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Thread: The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein at Santa Fe Opera

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  1. #1
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein at Santa Fe Opera

    La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (1867), sung in French with spoken dialogues translated into English, at Santa Fe Opera

    Music by Jacques Offenbach
    Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy
    English dialogue by Lee Blakeley

    Santa Fe Opera has subtitles displayed on the seats, and for this opera there are English and Spanish versions

    There are four more performances of this production scheduled for the next few days: August 7, 15, 21, and 24, with a few remaining tickets which can be bought by clicking [here] - not to be missed by those who can make the trip; this is a highly recommended show.

    The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, conducted by Emmanuel Villaume
    Stage Director Lee Blakeley
    Scenic Design Adrian Linford
    Costume Design Jo van Schuppen
    Lighting Design Rick Fisher
    Coreographer Peggy Hickey
    Chorus Master Susanne Sheston

    Casting has first-rank star mezzo Susan Graham whose delightful exclusive interview with Opera Lively can be found [here] and is a must-read for her charm and intelligence; she describes extensively the production. Also present is rising star young tenor Paul Appleby who is scheduled for an interview with Opera Lively on August 1st; stay tuned to read it.

    In order of vocal appearance:

    Wanda, fiancée of Fritz: Anya Matanovic
    Fritz, a soldier: Paul Appleby
    General Boum: Kevin Burdette
    The Grand Duchess: Susan Graham
    Baron Puck, tutor of the Grand Duchess: Aaron Pegram
    Népomuc, aide-de-camp: Theo Lebow
    Prince Paul: Jonatham Michie
    Iza, bridesmaid: Shelley Jackson
    Olga, bridesmaid: Julia Ebner
    Amelia, bridesmaid: Sarah Mesko
    Charlotte, bridesmaid: Sishel Clavarie
    Baron Grog, a diplomat: Jared Bybee
    Notary: Dan Kempson

    Dancers: Adam Cates, Kevin Gallacher, Tiffany Griffin, Danielle Jordan, Matthew Warner Kernan, Melissa Steadman, Yvette Tucker, Kyle Vaughn

    All photo credits are by Ken Howard, and they were gently made available to Opera Lively by the Santa Fe Opera Press Department.


    I can think of many less thrilling activities to have, than attending opera in the strikingly beautiful open-air Santa Fe opera house, situated on top of a mountain with its dramatic landscape and famed sunset, while enjoying the great hospitality of the company, and the exquisite fine dining and artistic environment of this compelling New Mexican city. The pleasure is compounded by the fact that production values, singing, and playing in this company are world-class, making of it an obligatory stop for the itinerant opera lover from all over the world. Their always excellent summer festival is a high point of the operatic season and not to be missed, particularly in these late July and early August weeks when all five operas can be seen in consecutive days.

    Opera Lively again sent two envoys to the festival, and will be publishing reviews and interviews - stay tuned for Oscar, La Donna del Lago, La Traviata, and The Marriage of Figaro, coming next, in a star-studded season featuring singers such as Susan Graham, Joyce DiDonato, Lawrence Brownlee, Lisette Oropesa, and David Daniels.

    Next year's festival line-up has been announced, and goes from the usual five to six operas:
    Carmen with Ana María Martinez and Roberto de Biaso; Don Pasquale with Laura Tatulescu and Alek Shrader; Fidelio with Paul Groves and Alex Penda, and Mozart's The Impresario together with Stravinsky's Le Rossignol in double bill and the same cast, featuring Brenda Rae and Erin Morley. These are all new productions. Continuing the tradition of premieres, the sixth one will be the American premiere of new opera Dr. Sun Yat-sen by the distinguished Chinese-born American composer and conductor Huang Ruo, performed in Mandarin, featuring tenor Warren Mok.

    After having interviewed lovely Susan Graham, our expectation was high for this production, given her visible enthusiasm for it. I should already tell you, dear reader, that no disappointment came from this; much the opposite. I had mentioned to Susan that although I love this Offenbach operetta, the third act loses steam as compared to the second one. No such thing in Santa Fe, where the fast paced blocking, great stage direction, and comic flair of these performers made of it a much more compelling affair than what can be seen in the standard-bearer DVD version (which is by the way also very good; just not as good) with Felicity Lott, directed by Laurent Pelly and conducted by Marc Minkowski.

    The word hilarious may be cliché, but can't be avoided here. I've rarely laughed as hard in an opera house. While many frown upon alterations to a work, I do believe that in operatta they are in order. The goal of operettas was often one of being satirical about current events and contemporary people at the time of their composition. This piece coincided with the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867, and various dignitaries from other countries were in attendance, therefore the composer chose to make fun of the militaristic heads of state and of the palatial intrigue. At the time, he frankly hit the mark, attracting the ire of censors who were unhappy with the fact that a noble woman was attracted to a common soldier, and with the fun being held at the expenses of Teutonic rulers.

    Even though the censors were worried, actually the monarchs and lieders themselves seem to have enjoyed the piece very much: it was attended by the likes of Napoleón III, the Prince of Wales, Tsar Alexander II, the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia, Bismarck, the ViceRoy of Egypt, the King of Bavaria, the King of Portugal, and the King of Sweden.

    Offenbach satirized fellow composers as well, such as Meyerbeer and his pompous Les Huguenots which is made fun of in the "Blessing of the Daggers" scene, as well as a drinking song that is a parody of a Margueritte ballad from Gounod's "Faust."

    Offenbach and his librettists wanted to be funny and to entertain the Parisian public that attended this piece when it premiered at the Théâtre des Variétés in 1867, and of course, the circumstances are long gone a century and a half later, so, updating the jokes a bit makes for a much more engaging show, and I completely support it in the case of operetta.

    This is how the public enjoyed laughing peaks in jokes that made reference, for example, to the famous comedic movie A Fish Named Wanda, when the second female lead's name was coming up - such as when the Duchess talks about a trist a character is supposed to be having with Wanda, by saying "I bet fish is in the menu." Also, a running joke couldn't stop cracking me up even when it returned a few times: each time General Boum fired a warning shot into the skies, from the roof of the stage a dead duck fell on the singers.

    Another very funny moment was the duet between Fritz and Wanda in Act I, involving an aptly used sentinel guardhouse.

    Adding to the pleasure was the outstanding choreography by Peggy Hickey. Not only her eight professional dancers where exquisite in their acrobatics and their can-can chorus line, but also both the female and the male choruses had very well choreographed movements, which she recovered from real life rifle-twisting military tradition.

    The scenery was light-hearted and tasteful, situating the opera in an American military academy of the early 20th century, with nice-looking costumes. It is another feature of an operetta to be sometimes given in an environment specific to the hosting country where it's being performed. Doing it in America also provides a subtext of this local culture of cadets and cheerleaders, not to forget the more current themes of female emancipation in the "cougar" phenomenon (recovered by the poster that features the face of a cougar, the animal), gender roles, money, and power.

    For the same comic-driven updated reason, English language dialogue was employed, and Susan was right about it not getting in the way, while the melodies of the French language were preserved in the fact that all recitatives and sung numbers were in French.

    Singing was excellent accross the board. Susan Graham dispenses introduction, and she was able to show how the peak of her career has been a long one and not about to pass. Her delivery was perfect in all regards, dispelling the notion I've seen expressed by someone, that her mezzo voice is too light. Far from it, she was able to project very loudly and clearly across this open air theater that has limited acustic support, which sometimes can be a problem for less potent singers in Santa Fe. Not to forget, her acting was just sublime. She portrayed with perfection the sexy cougar interested in the young men of the academy, as well as the cunning, smart woman who spins all other male characters around her little finger.

    Paul Appleby as Fritz was another stupendous performer, with his clear French and beautiful timbre. His pretty and charming co-star Anya Matanovic as Wanda was a pleasure to see and hear.

    All three comic over-the-top characters were extremely funny in their acting abilities: Kevin Burdette, Aaron Pegran, and Jonatham Michie. The young ladies who played the bridesmaids were all attractive, and other comprimarios did well.

    Maestro Emmanuel Villaume, being French himself, was very comfortable in this repertoire, and extracted from the Santa Fe Opera a brisk and lively performance. Admirable is the fact that the production used a critical edition by musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck, and presented an uncut version of the score, restauring for instance the great finale to act II that is missing from the famous recording conducted by Plasson and featuring Régine Crespin. Other restored parts include the Fritz-Wanda duet in Act I previously noted, and the beautifully lyrical Duchess' "Méditation" at the beginning of third act.

    In summary, it was an A-grade show, highly recommended; so, reader, if you can, gobble up the remaining tickets while they last.

    Let's see some production pictures (all by Ken Howard):

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    Matanovic and Appleby

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    The gorgeous Susan Graham

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    The three comic characters, respectively Burdette, Michie, and Pegram.

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    The canon-chasing scene was very funny

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    Nice rifle choreography

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    Graham and Appleby

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    The Grand "Le Carrillon the Ma Grand-Mère" can-can scene

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    Night is falling in Santa Fe

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    All is well when it ends with a toast
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); August 1st, 2013 at 09:27 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  2. #2
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
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    This is usually for our Food and Wine section, but I'll place it here to literally wet the appetite for a trip to Santa Fe to attend opera: a meal at the excellent Coyote Cafe - next we're going to Geronimo which has an even better reputation.

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    Fried Pumpkin Flower

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    Surf and Turf Tartare

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    Fiery White Prawn, a signature dish

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    Elk Tenderloin

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    Strawberry White Chocolate Parfait

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    Home made ice-cream (Mint, Cognac, White Chocolate, etc.)

    Very delicious! Come to Santa Fe!

    Here, the poster for the new season:

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    And Opera Lively's interview book, volume 1, is on sale at the Santa Fe Opera Gift Shop (top left); the current interviews (Laurent Pelly, Susan Graham, etc.) will be part of volume 2, due in December 2013.

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    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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