Magazine article Opera Canada

Santa Fe Opera

Magazine article Opera Canada

Santa Fe Opera

Article excerpt

Following an artistically uneven 2002 season, Santa Fe Opera rebounded with a strong lineup of operas, topped off with an orchestral concert starring superstar soprano Natalie Dessay. Picking a winner wasn't easy, but La Belle Helene narrowly edged out the rest in a frothy, modern production. The brilliant sets and stage direction by Chantal Thomas and Laurent Pelly could hardly be bettered for sheer inventiveness. Act II featured an archaeological dig set in a museum; the Act III ballet sequence involved an elaborately choreographed mime of swimming. But it was the devastatingly cute flock of sheep in Act II that won the hearts of the audience. In the title role, New Mexico-native Susan Graham mugged it up mightily, obviously enjoying her impersonation of the most beautiful woman in the world. Together with tenor William Burden as a poster-boy Pads, they made a glamorous pair of lovers. The English spoken dialogue was over the top but all in fun. Conductor Kenneth Montgomery showed his remarkable versatility of style with a lightness of touch in the best operetta tradition.

Also on a very high level was Cosi fan Tutte. Allen Moyer designed a stunning unit set that appeared to be made of elaborately decorated silver foil. The modern, wacky costumes were worn smartly by the youthful east, led by the resplendently sung Fiordiligi of Puerto Rice-born soprano Ana Maria Martinez. The rest of the cast was fine but without reaching the same exalted level, with tenor Charles Castronovo and baritone Troy Cook a creditable pair of Albanians. With the lovely sets, clever direction of James Robinson and Canadian conductor Yves Abel moving things along, the opera went by in a flash.

The novelty of the season was the world premiere of Bright Sheng's Madame Mao, based on the life of Jiang Ching, the infamous wife of Man Zedong, the most powerful man in Communist China. Ching wielded her power ruthlessly as a member of the Gang of Four, and eventually fell from grace with the end of the Cultural Revolution. The opera opened with the body of Ching hanging from the ceiling of her prison cell, and tile story unfolded through flashbacks. Tile libretto by Colin Graham is dramatic and powerful, but also didactic and wanting in poetry. Musically, the work is, at its best, lyrical and evocative, and never less than striking and theatrically effective. However, there were also some highly derivative moments, as in the strong hints of Ravel's La Valse in the Ballroom scene, and some of the pageantry involving Chinese opera seemed forced. …

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