FRED PLOTKIN is one of America’s foremost experts on opera and has distinguished himself in many fields as a writer, speaker, consultant and as a compelling teacher. He is an expert on everything Italian, the person other so-called Italy experts turn to for definitive information. Fred discovered the concept of "The Renaissance Man" as a small child and has devoted himself to pursuing that ideal as the central role of his life. In a “Public Lives” profile in The New York Times on August 30, 2002, Plotkin was described as "one of those New York word-of-mouth legends, known by the cognoscenti for his renaissance mastery of two seemingly separate disciplines: music and the food of Italy." In the same publication, on May 11, 2006, it was written that "Fred is a New Yorker, but has the soul of an Italian."
Opera More Than Ever: Unusual Works to Discover in 2017-2018
Monday, February 06, 2017 - 10:08 AM
One of the themes I want to address often in this new year is the degree to which opera is more vital, more fascinating, more relevant than ever. Companies everywhere continue to expand the repertory and develop new ways of producing familiar and new works.
Standard repertory — those familiar works by Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Wagner, Bizet, Puccini and others — is the bread and butter of opera. They are essential for the well-being of companies and their budgets, but also are masterpieces loved by most audiences. We never tire of Don Giovanni, Lucia di Lammermoor, Rigoletto and Tosca and enjoy seeing interpretations by singers and directors who help us learn more about these characters who speak to us so profoundly.
It is important to have new experiences and push creative boundaries in unusual directions. Bread and butter are delicious when they are well-made, but sometimes the addition of an unusual jam or honey makes all the difference.
Right now, opera companies around the world are optimistically announcing their new seasons and hope that their loyal and adventuresome audiences will come for bread and butter and also try the jam. The Metropolitan Opera announces quite soon and I will devote an article to that. The Royal Opera and English National Opera in London announce in April and La Scala comes soon too. The New York Philharmonic announces on Feb. 8. It usually has compelling programming that includes vocal music.
Los Angeles Opera is a trailblazer in terms of its offerings, though hardly alone in this endeavor. Washington and Philadelphia are among other leaders. LA’s 2017-18 season reflects a sense of opera as an art form without walls and barriers. Traditional works by Bizet, Verdi and others will be at the Dorothy Chandler pavilion but other operas, some new and all enticing, come under the umbrella of an initiative called LA Opera Off Grand and will be in unusual venues.
Southern California audiences can hear Matthew Aucoin’s Crossing (inspired by Walt Whitman’s Civil War experiences); Philip Glass’s score for Jean Cocteau’s classic film La Belle et La Bête; Keeril Makan’s opera Persona, inspired by the Ingmar Bergman film; and Gordon Getty’s double-bill of Usher House and The Canterville Ghost. LA also is a co-presenter of Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice that I will discuss below.
Here’s a lot more operatic honey and jam coming soon:
March 11-19: Still in this season but too enticing to ignore — Dinner at Eight, a new opera by the great William Bolcom with a libretto by Mark Campbell. Part of Minnesota Opera’s excellent New Works Initiative. The story is based on the comic play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber that became a classic film.
June: LoftOpera in Brooklyn, which has a diverse offering in 2017 including Rossini’s Otello, Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle, stages Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo (1607), the oldest opera still in the repertory, coinciding with the 450th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
June 23-July 8: Following on the heels of the huge success of Fellow Travelers in 2016, Cincinnati Opera presents Frida, about the artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The 1991 opera has music by Robert Xavier Rodríguez and a libretto by Hilary Blecher and Migdalia Cruz.
Sept. 14-25: Opera Philadelphia presents its O17 Festival, offering the world premieres of three operas, two other opera productions and many cultural initiatives all over town. The operas are Elizabeth Cree, We Shall Not Be Moved and The Wake World.
Sept. 23: The Lyric Opera of Chicago will announce its new season on Feb. 7 with general director Anthony Freud and music director Sir Andrew Davis addressing an audience of subscribers who will also hear tenor Russell Thomas sing. This is an unusual and pro-active means of audience engagement and I will be interested to see how it turns out. One presentation has already been announced: Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice will premiere in Chicago in a co-production with LA Opera, the Joffrey Ballet and the Hamburg Ballet. It will be directed, choreographed and designed by Europe-based John Neumeier making an important return to his native land. The dance sequences will be fuller than usually seen in productions of this opera.
Nov. 30-Dec. 14: Houston Grand Opera presents the world premiere of The House Without a Christmas Tree, a holiday opera by Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek.
Jan. 19 and 21, 2018: Washington National Opera presents Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s Proving Up. They are the team that premiered the superb Breaking the Waves in Philadelphia in 2016. On Jan. 20, Three Twenty Minutes Operas, a part of the American Opera Initiative Festival will offer three world premieres.
Feb. 11-17, 2018: Dallas Opera presents works entirely new to me, a double bill of Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto (1945) and The Ring of Polykrates, a one-act opera composed in 1913 when he was 16-years-old. From March 9-17, 2018, Dallas presents the U.S. premiere of Sunken Garden by Michel van der Aa with libretto by British novelist David Mitchell.
Feb. 24-Mar. 10, 2018: Seattle Opera presents a new take on Beatrice and Benedict, combining the music of Berlioz with text drawn from Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing.
March 25, 2018: The English Concert led by Harry Bicket makes annual appearances at Carnegie Hall with concert versions of Handel operas. They will perform Ariodante starring Joyce DiDonato on Apr. 30, 2017, and return with Rinaldo next year with a superb cast led by Iestyn Davies and Luca Pisaroni.
April 5-15, 2018: Atlanta Opera presents Out of Darkness: Two Remain by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer about two Holocaust survivors — Polish dissident Krystyna Zywulska and Gad Beck, a gay German Jew. In a similar vein, Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins will have two artists playing the role of Anna, one who sings and one who dances, in this unusual 1933 evocation of the best and worst of human behavior (dates to be announced).