By Tazewell Thompson
Director, Lost in the Stars
When I first encountered the novel Cry, the Beloved Country in high school, the searing, emotional force of the book impacted me in very hard, personal, and meaningful ways. The world outside and within my schoolroom window was filled with rage and outrage. It was the height of the tumultuous civil rights movement. I identified very closely with the brutal mistreatment of South African blacks in the novel, as day after day I read about the beatings and horrific attacks, the bombings, the unjustified incarceration of my people, the humiliation of children being denied the schools of their choice, and the assassinations of the ordinary and the extraordinary martyrs. Today I revisit Alan Paton’s novel and the opera it inspired with not so much cleansed eyes and an open heart of forgiveness and understanding — although there is that — but with a deeper sense of how these works magnify how far we, as a race of ever hopeful people, have come. In the years since these works were written, we have seen the election of a black president, the Voting Rights Act, women’s liberation, the freeing of Nelson Mandela, the dissolution of apartheid, and the legalization of gay marriage. The book and the opera have become more significant to me as great testaments of the power of art and its ability to confront injustice.
Ariana returns to the role of Gretel in WNO’s Hansel and Gretel this month.
Where were you born? Did you grow up in a musical household?
I was born in Brazil and then adopted by dairy farmers in Indiana. My family likes music but no one is particularly musical. My parents and siblings played instruments in high school but they all sing along to the radio.
Is that where you consider “home” today?
Even though I moved around a lot as a kid I still consider Batesville, Indiana, home.
When did you first know you wanted to sing opera?
After attending Interlochen Arts Camp the summer before my senior year of high school, I was encouraged to pursue opera in college. It was my first indication that I kind of knew what I was doing singing-wise because I am from a small town and I had no way of knowing how I stacked up.
Wagner is a big part of your operatic repertoire. What draws you so strongly to his music?
To give a complete answer, it would be necessary to explain what a real conductor (I mean, a conductor as the composer wants him to be) is actually doing during the performance, during the rehearsals, before the rehearsals. To explain, it would need a book.
Instead, let’s use a metaphor: the conductor is a painter who sees clearly the image in his mind before making it visible for the others. Only he sees the work and sees what needs to be done to make, let’s say, the Mona Lisa, visible. This active part of the creation of the conductor grows with the richness, the dimensions, the complexity, and the length of the score, as well as the vastness of the discourse of the composer.
“Having greatly enjoyed working with Philip Glass on my first libretto (based on J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians), I was delighted when he asked me to work on a second, this time an original. However, when he said the subject he had in mind was the final week of the Civil War, I was forced to admit I knew next to nothing about the subject. He seemed pleased. That’s what he wanted, he said, an objective outsider’s view.
Philip’s thought was that the principal protagonists in the war—Grant, Lee and, in the background, President Lincoln—had all behaved in an exceptionally civilised way. He wanted to make an implicit critical contrast between this and the botched and vindictive manner in which these matters have been conducted in our own era. Read more
“The history of Appomattox began in 2005 when David Gockley—then head of Houston Grand Opera—invited me and writer Christopher Hampton to prepare the opera in Texas. I was interested in a southern opera company and was very happy to begin a new project with David, who had already produced three of my operas in Houston. As it turned out, the premiere of Appomattox took place with San Francisco Opera in 2007, after David moved to that city to become the company’s general manager.
The first production of Appomattox took the story from the fall of Richmond in 1865 in Act I, to the murder of three civil rights workers in Tennessee in 1965. Christopher Hampton has remained the author of the original libretto and continues as such for today’s new production. Read more
Conductor Evan Rogister and director E. Loren Meeker provide a peek into the process of developing their own performing edition of Bizet’s Carmen.
“Few works from the standard operatic repertory present more choices for the artistic team than Bizet’s Carmen,” explains conductor Evan Rogister. “Following Bizet’s death, Ernest Guiraud not only added recitative for the Viennese premiere, but also significantly subtracted and added to Bizet’s original material. Although always well-intentioned and in some cases very artful, Guiraud’s solutions—the “traditional” version of Carmen that the world came to know—obscured much of what Bizet imagined for the opening night in Paris. In essence, Carmen was transformed from opéra comique into grand opera. Carmen as Bizet intended it only started to come to light in the modern age after two rounds of scholarship, one in 1964 by Fritz Oeser and one in 1992 by Robert Didion.” Read more
The works of largely self-taught composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) are as varied as the preoccupations of the man himself. His earliest works to receive a public hearing were for voice and piano, and over the course of his career he wrote around 150 songs. The apparent simplicity of his melodies, so closely fitted to their texts, belies their meticulous craft. Poulenc’s musical settings of the sexy, subversive, and surreal verses of contemporary poets Read more
Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.
—Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Many sources have been cited for the richly overstuffed cabinet of curiosities that is Mozart and Schikaneder’s The Magic Flute. Jakob August Liebeskind’s “Lulu, oder der Zauberflöte” (“Lulu, or the Magic Flute”), published in 1786 as part of a collection of fairy tales Read more