The Danish composer Poul Ruders first came to the United States in 1986, the year after Margaret Atwood published her novel The Handmaid’s Tale. It was then that the late composer/conductor Oliver Knussen brought Ruders to Tanglewood for the American premiere of his craggy orchestral work, Manhattan Skyline. Ruders didn’t read The Handmaid’s Tale that summer – he points out that was long before that he calls the “Hulu-baloo” about the TV series based on the book. But it was there that he met the first and fiercest of his American champions, the guitarist David Starobin and his wife Becky. Ruders has since composed a significant repertory for Starobin and his instrument. The Starobins also run a record company, Bridge, that has to date produced 20 worthwhile CDs featuring Ruders’ music.
Paul Bentley is the very model of a modern multi-purpose man. He is an actor, an author, a singer, an historian and an opera-lover; his interests range from the Byzantine Empire to King Ludwig of Bavaria, to the 20th century scientist and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In conversation he will burst into “Fair Moon To Thee I Sing” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore in voice still steady and clear and even touch on the Forging Song from Wagner’s Siegfried, complete with pitch-perfect high C. He will tell you that his principal regret in life is that he was not endowed with the kind of voice with which he could have performed all the principal Wagnerian Heldentenor roles.
Intense Drama: Longtime friends Caroline Worra and Maria Zifchak on their challenging HANDMAID’S TALE roles
Soprano Caroline Worra met mezzo-soprano Maria Zifchak in 1998. Both had been chosen for the Merola Program, the San Francisco Opera’s prestigious institute for advanced operatic training; the two of them also appeared in the Western Opera Theatre touring production of Verdi’s La Traviata. They have remained friends ever since, and at one point Worra rented a first-floor apartment in Zifchak’s house in the Bronx. But they have never been onstage together since until Boston Lyric Opera engaged both of them for its forthcoming production of Poul Ruders’ operatic adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s cautionary dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. Atwood published her book in 1985; it became a best-seller and eventually a classic – and a highly controversial one, after it began to appear on college and high school reading lists. The subsequent 34 years have brought a movie, several stage adaptations, an opera, a graphic novel, and a ballet, and recently Hulu produced an award-winning TV series. Atwood herself worked or advised on some of these projects, and now, after a long interval, has produced a sequel which will appear in September.
The World Premiere of Benjamin Britten’s opera The Rape of Lucretia took place in 1946, almost a decade before David Angus was born. The composer died in 1976 when Angus was only 20, so the conductor of Boston Lyric Opera’s current production of Lucretia is too young to have become a member of Britten’s immediate circle of friends and interpreters. But as member of the King’s College (Cambridge) Choir, he did sing under Britten’s baton in a 1970 concert in Snape Maltings, the auditorium of the composer’s summer festival on the northeast coast of England. Only a year earlier, Snape Maltings had been destroyed by fire, and the work that reopened the hall and the festival in 1970was Britten’s vernal “Spring” Symphony, which remains a favorite of Angus’s – and at the drop of a hat he can still sing lilting lines from the boys’ choruses. “It was a great experience for all of us – as choirboys we sang every day, and music became our language.”
When crisis hit Boston Lyric Opera, Karole Armitage did not need to step forward as a first responder – she was already on the scene and involved in the Company’s forthcoming World Premiere production of Tod Machover’s Schoenberg in Hollywood.
In January, 1816, Gioacchino Rossini was up against a wall, and the person who put him there was himself. At the end of 1815, the composer was in Rome for the premiere of his opera Torvaldo e Dorliska which opened the day after Christmas. In the midst of the rehearsals and performances, the director of Rome’s Teatro Argentina asked him on very short notice to compose a new opera for carnival season in February.
She did it on a dare. Last year the mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack was in Washington, D. C., to sing the role of Bradamante in Handel’s opera Alcina. The conductor Jane Glover asked her if she thought she could sing a fearsomely long 72-note phrase in one of the arias on one breath. So Mack went away to a practice room one morning, chugged some coffee, and sailed right through it in front of a mic and video camera. She said there wasn’t much chance she could do it onstage in costume and moving around, but she would work on it.
As far as Google can tell, Claude Heater is the only member of the original cast of Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti who is still alive. Back in 1952, Heater was the baritone in the vocal trio that breezily comments on the action and functions as a kind of Greek Chorus.
Leonard Bernstein often complained that he never had enough time to compose the music he wanted to—he was always too busy—but the list of works he did complete is long, and nearly all of the best of it is vocal music. The range of musical styles he worked in is extraordinarily wide—he knew everything there is to know about the standard repertory and about thousands of other works—but the range of subjects he engaged with is comparatively narrow, and all of the subjects came out of his own life: love, family, and all the various ties that bind.
Next Season, Boston Lyric Opera will again journey to four different performance venues, but the Company remains committed to strongly theatrical productions of meaningful works—three contrasting 20th-century operas and the World Premiere of an opera from the 21st century.