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Thread: Galileo Galilei by Philip Glass at UNC-G

          
   
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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Galileo Galilei by Philip Glass at UNC-G

    Galileo Galilei, opera in one act, sung in English (supertitles in English are provided)
    Music by Philip Glass
    Libretto by Mary Zimmerman, Philip Glass, and Arnold Weinstein
    Premiered at Albert Ivar Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Illinois, on June 24, 2002

    Student production by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro School of Music, Theatre and Dance

    This review is of the second performance on April 17 (opening night was on April 16). There is one performance left, on Sunday April 19 at 2 PM, Aycock Auditorium, Greensboro, NC - for tickets, call 336-272-0160 or click [here] - attention, don't be afraid of the term "student production" - this is an excellent performance, not to be missed.

    UNCG Opera Orchestra conducted by Kevin Geraldi

    Stage Director and Producer, David Holley
    Scenic Designer, Randall McMullen
    Costume Designer, Trent Pcenicni
    Lighting Designer, Den White
    Assistant Conductor and Chorus Master, David Wagner
    Technical Director, Chip Hass

    Cast

    Principal roles

    Old Galileo - Derek Jackenheimer
    Pope Urban VIII, Simplico, and Cardinal Barbieri - Deon'te Goodman
    Maria Celeste - Adrienne Leggett
    Young Galileo, and Salviati - Derek Gracey
    Cardinal 1, Father Sinceri, and Oracle 1 - Matthew Reese
    Cardinal 2, Father Maculan, Oracle 2, and Servant - Jacob Kato

    Comprimario and silent roles

    Cardinal 3, and Priest - Wesley McCleary-Small
    Scribe, and Maria Maddalena - Natalie Rose Havens
    Sagredo, Marie de Medici, and Eos - Lydia Pion
    Adult Duchess Christina - Holly Curtis
    Child Duchess Christina - Sarah Geraldi
    Child Galileo - Evan Reich
    Oenopian - Baker Lawrimore
    Merope - Adrienne Geggett

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    This was a remarkable and polished performance with an incredible level of professionalism for a student production. Other than for some young voice that still need growth and fine-tuning (which is natural and appropriate), one wouldn't know that this show was not done by an experienced professional opera company. It ranks among the best student productions I've ever seen anywhere, either live or on YouTube videos. I would actually go as far as to say that this show ranks among the best I've seen live this season (among some 30 shows), the overwhelming majority of them done by professional companies - so, not only it competes nicely, but actually ranks near the top. There wasn't a single moment in which one would have the feeling of amateurism as it is so common with productions put together by academic departments in music schools. Bravo, UNC-G!

    First, let's talk about this opera. I am very much a lover of Philip Glass' minimalistic music, or as put by the composer, "music with repetitive structures." I like the richness of his sounds, and the ear-worm quality of his repetitions. I also think that he writes well for the voice, with very melodious moments. His opera Satyagraha in my opinion is one of the best contemporary operas ever written. Certainly Galileo Galilei is no Satyagraha, but it still is a very worthy piece.

    This 90-minute opera in one act and ten scenes tells backwards the story of the famous astronomer and scientist, starting with his late years, when he is blind, bitter, and depressed, lamenting the death of his beloved daughter Maria Celeste, and doubtful about his decision to knee down to the Inquisition and recant his scientific findings, to avoid torture and death. From this first scene, the opera goes back in time to other important events in the scientist's life, including his trial, his friendship with Cardinal Barberini (who later becomes Pope Urban VIII and in a sense betrays him by withdrawing his initial support for Galilei's ideas), his scientific experimentation with inclined planes and a pendulum, his invention of the telescope, and finally it recovers the childhood episode in which a mesmerized young Galilei watches the opera composed by his father Vincenzo Galilei about the character Orion (as in the constellation).

    This structure is both interesting and problematic. The opera in its first half suffers from a relative lack of pace and theatricality, with a predominance of bleak and subdued orchestration, as well as monotonous vocal writing. One needs to realize that this is intentional, in order to appreciate this piece and not lose patience with it before it delivers more compelling fare. See, what happens is that as the main character becomes younger and younger in the successive scenes, the bitter and bleak years and setbacks are progressively replaced by success and hope, ending in an apotheosis of youthful enthusiasm. This is how the music evolves as well, becoming more and more complex and lively as the opera progresses. The last three scenes are simply musically and theatrically gorgeous, and the finale with many voices and the orchestra in full blown mode is something to behold!

    It's a bit funny to think that this is probably the reason why this opera is performed without intermission... Glass was likely afraid that he would lose a chunk of his public if he gave them an opportunity to leave after the first half... Still, I do think that as understandable as this structure is (it does make sense in terms of this dichotomy between the old and the young character), the composer and his librettists might have found some alternative to the monotony of the first half, especially in the vocal writing. We do know from his other pieces and from the last three or four scenes of this opera that Glass is capable of composing better musical lines for the voice than the rather declamatory style of his first several scenes. I've seen other Glass operas that are musically beautiful from beginning to end, and this one does take its time to pick up. Still, overall it is very satisfactory, with this crescendo of musical interest and its sublime finale.

    Now, back to the production. Let's analyze element by element (all pictures below were by Opera Lively, but sorry for the less than ideal focus and brightness as they were taken with a smartphone).

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    Scenic Design - It was very successful. The stage has a semi-circular high platform and revolving stairs. The background gets projections that enhance the visual effects.

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    This is economic and efficient, since the stairs when they turn provide different configurations for the stage bringing to the different scenes some specificity, without the need for scene changes that would interrupt the flow. A+

    Lighting and projections - quite remarkable. By using effects such as projecting on the ground colorful lights to reproduce the effect of church stained glass windows, the stage morphs into a solemn church environment for the Inquisition scene:

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    Then, the "astronomer" theme is suggested by starry sky projections in different scenes, such as in this one:

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    It all works very well, deserving an A++ maximum score for lighting design.

    Stage direction and blocking were rather flawless. Not only Mr. Holley extracted very good acting from his young artists, but movement on stage made nice use of the different configurations, to very suggestive effect. For example, in the "opera within the opera" displayed in scene ten, the two youngsters looking up to the platform where the action is played on, provided for a beautiful configuration:

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    All movements on stage and entrances and exits of characters were harmonious and well executed. I thought that stage direction actually enhanced the theatricality of this piece which like I said is a bit lacking in this aspect, so it can't deserve anything less than another maximum score of A++.

    Props were also very polished. This is one of the aspects that made my jaw drop in terms of professionalism. There were some very clever solutions, such as the fact that one of the handrails on the stairs doubles as a large telescope, and on the other one, characters install and perform the experiment with the inclined plane, complete with four bells, balls that are thrown down the plane with well-done and period-looking measuring instruments:

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    This scene was so well executed that it drew applause from the public. Especially considering that this was a student production, how would we give any less than another A++? These props looked better than the ones we see in most professional opera companies.

    Costumes were also extremely convincing. In this picture of the curtain calls we can see some of them. There were still others with interesting head pieces. They all looked, again, under the risk of repeating myself, very professionally done, and better than the ones I've seen in the last several shows I've attended. A+

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    So, the physical production was extremely good. Now, for the musical parts. This was a chamber sub-set of the UNC-G Opera Orchestra, with about 15 to 20 student instrumentalists. They passed their task with flying colors! Other than one short moment of lost synchrony with the stage which occurred only once in this 90-minute show (and they did recover fast from it - I wouldn't fault them for this because after all, it's live theater and things happen), the playing was superb. The two percussionists were very precise. The small string section kept Glass' beautiful background repetitions rolling smoothly; the brass had the right dynamics; keyboards kept up with some of the composer's acrobatics, and transitions were neatly done. Great job by the orchestra and the conductor! A+

    Singing was a bit uneven, as expected for artists so young. Generally speaking male voices performed better than female voices. The overall level was high, with a couple of exceptions. I usually do not single out student singers who do less well, because anyway it is too early to pass judgment. I'd rather mention the ones who impressed me more than the average of their peers: four of them. Certainly Mr. Deon'te Goodman was the best singer in the evening, with great projection, musicality, and pitch control, in his multiple roles. He is one to be watched. Derek Jackenheimer as the old astronomer displayed very good acting and was enough of a tragic figure, impacting on his singing an appropriate harshness for his bitter lines, and mimicking well an old man's voice, showing that he can act with his voice. Holly Curtis was strong in her short role. Jacob Kato does show promise after he polishes his instrument a bit more.

    If we were to gauge the singing under professional grade standards, I'd give to it an overall B+, with Mr. Goodman reaching A+, Mr. Jackenheimer and Ms. Curtis delivering an A, and Mr. Kato A-; most other roles and comprimarios would be a B+ and a couple of students who still need more help would score a B-.

    Overall, this is undoubtedly an A+ show. Not only it was very impressively done, but also one needs to realize that the piece itself is not easy to put on stage, with its 17 or so singing roles and some ten other silent roles, and its relatively unforgiving theatrical structure, not to forget that playing and singing well contemporary music is not the easiest of tasks for these young artists.

    There was a good public at the Aycock Auditorium (by the way, the acoustics there are exquisite!) but the seats were very far from being sold out. Judging by comments overheard from patrons, many members of the public were made of the young artists' family, friends, and faculty. However, this show was so good that other opera lovers in our state who are at driving distance from Greensboro should also flock to the last opportunity to see it! Tomorrow at 2 PM a matinee performance will happen, and then the show will be gone forever. Don't miss it, readers!
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); April 19th, 2015 at 10:42 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
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    This performance was part of UNC-G's year-long celebration of the 450th birthdays of Shakespeare and Galileo, called the Globe and Cosmos Series.

    Two days before the opening night of this performance, the composer Philip Glass himself was present in Greensboro. He granted to students a Q&A section, pictured below, and then on Tuesday evening performed many of his instrumental pieces in a piano and violin recital, with pianist Timothy Fain.

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    I attended both the Q&A session and the recital, which was was extremely beautiful. It included the following pieces:

    Mad Rush (solo piano)
    The chaconne from Partita for Solo Violin in Seven Moments
    Metamorphosis # 4&5 (solo piano)
    Music from The Screens (Jean Genet's last stage work): France, The Orchard, and The French Lieutenant (piano and violin)
    Wichita Vortex Sutra (solo piano with recorded voice of Allen Ginsberg)
    Pendulum (piano and violin)

    Here is a clip with Mad Rush:



    And here, you have a sample of this same recital given elsewhere, in this clip featuring the last number, Pendulum, with Glass at the piano and Fain at the violin:

    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); April 18th, 2015 at 06:36 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  3. #3
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    These excellent performances, not to forget the spectacular La Fille du Régiment given earlier this season by Greensboro Opera (a company whose artistic director is the same David Holley who directed the above production), are proof that Greensboro is definitely a destination in the offerings for the performing arts in North Carolina.

    Greensboro Opera will be next showing Rossini's Cenerentola, on August 28 at 8 PM and August 30 at 2 PM, Aycock Auditorium, with tickets going on sale on May 15. For tickets, call 336-272-0160 or get them online at www.greensboroopera.org - some of the artists have been announced: Sidney Outlaw as Dandini, and Andrew Owens as Prince Ramiro. The title role apparently hasn't been announced yet.

    Mr. David Holley is also responsible for the Gilbert and Sullivan group Greensboro Light Opera and Song. They will be next showing Iolanthe, starring Robert Wells as the Lord High Chancellor. The shows are on June 18-21 at the Aycock Auditorium, and the tickets are already on sale also at 336-272-0160, or online at http://opera.uncg.edu

    ----------

    While a bit off-topic, we're happy to publicize other initiatives in Greensboro:

    Other offerings by the University Performance Arts Series of the UNC-G School of Music, Theatre and Dance for the 2015-16 season include:

    October 17 - An American Tradition, by the Paul Taylor Dance Company
    October 23 - A recital by internationally celebrated violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg
    February 13, 2016 - Hard-hitting fusion theatre Universes
    April 13 - Grammy award winning bluegrass band Del McCoury Band

    Tickets can be had by calling Triad Stage Box Office at 336-272-0160; subscribers for all four shows get a 25% discount. Subscribers get an opportunity to attend a fifth performance (limited seating) with Tony Award-winning UNC-G alumna Beth Leavel.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); April 18th, 2015 at 06:56 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  4. #4
    Member Recent member Vlad's Avatar
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    Luiz, how did you find Glass' piano performance? I saw him with Fein in Dallas, and during the solo piano works I felt his timing was off. But I've only otherwise heard those pieces in recording.

  5. #5
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vlad View Post
    Luiz, how did you find Glass' piano performance? I saw him with Fein in Dallas, and during the solo piano works I felt his timing was off. But I've only otherwise heard those pieces in recording.
    Well, I had never heard any of these pieces so it's harder for me to pass judgment, but to me he seemed to do just fine, actually better with more agility than on the video clips that I subsequently found of these pieces. I remember thinking "he is 78 but still got it!"
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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