Knowing the score: Opera for everyone
Let it be known: Parents, grandparents, school teachers, and family friends do not have to drive local children off Island for a cultural education. The Capawock Theatre is presenting the La Scala Opera and Radiotelevisione Italiana series of operas in high definition, 5.1 digital surround sound. The camera's general point of view is that of a knowledgeable opera-goer with great seats, a good pair of opera glasses, and a curious disposition. It is a perfect way to introduce Island youngsters to the joys of opera and you can do it without having to travel anywhere farther than Vineyard Haven.
I was about 22 months old when I first became a fan of opera. I was with my family attending a high school football game when the Corinth High School band concluded the halftime show with "The Triumphal March" from Verdi's "Aida." I was hooked. After college, I set my sights on New York and the Metropolitan Opera. One of the reasons I fell in love with my husband was that on our first date he took me to hear Beethoven's "Pastoral Symphony," and on our second, to hear a local diva do the best rendition I've ever heard of "Lucia de Lammermoor."
So I was unprepared when the series premiere last fall, Verdi's "Aida," was scarcely attended by anyone under 40, and septuagenarians were probably the favored demographic. One can even understand why Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" didn't draw the high school crowd. However, two weeks ago at Verdi's "La Traviata," I finally met a high school student who came with his mother and who listened to Violett's "Tutto e follia nel mondo" with his eyes closed in appreciation.
It's not too late to share the operatic experience with a youngster. Although the last four operas in the series operas are not as well known, that is all the more reason for one to go. Consider which might best fit your youngster's taste.
Sunday, March 16, brings Gaetano Donizetti's "Maria Stuarda," conducted by Antonino Fogliani and starring two superb divas, Mariella Devia and Anna Caterina Antonacci. This opera is focused on the religious conflict in England in the 1500s, spearheaded by Mary, Queen of Scots, a devoted Catholic, and Queen Elizabeth I of England, a devout Protestant, which ended in Mary's execution. The depictions of religious and political intolerance was so vivid that after its premier at La Scala in 1835, it was banned by the censors, cancelled in London the following year, and generally neglected until some 125 years later, when "Maria Stuarda" was finally given in full production in Donizetti's hometown of Bergamo in 1958.
Next in the series is Guiseppi Verdi's "La Forza del Destino" on Sunday, April 6. This is conducted by Zubin Mehta and stars Violeta Urmana, Carlo Guelfi, Marcello Giordani, and Julia Gertseva. If your young friend is a lover of Shakespeare, he or she will feel at home with the tale of star-crossed lovers and cross-dressing, while you can ponder the more serious undercurrents of how family loyalties can be as devastating as church or state to personal preferences and loyalties. Verdi, the patriot who was instrumental in the popularization of statehood for Italy, understood better than most about the personal costs of public life. Set in Spain and Italy a few generations after the conquest of the New World, this opera was written for and premiered in old St. Petersburg in 1862 and is the most frequently performed of the remaining operas in the series.
Sunday, May 4, brings a rare treat for serious opera lovers. Giacomo Puccini's 20th century work "Il Trittico" (three one-act operas) is almost never performed in its entirety. "Il Tabarro" (The Cloak) deals with jealousy and murder. "Suor Angelica" deals with sin and redemption by miracle. "Gianni Schiacchi" makes high comedy of greedy and disappointed heirs who seek to modify the will of a wealthy 13th-century Florentine, only to suffer quite unexpected circumstances.
You have another chance at Puccini on Sunday, June 1, when conductor Carlo Rizzi whisks us away from the fabled La Scala Opera House where most of the other operas have been filmed, to the recently restored Teatro La Fenice in Venice. "La Rondine" (The Swallow), starring Fiorenza Cedolins and Massimo Giordano, was originally conceived as an operetta, but ultimately disappointed its creator who took another two years to turn it into a full scale opera, only to have its presentation be interrupted by World War I. This opera is also unknown to me, so I'm excited to see it, knowing if Puccini is half as good with "Swallows" as he is with love-struck geishas ("Butterfly") or American cowgirls ("Fanciulla del West"), we will be well entertained.
All operas begin at 2 pm.
Bonna Whitten-Stovall was a member of the Board of the Amato Opera Theatre in New York City, and editor of "The Amato Opera Log."