About Superconductor

Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Opera Review: Her Daddy Said: "A Whore"


Bard SummerScape plucks Mascagni's rare Iris.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pimp daddy: Kyoto (Douglas Williams) menaces Iris (Talise Trevigne) in Mascagni's opera.
Photo by Cory Weaver © 2016 Bard SummerScape.
Composer Pietro Mascagni once famously said that of all his operas he regretted writing Cavalleria Rusticana first. This month, his Iris is the centerpiece of the annual Bard SummerScape festival,  held at the shiny Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center (on the verdant grounds of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson New York.) At Sunday's matinee performance, conductor, artistic director and Bard president Leon Botstein made a forceful case for Iris as a lost Mascagni masterwork.
Unearthing rarities is what Dr. Botstein does. Here, he dusted off an opera whose Japanese setting and pathetique heroine at once inspired and was eclipsed by Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly. (The Puccini opera, which shares Iris' librettist Luigi Illica, premiered just three years after this work.) On Sunday afternoon Iris proved a worthy competitor. It is written in a lush post-Romantic vein, with gorgeous orchestra color, exotic instruments (one song is accompanied by shamisen) minor-to-major crescendoes and theater-shaking transitions that recall Wagner's late style.

The story of Iris falls squarely in the verismo tradition. Iris is a young, beautiful Japanese girl living with Il Cieco, her blind father. She becomes the lust-object of the wealthy, sleazy Osaka. Aided by the pimp Kyoto, he kidnaps Iris to the Yoshiwara district, to work in Kyoto's brothel. When Iris refuses Osaka's advances, Kyoto sells her at auction. Her old father shows up and condemns his daughter. She commits suicide, hurling herself into an open sewer. In a very Wagnerian finale, Iris rises into sunlight as the chorus sings the hymn that opened the opera.

Soprano Talise Trevigne simply stunned in the title role, walking the path from girlish innocence to utter confusion (in the brothel scene) to desperate suicide. This is stern, demanding music, starting with her own paean to the sun and climaxing in the scene where she fights Osaka off. Ms. Trevigne had power in reserve for the finale, which involved her climbing an enormous pile of refuse toward sunlight, presumably undergoing an Isolde-like transfiguration to a better world.

Tenor Gerard Schneider impressed as Osaka, the opera's anti-hero. His bright tone and bold onstage presence made this character's dimensions come out, testament to the skill of the libretto and his acting as well as the power of his singing. This hormone-driven nobleman might just edge B.F. Pinkerton for the coveted title of Worst Leading Character in an Italian Opera; just witness his stomach-turning rejection of Iris as she fends off his carnal intent in Act Two.

Osaka appears  throughout the opera with Kyoto. At first these two fellows were amusing, even going to the effort of mounting a complex allegorical puppet show(!) to distract Iris in order to kidnap her. As the other half of this Mutt-and-Jeff team, Douglas Williams seemed to be channeling Dmitri Hvorostovsky with his bare chest, long blond locks and macho swagger. This was veneer for a light but pliant baritone that pushed itself to the absolute limit in the auction scene. Bass Matthew Boehler impressed as Iris' father, a stoic figure who is a forerunner of Butterfly's Bonze. His desperation, rage and rejection of his daughter drives the plot of this work relentlessly forward.

In a piece with so many Wagnerian elements, it was an interesting choice by director James Darrah to reference  the neue Bayreuth style tha the composer's grandson Wieland used to such good effect in the 1950s and 60s. A simple curve served to represent Iris' country lane, with the choristers and would-be kidnappers descending to the stage itself to grab the young lady. Kyoto's brothel looked like a cut-rate Venusberg, with hoochie-coochie action behind plastic dividers that distracted the eye from the actual events of the opera. And the sewer was a Nibelheim-like creation. Its dim light and ragpickers that looked (at first glance) as if its usual contents had come to unsettling, animated life.

Post a Comment

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Translate

Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

My photo

Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.