Sunday, June 13, 2004

Fantasy & Tragedy

Opera plots include wide range
of human emotion

Opera plots have always been far-fetched - opera is, after all, a fantasy world. Be prepared to get

carried away: You'll find sex, violence, comedy, love, loss, betrayal, justice and injustice.

Sometimes, the story is literally ripped from the headlines - such as Swedish composer

Peter Bengtson's The Maids, about a real-life sordid crime committed by the Papin sisters in 1933. Cincinnati Opera presents its U.S. premiere June 24 and 26.

All operas will have English surtitles.

The Daughter of the Regiment

Music by: Donizetti (Don-ee-SETT-I).

Sung in: French

Marie was found as an infant on the battlefield, and raised by a regiment of Napoleon's army as its daughter or "mascot." (OK, so opera has never been known for being politically correct.)

A young Swiss guy named Tonio has been following the troops and is arrested for spying. Actually, he's been spying on Marie. They fall in love. Gruff-but-goodhearted Sergeant Sulpice, her father figure, reminds Marie that she has pledged to marry a member of the regiment. Tonio joins up.

Meanwhile, a high-society Marquise of Berkenfeld, who happens to be traveling home to her castle, takes refuge in the French camp. She claims that Marie is her long-lost niece.

The Marquise insists that Marie, who is a bit of a tomboy, come home with her to be brought up like a proper lady. Marie misses Tonio, but things really get sticky when her "aunt" arranges for her to marry the Duke of Krakenthorp (that's his name, no kidding).

The sergeant and Tonio visit, and auntie reveals that, yes, she is really Marie's mom! (Surprise!)

The guests have arrived; Marie must sign the wedding contract. But first, she sings about her life as a vivandiere (that's a nice word for canteen girl).

The Duke's family is scandalized. But the Marquise is touched. She realizes that Marie and Tonio are really in love, calls off the arranged wedding and gives the young couple her blessing. They all live happily ever after.

High notes: In Act I, Tonio sings "Ah! Mes amis" which has nine high C's. Marie has a high-wire act for most of the opera, but her Act II singing lesson is a show-stopper.

Double Bill: The Emperor of
Atlantis & The Maids

Music by: Viktor Ullmann

Sung in: English

Ullmann wrote his opera in the Terezin concentration camp, and was killed by the Nazis before he could see it performed. Powerful and disturbing, it's an allegory based on the horrors of the camp.

Among its characters, Emperor Overall symbolizes Hitler; the Loudspeaker and Drummer Girl represent Goebbels and Goering, and Death symbolizes the liberation from the suffering the prisoners endured.

In the story, Emperor Overall reigns over chaos, but there's a glitch: Death goes on strike, and no one can die. A soldier and a girl from an enemy camp meet on the battlefield. Unable to kill each other, they fall in love.

Death goes back to work when the Emperor agrees to die.

High notes: At the end, the cast sings a distorted "A Mighty Fortress is our God."

The Maids

Music by: Peter Bengtson

Sung in: English

This psychological thriller is based on the play, Les Bonnes, by Jean Genet and derived from a real-life horror crime. Out of hatred for Madame (their mistress), maids Claire and Solange unleash a spree of bizarre fantasy rituals and deadly role-playing. Sound like fun?

High notes: At the end, Claire and Solange carry out their plot to poison Madame - but it is Claire who drinks the poisoned tea.

Don Giovanni

Music by: Mozart

Sung in: Italian

The opera opens as sex maniac Don Giovanni (translation: Don Juan), is being chased by Donna Anna, whom he has tried to rape. Her father, the Commendatore of Seville, challenges the Don to a duel, and loses. Donna Anna and her fiance Don Ottavio swear vengeance over his body.

Don Giovanni runs into old flame Elvira, who is sobbing. His servant, Leporello, tells her not to take it personally because the Don has slept with 640 girls in Italy, 231 in Germany, 100 in France, 91 in Turkey and 1,003 in Spain.

Meanwhile, some country peasants are celebrating the upcoming wedding of the beautiful Zerlina to Masetto. Don Giovanni shows up uninvited and shows too much interest in Zerlina. Her screams are heard from the bedroom, just as jilted lovers Nos. 1 and 2 (Anna and Elvira) crash the party.

Giovanni knows he's toast, and swaps clothes with his servant Leporello. He escapes an angry mob, and meets up with Leporello in a cemetery at 2 a.m. They are both spooked when a statue begins talking to them, but then Giovanni laughs and invites the statue to dinner.

The statue - the ghost of the Commendatore - accepts the invitation. He shows up and escorts the Don to his fiery afterlife.

High notes: Leporello's "Catalogue Aria" in Act I, telling of Don Giovanni's conquests


Music by: Georges Bizet

Sung in: French

Carmen is a gorgeous babe of Gypsy descent who works in a cigarette factory. When she raises a ruckus and slaps another cigarette girl, Don Jose is ordered to arrest her. Carmen, a shameless flirt, seduces Jose and escapes. Instead, it is Jose who is arrested for shirking his duties.

We next see Carmen hanging out in a bar, dancing with castanets and flirting with, yes, another guy - Escamillo the bullfighter. Don Jose shows up, just out of jail, and Carmen welcomes him warmly. Suddenly, his commanding officer, Zuniga, bursts in and orders him to the barracks. Don Jose attacks his boss. After that, he has no choice but to join Carmen's gang of smugglers and flee.

We meet up with Don Jose and Carmen in the mountains, where Carmen is already tired of her boy toy. In a card game with her Gypsy girlfriends, she draws the Death card (the ace of spades), but doesn't take it seriously. (Note: she should.)

Meanwhile, Escamillo shows up. Blind with jealousy, Jose picks a fight, but the toreador laughs it off. Just then, Micaela, Jose's old girlfriend appears and tells him his mother is dying, and he goes home.

In Act IV, Carmen has become the toreador's mistress. While he is starring in the bullring in Seville, Don Jose appears in tatters, and begs Carmen to come back. She contemptuously throws Jose's ring in his face. He stabs her to death as the crowd is cheering for the bullfighter.

High notes: Carmen's "Habanera" in Act I and Escamillo's "Toreador Song" in Act II.

Opera hitting high notes
Fantasy & Tragedy
Cincinnati Opera's Festival season
Summer renews Opera's tradition

Charles' music was 'America'
Oxford 'Idol' emerges as soap star
Electronic music, video add to 'King' premiere
Fall calendar raises profile
Theater vet nails Tonys
Numbers jump at music festival
Film contest dictates delivery in 48 hours

Mixed Media: Channel 19's LaRosa heads home to Philly

Going Out: Italianfest

Cucumbers cool hot summer foods
Helpings: Fresh strawberries
Picnics for the lazy gourmet