Go behind the scenes of the Season 27 with this insider’s look by Will Berger. Berger is a producer, writer and commentator for the Metropolitan Opera. He has written many books about opera, including one on Verdi called Verdi with a Vengeance. See more books from Berger here.
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By Will Berger
The Austin Lyric Opera 2013-2014 season will present an impressive array of three very different and diversely magnificent operas, a grand journey from fear and tragedy through romance and melodrama and finally to light and love.
The first offering of the season is a huge undertaking, DON CARLO by Giuseppe Verdi, ALO’s salute to the supreme creator of Italian opera on the bicentennial of his birth. It is the most ambitious opera Verdi ever composed, in both the scope of its drama and its sheer stature (a complete performance of all the music Verdi wrote for this opera would take over 7 hours), and it contains much of his most powerful music.
Set at the severe court of Philip II in 16th Century Spain, amid the constant clamor of war and the threat of the notorious Inquisition, Philip himself is a major character in the opera – conflicted, awe-inspiring, and fascinating. Caught up in intrigues that surround the king is his son, Don Carlo, the king’s wife Elisabetta, whom he suspects of loving Don Carlo, the beautiful and conniving Princess Eboli, the revolutionary hero Posa, and the terrifying Grand Inquisitor – all (except the romantic idealist Posa) drawn from actual history.
But DON CARLO is ultimately not about history: It’s about scale. DON CARLO, like every Verdi opera, is about human beings, and it uses the historical moment (the Spanish Empire at this time spanning the entire world from the Americas to the distant Philippines, named after the king) to project the inner workings of the main characters onto a globe-sized screen. The whole world will be one way or another way depending on the choices these individuals make.
In such a context, every thought is dangerous, every feeling is wrenching, and every deed seems fatal – for one’s self and for multitudes of others. This is the world of Don Carlo, one that only Verdi could have brought to life on the stage with such insight and humanity. A production of this opera is a major undertaking for any opera company, and its staging at the ALO will be a major event for the company and for Austin.
Learn more about ALO’s DON CARLO here.
Next in ALO’s 2013- 2014 season is an opera that is both extremely popular yet consistently full of surprises: Puccini’s TOSCA. History also provides a departure point for this tragedy, and it’s a very specific historical moment: a twelve-hour period beginning on the afternoon of June 17, 1800, in three very real locations in the city of Rome.
But TOSCA invariably expands our definition of “real” and its corollary, “realism”. The three protagonists are not only real people one could conceivably have met in Rome, they are also archetypes who morph and reappear in varied guises everywhere down to our present day. The Baron Scarpia is every man in power who uses his position to satisfy his sadistic cravings, and Cavaradossi is every artist (or would-be artist) who imagines that his passion will usher in a new order of freedom and justice.
Above all, there is Tosca, one of the most enduringly gripping characters ever to walk the stage: an opera singer (one of a notable few who actually appear as characters in an opera); a “diva” in every sense of the word; a woman endowed with the superhuman qualities (and emotions) that keep people enthralled with the art form called opera.
Learn more about ALO’S TOSCA here.
THE ELIXIR OF LOVE
Perhaps the archetypes that reappear throughout human history aren’t only to be found in the great tragedies, like TOSCA and DON CARLO. Perhaps the great opera composers could re-create them in any number of forms. Certainly, the protagonists of Donizetti’s THE ELIXIR OF LOVE seem familiar and even essential to us today: there’s the eligible young lady surrounded by admiring men who are not quite her intellectual equal (even if they don’t realize that her smarts are part of the reason they all love her) and there’s the nice-guy-next-door who has to man-up enough for her to realize how much she has loved him the whole time. And along the way, there is – of course – the cocky-but-basically-nice dude who can have any woman he wants – almost.
Even the “doctor” who sells the magic “elixir of love” of the title, becomes likeable because he seems to be the victim of his own con. He knows he’s a huckster, but his fake elixir actually DOES bring people the happiness that previously eluded them! A world in which the Con Man, Joe Cool, the Dumb Guy, and the stuck up Pretty Girl all turn out to be loveable…? Sounds like a good basis for a sitcom. Now, add that buoyant music that made Donizetti immortal, and you have something more: a masterpiece that rips away opera’s (and society’s) aversion to the invincibility of true love. It CAN happen; a good performance of ELIXIR makes you wonder how you ever doubted it.
Learn more about ALO’S THE ELIXIR OF LOVE here.
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