Opera is changing, and Cincinnati is at the forefront

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Eisenhower’s words are projected above the cast in a scene of “Another Brick in the Wall” that drew audience applause. Provided/Philip Groshong

This month at Cincinnati Opera, audiences are seeing an opera based on a Pink Floyd rock album and another, “As One,” on a transgender topic. The company is commissioning “Blind Injustice,” based on the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati, to premiere next year in CO’s 99th season.

Last week, the chamber group concert:nova presented a “rock opera” based on sci-fi stories from “The Illustrated Man” by Ray Bradbury. (Here’s a column I wrote about it.)

It’s no secret that opera can no longer lure audiences with just the traditional canon of the ABCs – “Aida,” “La Boheme” and “Carmen.” Around the country, opera companies are embracing diversity and programming new American opera on a range of topics.

For the last couple of decades, new opera has addressed timely social issues – such as Jake Heggie’s and Terrence McNally’s “Dead Man Walking,” based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean about the death penalty. As opera embraces the vernacular – with the aim of making it accessible to all — the whole art form is blurring the lines between traditional opera, pop and musical theater.

A case in point is “Another Brick in the Wall,” based on the acid-rock Pink Floyd Album, “The Wall.” To me, the production emphasized the visuals – the projections, the scenic design, the spectacle – leaving an impression not far removed from a night at the theater seeing “Les Miserables” or “Miss Saigon.” (Read my review here.)Read More »

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‘Iolanta’ charms at Queen City Opera

Iolanta and her aides in Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta” at Queen City Opera. Provided photos

“I long for something, but I don’t know what,” sang the lovely blind princess Iolanta, in Queen City Opera’s production of Tchaikovsky’s final opera, “Iolanta.”

Tchaikovsky’s rarely-seen one-act opera is being rediscovered, with the Met recently presenting its first production starring Anna Netrebko. Last month, inspired by the Met’s production, Isaac Selya mounted a charming, beautifully sung production in Cincinnati.

The fairytale opera is about a blind princess whose father, the king of Provence, King René, doesn’t allow her to know anything about light or vision, thus keeping her in the dark about her condition. (To create awareness, Selya collaborated with Cincinnati’s Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.)

It was a gem of an opera, with a magical orchestral score, rewarding singing by a young cast and a simple but effective set design in Dunham Arts Center, a former tuberculosis hospital on Cincinnati’s West Side.Read More »

Summer season: Opera reviews and more

A scene from “La Traviata” to open Cincinnati Opera’s seasons. Photo provided/Philip Groshong

This is a reminder to readers that many of my reviews can be found at bizjournals.com/cincinnati/topic/arts — thanks to a new initiative to cover the arts by the Cincinnati Business Courier and a grant from the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.

Click here to read my review of Cincinnati Opera’s “La Traviata.”

I’ve reviewed Olga Kern at Art of the Piano here.

Here’s the review of opening night of Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea.

Read more about countertenors here.

And today, the Ansel Adams photography exhibition opens at the Taft Museum. Read about it here.

Music critic Mary Ellyn Hutton: ‘The community was enriched by her knowledge’

Mary Ellyn Hutton wrote music criticism for 23 years for the Cincinnati Post.

Mary Ellyn Hutton will be remembered as a journalist with unflagging dedication to Cincinnati’s musical arts. The longtime classical music critic for the Cincinnati Post continued to cover the classical scene for more than a decade after the demise of Cincinnati’s afternoon newspaper in 2007.

She died surrounded by her family on May 28 after a battle with lung cancer. The Hyde Park resident was 77.Read More »

CCM grad a winner in Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions

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Jessica Faselt, soprano. Photo provided by the Metropolitan Opera

CCM alumna Jessica Faselt, 25, of Iowa City was among five singers named as the winners of the nation’s most prestigious vocal competition, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Faselt earned a Master of Music degree in Voice in 2016, and was a winner of the Corbett Award at CCM.

The other winners are: Madison Leonard, 26, soprano (Coeur d’Alene, ID); Ashley Dixon, 26, mezzo-soprano (Peachtree, GA); Hongni Wu, 23, mezzo-soprano (Jingdezhen, China); and Carlos Enrique Santelli, 26, tenor (Orlando, FL).

Each winner receives a $15,000 cash prize and the exposure that has launched the careers of many of opera’s biggest stars.

And in another local tie, CCM Artist Diploma in Opera Performance student Brandon Russell was a semi-finalist in this year’s Met National Council Auditions. He competed in the semi-final round held on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera on April 22, and was awarded $1,500.Read More »

Opera Rap

Join Cincinnati Opera’s Harry T. Wilkes artistic director Evans Mirageas and me as we discuss arts journalism in today’s cultural climate, and more — 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Mercantile Library, Downtown. It promises to be fun. And, I might bring a surprise guest…

The Opera Rap — a lively discussion — is free to Library members; $10 nonmembers.

Reservations required: 513.621.0717 or email reservations@mercantilelibrary.com

Hope to see you there!

Levine’s fall from grace is complete

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James Levine, being applauded at the Metropolitan Opera, was fired by the company, citing “credible evidence” for sexual abuse. Photo by Naomi Vaughan

By now you’ve read, or you’ve heard about, Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine’s fall from grace. Yesterday, the Metropolitan Opera fired the maestro, a Cincinnati native, citing “credible evidence” for sexual abuse allegations that go back decades.

Levine was one of the most powerful people in the opera world. He was revered as a conductor who rivaled legends such as Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein. In Cincinnati, Levine’s talent is a part of local lore. He made his Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra debut as piano soloist at age 10 under Thor Johnson. As a pre-teen, he would sit for hours at Cincinnati Opera rehearsals at the zoo, inhaling opera scores and imitating Italian conductor Fausto Cleva.

He was music director of the Cincinnati May Festival in 1974, before he turned 30, and served for five seasons. (The May Festival has canceled his planned appearance this season.)

In Cincinnati, he conducted his first performances of Wagner operas Lohengrin, Tannhauser and Parsifal, in concert version for the May Festival. Levine hand-picked his successor, James Conlon.

He was a personal champion of opera soprano Kathleen Battle, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

And his mentor from an early age into adulthood was Walter Levin, the late first violinist of the LaSalle Quartet, the distinguished former quartet-in-residence at CCM.

One of Levine’s honorary doctorates was from the University of Cincinnati.

I’m reposting the Met’s entire statement here:Read More »