Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Timing Is Everything: Juilliard Presents Opera With Stutterer

Open-air performance of Bride at Waldtheater,
 Zoppsot, near Danzig, around 1913.
The Bartered Bride, aka Die Verkaufte Braut née Prodaná nevěsta, is the first hybrid production between the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and the Juilliard School of Music's Opera Center. Smetana's opera, performed at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, was a chance for young artists from both institutions to take on lead roles and get real stage experience while having the expertise of Maestro James Levine at the helm in the orchestra pit. Students also had the benefit of J.D. McClatchy (translating the Czech libretto into English), Stephen Wadsworth (director) and Benjamin Millepied (choreographer). So why pull out all the stops? The Metropolitan Opera will present this production, perhaps with a few
Czech poster for The King's Speech
enhancements, in the 2014-15 season. Ironically the work was presented in performance just as the Hollywood film The King's Speech was sweeping all the awards ceremonies around the globe. The movie depicts the heavy stutter of King George VI and his attempts to overcome it. Vašek, one of the characters in The Bartered Bride, is a stutterer and unlike many who lose their affliction when they sing he is given two arias ("Má ma-ma-ticka" and "To-to mi v hlave lezí") that serve only to act as a plot to make him seem less than equal to his rival Jeník. This character joins a long list of stutterers in opera including Don Curzio (Le Nozze di Figaro - Mozart), Cochenille (Les contes d'Hoffmann - Offenbach), Billy Budd (Billy Budd - Britten), Demo (Il Giasone - Cavalli) and Flacco (La caduta dei Decemviri - Leonardo Vinci). The opera world hosted one of
Robert Merrill (far right) with Leontyne Price and 
William Schumann at the topping out of the Metropolitan 
Opera House on January 20, 1964. Schumann was president
of Juilliard 1945-62 and head of Lincoln Center 1962-69.
the most famous baritones of the 20th century with a stutter, Robert Merrill. There are even works in opera that follow stuttering-like patterns in opera (some written only to fill out the rhythm) like the duet between Papageno and Papagena in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte "Pa-pa-pageno, Pa-pa-pagena!" Andrew Kuster also points to Nixon in China (John Adams) and Einstein on the Beach (Philip Glass) as using stuttering devices. Whatever the ploy, the synopsis of the opera follows a typical charade of love and misunderstanding (ala Donizetti's Don Pasquale). Zachary Woolfe reviewed the MET/Juilliard production for the New York Observer:

"This "Met+Juilliard" production is by Stephen Wadsworth, who took over this season's new production of Boris Godunov when Peter Stein dropped out late in the process. As in Boris, there was a great deal going on in Bartered Bride, but little seemed to happen. Every person onstage, down to the last chorister, seemed to have been given a backstory, an action to perform, a person to converse with, but the result felt artificial. The production, updated from the 1860s to the 1930s (because of budget reasons, Mr. Wadsworth wrote in a program note), resembled several of the Juilliard productions I've attended in the past few years: well prepared but a little staid, nicely sung and attractively designed but somehow unexciting. Mr. Levine's conducting, similarly, was lacking not in polish but in fire. The opera was performed in an English translation by the poet J.D. McClatchy, whose Magic Flute translation is sometimes performed by the Met and who recently published his versions of seven Mozart librettos. His work here, as in Mozart, tended toward the cutely, tediously self-regarding. And the bland choreography of Benjamin Millepied exemplified the Met's recent taste for boldface names over effective artistry (remember the Herzog/de Meuron/Prada Attila?). But the reason for the Met/Juilliard partnership is the singers, and they were uniformly charming. The stars, soprano Layla Clair and tenor Paul Appleby, sang well, and Mr. Appleby got many opportunities to act barely contained excitement, which he clearly enjoys. (Both he and Ms. Clair did their bits of dancing with more character, style and flair than the too-smooth Juilliard dancers in the company.)" Also in the production are Donovan Singletary (baritone) and Kiri Te Kanawa favorite Ta'u Pupu'a (tenor).
[Source, Source, Source, Source, Source]

Click photo to hear an excerpt with
Lorengar & Wunderlich
Listen and watch clips from past performances of the opera with such featured singers as Frizt Wunderlich, Pilar Lorengar, Peter Dvorsky and Gabriela Benackova!

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