Last night, Hill Auditorium hosted the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal with singer Joyce DiDonato. The concert started out with the overture to Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito. They performed this work with a smaller orchestra that only took up about half the stage. The instrumentation consisted of strings, a few winds, a couple trumpets, and timpani. Once Ms. DiDonato joined the orchestra, the trumpets and timpanist left and a clarinetist made their way to the front of the stage to be featured alongside her. I had heard of Ms. DiDonato many times, but I had never actually heard her sing live. She was incredible. Her voice sounded exactly like you would expect an opera singer’s to sound. This is likely because she has set a standard in singing that others strive to match. The interplay between her and the clarinetist was fascinating the watch as they alternated similar phrases. She was able to perfectly match the articulation and timbre of the clarinet using just her voice. In addition, she mimicked the other winds flawlessly, especially in the first aria. There was a moment where she had a run of doubled notes that the flute played at a different time where she embodied the character of a flautist to a T. As an encore, she joined the orchestra for a rendition of “Voi che sapete” from The Marriage of Figaro. She used an iPad for the arias from La Clemenza, but she had this one memorized. It was clear she had performed it many times. She really took control of the stage by incorporating some acting into her performance and having some fun with Maestro Nézet-Séguin and the assistant principal first violinist. Overall, the first half of the concert was great, especially for those who are big fans of opera. On the second half, the orchestra played Anton Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. Bruckner’s music is best known for it’s epic, massive moments and this symphony had plenty of them. The size of the orchestra seemingly doubled between the first and second halves with a full brass section, a timpanist, and about half a string section joining the chamber orchestra from the first half. I thought the orchestra performed the piece very well, overall. There were some questionable moments where the horns might have had an off night or the timpani might have been too loud for my liking, but mistakes happen in performances and everyone has their own opinion as to what sounds best. The piece seemed to follow a structure of peaks and valleys which, honestly, gets pretty old in a symphony that’s over an hour long. We’d hear a couple minutes of really loud, awesome music, followed by some softer, prettier stuff. I feel like most great symphonies have a few moments that are really special and people immediately think of them when they think of that symphony. This one had so many big moments that I can’t remember any of them because, even though they were awesome when I heard them, they all blended together. None of this is the fault of the orchestra, of course. They played it in a very convincing manner and Maestro Nézet-Séguin commanded the podium with an incredible energy. They closed the night with a really cool encore by Violet Archer, a composer I had never heard of. I really enjoyed the piece and was grateful that Maestro Nézet-Séguin exposed the audience to it. I have seen him perform twice at Hill now, and he has been fantastic both times. I will surely be going back if I see his name on the UMS schedule again next year!
On Wednesday November 20th at 7:30, Hill Auditorium will play host to the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal, featuring Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and superstar Mezzo-Soprano, Joyce DiDonato. This is not the first appearance at Hill for either Nézet-Séguin or DiDonato. They performed a collaborative recital last year with Maestro Nézet-Séguin accompanying Ms. DiDonato on piano. Maestro Nézet-Séguin is also the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and he conducted them here last fall. On this concert, Ms. DiDonato will perform arias from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, one of the last operas he ever worked on. They will follow the Mozart up with Anton Bruckner’s 4th symphony in E flat Major. Bruckner’s works have become more widely recorded as of late. Maestro Nézet-Séguin and this orchestra actually released a recording of his 4th symphony in 2011. This concert promises to be a great night of serious music making with some of the best musicians in the business right now. Tickets are still available and can be purchased on the UMS website or from the ticket office in the League.
The School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s production of the opera La Bohème was certainly a treat. Featuring the University Opera Theatre and the University Symphony Orchestra, it was a chance to go to the opera without leaving campus!
Though La Bohème was first performed in 1896 (the music is by composer Giacomo Puccini, and the libretto, or words, is by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica), this performance was set in the post-war era. This allowed for more modern costuming and set design, and in my opinion, it also made the entire storyline seem more relatable, as the characters were not in the distant past. The addition of English captions over the stage was also a welcome addition, since the entire opera is in Italian (which, unfortunately, I am not fluent in).
If you know the musical Rent, the plot of La Bohème will be familiar, as the musical is a modern adaptation of the opera. However, though the storyline contains themes of youth, romance, poverty, and realities of the “Bohemian” existence, the plot seemed rather underdeveloped to me. In particular, the ending seemed abrupt, and I would have liked more closure (though perhaps this serves to further the opera’s themes).
That said, the simplicity of the plot allows the opera’s music to shine through. The University Symphony Orchestra performed the score spectacularly, and the leads and the chorus were also wonderful. I enjoyed the fact that the design of the Power Center allows the orchestra to be largely visible, rather than hidden under the stage. Sometimes, however, this was to my detriment, as I was watching the orchestra and listening to the music rather than watching the on-stage action and reading the captions!
In the area of set design, the opera production was also stunning. There was a short intermission between each of the opera’s four acts to allow time for elaborate set changes, and they were certainly worth the wait. I can only imagine the time and effort that goes into designing and constructing the sets. My personal favorite was the set for Act II, which took place in Paris’s Latin Quarter on Christmas Eve. Featuring a nearly full-scale two-story building façade, streetlamps, and Christmas wreaths and garlands, it was a work of art. On a separate note, this scene also featured members of the University of Michigan Marching Band, as well as the Ann Arbor Youth Chorale! I also enjoyed the set for Act III, which featured falling snow and a moving train.
The School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s production of La Bohème was an excellent opportunity to see a high-quality performance right here in Ann Arbor, and I am glad that I had the chance to attend!
Before tonight, I had never been to an opera. The idea of attending one has always felt like a faraway dream; so alien to me is the concept of high society, or even adulthood, that I could never really picture myself amongst Opera-Goers. Not sure how to dress, I assumed a hyper-formal ensemble: a blazer and starched white blouse, dress slacks and sensible kitten heels I’d bought for a funeral last year.
I was shocked to find that the Kerrytown Concert House is an actual house. The place wasn’t the cathedral-like, built-in-the-1800s monster of a building with an elaborately painted ceiling that I was for some reason expecting. I’ve probably seen Phantom of the Opera too many times to realize opera can be performed on a stage of any size. The room was shining though, with a beautiful Steinway front and center and a smooth hardwood floors. Though I was definitely the youngest attendee, I felt at home in the audience, if a bit overdressed for the occasion. Again, I have not so much as dipped a toe into the opera world, so I had no idea what to expect.
This opera was not at all what I expected.
Much of the tone was humorous, even whimsically off-beat. While singing, melodic and haunting in its trio harmony, comprised much of the performance, there was far more dialouge than I had thought there would be. This is refreshing; many musicals I’ve been in and attended have been overpowered by song, which despite its vocal quality is typically incomprehensible. The speaking sections add the dimension sirens are denied in literature.
Kate Soper (writer of the opera as well as the actress playing Polyxo) relates her characters to links in an evoluntionary lineage. Polyxo needs escape, from the literal island but also the prison of the stereotypes of her kind; Peitho is younger and more naive, full of love for sailors that pass her way, but beginning to question how she’s viewed; Phiano is the cavewoman of the group, incapable of thinking beyond the island and what she’s been made out to be. Led by Polyxo, the opera investigates what it means to be so severely misunderstood that those around you begin to internalize the message they hear repeated over and over.
This idea does not end with Greek mythology. Its meaning extends out through the larger world: just as the sirens have been framed in a negative light, so do we draw caricatures based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation. And those whose faces are drawn with exaggerated features might begin to think like Polyxo, or maybe Peitho, and some, sadly, like Phiano.
If you are interested in upcoming performances at the Kerrytown Concert House, check out their website www.kerrytownconcerthouse.com.
Were you the weird kid in middle school who was obsessed with Greek mythology? Can’t believe that anyone hasn’t seen the Percy Jackson movies? Love listening to people scream-singing while wearing large wigs and formal clothing?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’ll just love Here Be Sirens, an opera telling the tale of the lives of a trio of sirens. Oftentimes, these creatures are made out to be one-dimensional monsters, evilness being their only characteristic. Composer, performer, and playwright Kate Soper approaches her main characters with a more open mind, giving them internal desires and dreams that conflict with the caricature that outsiders typically see.
Come on down to the Kerrytown Concert House this Thursday, November 29 at 8 PM to experience Soper’s masterpiece. Tickets are absolutely FREE with your passport to the arts ticket, or $10-35 if you are PTTA-less.
For four hours on Tuesday night, I was not an undergraduate student driven by pre-exam stress in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Teatro Regio Torino Orchestra and Chorus, coupled with phenomenal acoustics at Hill Auditorium, made me feel like I was in an opera house in Italy. It was one of the most memorable concert experience I have ever had.
Teatro Regio Torino Orchestra and Chorus hail from Turin, Italy, under the baton of Maestro Gianandrea Noseda. First led by Maestro Arturo Toscanini at the end of 19th century, they are one of the most historical and prestigious opera companies in the world. I was very excited when I found out that the entire opera company was travelling overseas to give a performance in Ann Arbor. (Fun fact: Teatro Regio Torino’s first-ever North America Tour included only 4 cities: Chicago, Toronto, Carnegie Hall in New York, and Ann Arbor.)
This was my first time seeing an opera performed unstaged, in concert setting. While it was sometimes difficult to follow the plot because they did not act or wear any costumes, I liked watching an opera this way because I got to observe everyone involved in the performance — orchestra, chorus, and soloists — react to each other’s music-making. The soloists were truly amazing, too. Special shoutout goes to Ms. Angela Meade, who played the role of Matilde. She has a resonant voice that fills up the large auditorium, expressivity that truly shows, and ability to do some crazy virtuosic passages with no difficulty at all. To all performers, “wow” is all I can say.
It was really unfortunate that the performance was on a Tuesday night during the last days of classes. I couldn’t help but notice many seats in the auditorium empty, while they totally deserved a full house. I hope they come back to Ann Arbor again with some other amazing operatic repertoires!