Captain’s Log, Stardate 11-2015
Anyone who has followed my humble attempts at a blog here knows I have been listening to a great deal of Mozart’s music in recent months. Most recently, I have been swimming in Mozart operas. Currently I am working my way through the seven of Wolfgang’s 22 operas that have stayed in the standard repertoire. In fact, three of them are in the top ten most performed operas today, according to the OperaBase website. I am diving deeper into the study of these works than I ever had opportunity to in the past. I have acquired full scores to all seven, which include Idomeneo, The Abduction from the Seraglio, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosi Fan Tutte, La Clemenza di Tito and The Magic Flute. My next self-imposed assignment is to listen to recordings of each while following along with the score.
I think I am in prime form to get the most out of listening while following the written music. It has taken a bit of preparation to get to this point. First I had to familiarize myself with the synopsis of each work, the general outline of the story. Get to know the players, the characters, and in some cases just figure out how to pronounce their names correctly! Next I acquainted myself with the libretto, with english translation, so I knew exactly what was being sung/said while it was happening. Watching performances on video, with subtitles, has been very helpful in this process. Still, studying a couple of different translations of the full libretto has brought a deeper understanding of the nuances of the words. Of course, just when I think I am getting a bit of a handle on the Italian language, I run into The Abduction or The Magic Flute which are in German. The whole business of various languages keeps me very humble.
As wonderful as the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is, keeping my head and heart in the late 1700’s has left me at times with the feeling that something is missing. The Mozart is beautiful, cerebral, moving, lyrical and absolutely magic at times. Spending weeks listening to little else has made my ears sensitive to the idiom and gestures of the Viennese classical style with which Wolfgang worked. Alas, I am still not a child of 18th century Vienna, and as brilliant as the genius of Mozart is, a few things have grown in the last 250 years. A great deal of music has been written that makes your hips move, as well as your head and heart. I have found myself at times making use of the service at Spotify, and spending some time listening to Exile On Main Street, the great Rolling Stones double album released in 1972. Quite a contrast to The Magic Flute, but all I can do here is report the facts. In 1972, Mick Jagger’s voice was in fine form and the fellas put out this big collection of songs influenced by rock, blues, country, gospel and anything that sounded good to them. The results all sound good to me.
The last bit of this journal-like entry to my blog is about an opportunity that fell into my mailbox. After visiting the Detroit Opera House to see La Boheme last month, I was sent an offer to purchase some additional tickets to upcoming productions at 50% off. I took advantage of it, and this month will be seeing a production of The Passenger, an opera by Mieczyslaw Weinberg. This is part of what David DiChiera has called the “Opera In Our Time” series of productions for the Michigan Opera Theatre. Detroit will be only the third city in the United States to mount a production of the work. The description of the work from the MOT website reads like this:
In Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s opera — only recently discovered after having been suppressed for over 40 years — a West German diplomat, Walter (David Danholt), and his wife, Liese (Daveda Karanas), are ocean-bound for a new posting in Brazil. Unbeknownst to her husband, Liese once served as an SS officer in Auschwitz. There’s another woman (Adrienn Miksch) on the same cruise ship, a passenger whose mere existence haunts Liese. Guilt and denial, lies and truth, fear and courage, and love —they’re all here in an artistic and emotional experience you’ll never forget. Also featuring Marion Pop (Cyrano) and conducted by Michigan Opera Theatre veteran Steven Mercurio. According to John ven Rhein of The Chicago Tribune, The Passenger is “an experience in the theater that is not to be missed.”
The production takes place physically and theatrically on two levels. The upper level of the stage depicts the cruise ship, after World War II, where the former SS officer thinks she has run into a former prisoner of the concentration camp she worked during the war. The lower level of the stage portrays a flashback to happenings in the concentration camp itself. As a piece of Holocaust art, it is not going to be lighthearted at all, but promises to be a very moving experience. For me it is going to also be a very different sort of night at the opera. Usually, as you might guess, I do a good deal of preparation and study to make sure I get the most out of the evening. With The Passenger, I do not have easy access to recordings, videos, scores or librettos. It will be much more of a one night stand, rather than the longer term relationship I usually have with these works. I am forced to just go to the opera and experience the entire thing live as it unfolds. That is not a bad thing, just a great change from my usual method. I’m sure it will leave me wanting more.