely killed it as Ulrica in a recent Buffalo Opera Unlimited production of Verdi’s UN BALLO IN MASCHERA) was Mad Margaret, and Clara Tan was the horny hornpiping sailor Richard Dauntless.
Ms. Tan seems to specialize in what’s known in opera as “pants roles” and she certainly takes charge of any stage she’s on. By the way, she’s currently in the cast of FURSONA NON GRATA, a First Look Buffalo production using the Park School theater (April 14 to May 7). Visit www.firstlookbuffalo.com
The production was wonderfully accompanied by a chamber orchestra directed by Ciaran Krueger. I was quite impressed to hear so much good music coming from just seven instrumentalists including the Fisher sisters (Gretchen, Claire, and Kiersten on Violin 1 & 2 and viola) with Katie Weissman, cello, Dawson Horey on woodwinds, Gary Turkowski, percussion, and Michael Serio, piano. Impressive!
What’s next? In the fall of 2023 Opera-Lytes will be performing COX AND BOX, an early work by Sullivan with a libretto not by W.S. Gilbert but by F.C.Burnand. It’s a story of two roomers who share a room but because of their schedules never meet. Until they do. And in the Spring of 2024, Opera-Lytes will perform G&S’s THE SORCERER. But all that is months ahead.
Lead image: MET OPERA – Eric Owens (above) as Emile Griffith and Ryan Speedo Green (center) as Young Emile Griffith in a scene from Terence Blanchard’s CHAMPION. Photo by Ken Howard Met Opera