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by Daniel Hathaway

Albert&MomAfter the Blitz, England needed some comedy, and Benjamin Britten stepped up to provide a good dose of it with his 1946 chamber opera, Albert Herring, which premiered at Glyndebourne in 1947.

Populated with characters who might have stepped right out of Miss Marple’s village of St. Mary Mead, Britten’s three-acter was adapted from a story by Guy de Maupassant and translated from France to Suffolk.

The village is in a tizzy because no candidates for May Queen measure up to the formidable Lady Billow’s exacting moral standards. As a compromise, the village committee decides to switch to a May King and nominates Albert Herring, son of a widowed greengrocer whose apron strings have kept him so tightly bound that he’s oblivious of temptation. Read the rest of this entry »

by Mike Telin

AllCast_BanquetTableI love Albert Herring because these are my people,” exclaimed Jonathon Field, director of Oberlin Opera Theater, in a recent telephone conversation. “I remember having tea with my grandfather in the little town of Leatherhead in Surrey, England. I know these people inside and out!” On Wednesday, March 12 at 8:00 pm at Hall Auditorium, Oberlin Opera Theater presents the opening night performance of Benjamin Britten’s acclaimed chamber opera Albert Herring.

The opera’s lively tale is filled with comic characters ranging from dully straitlaced to scandalously mischievous. Audience members will find themselves rooting for timid Albert, the most unlikely of heroes, whose secret longing for excitement turns the town upside down. “It’s about knowing you need to make a change in life, and getting that push to actually do it,” Field said, adding that “Britten’s operas always have an oppressed innocent. By the end, Albert sort of tells everybody off and breaks the chains that bind him.”

Composed in the winter of 1946 and the spring of 1947, Britten’s three-act comic opera is set in the English village of Loxford in 1947. Read the rest of this entry »

by Mike Telin

NOVAlogo“It’s David Lynch characters in a Dick Van Dyke setting doing Monty Python things,” said stage director Jonathon Field about Real Time Opera’s production of NOVA, which goes up on Thursday for three performances at Cleveland Public Theater. The production is a collaboration between Field, librettist Paul Schick and composer Lewis Nielson. “It’s raunchy, but sublime,” Field said.

The outrageous plot centers around a sales pitch for Nova, a life-sized android.

Salesman Ed tries to convince husband Al that purchasing the robot will make his life better. Nova is better at giving cocktail and dinner parties and knows how to make a great martini. She promises to be a more efficient and dependable love partner than wife Marlene. But even after a series of ten erotic escapades during a “dance” sequence based on Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils, Ed’s still not sure.

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by Daniel Hathaway

Oberlin-H&G-1Jonathon Field never fails to bring new insights into his opera productions, and Oberlin Opera Theater’s fall show, Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel is full of details that add to the delicious ambiguity of what many of us think of as a children’s opera. After all, it’s a fairy tale decked out with a wicked witch, a gingerbread house and guardian angels. But scratch the surface of this musical rendering of a Brothers Grimm story and disturbing topics come to light.

When we first meet Hansel (Marisa Novak) and Gretel (Alexis Aimé), they seem like normal adolescent siblings who are locked in a continuous squabble — until you notice that there’re a lot of physical blows being exchanged. That’s a stock element in all kinds of comedy from Punch and Judy shows to animated cartoons, but as the scene goes on and mother (Kayleigh Decker) and father (Daveed Buzaglo) come home, the level of physical violence begins to add up to a diagnosis: this is a dysfunctional family who are plagued by hunger, overshadowed by drunkenness and who take out their frustrations on each other with fists and brooms (their cottage industry has stockpiled plenty of weapons close at hand).

You can set that level of analysis aside if you like, but it keeps coming back. Read the rest of this entry »

by Mike Telin

JESSE-KarenThe first volume of children’s tales published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 includes some of today’s most beloved stories such as Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin. Also included in that volume is the tale of Hansel and Gretel, two children who cleverly outwit a witch. This week, Englebert Humperdinck’s adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale returns to the Hall Auditorium stage in Oberlin in four performances by Oberlin Opera Theatre, Raphael Jimenez conductor. The production also marks the return of rising opera star Karen Jesse (left) who is reviving her role as the witch.

The opera was last staged at Oberlin in 2003. Oberlin Opera theatre director Jonathon Field says this production is very different from the traditional approach to the opera that he took in the past. “As I was working on it during the spring I became disenchanted with the way I had done it before, so I took my score and erased all of my staging. I also began to look at the characters and tried to figure out some of the motivations — like what it was that led Hansel and Gretel to survive the witch when all of the other kids hadn’t.” However it is Field’s character motivations that prompted him to include a disclaimer in the opera’s publicity materials — Please note: Portions may not be suitable for patrons younger than 12.

Field points out that Hansel and Gretel come from a family that is very poor and often goes hungry. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

Fledermaus-1It was clear from the first notes of the overture on Wednesday evening in Hall Auditorium that Oberlin Opera Theater’s Die Fledermaus was going to be a musically distinguished production. Guest conductor Raphael Jiménez and the Oberlin Orchestra (which he regularly conducts in concerts) took brisk tempos and played all the tunes that would come around later with verve and precision, including some wicked violin licks. Jiménez, who has plenty of experience in the opera pit, led a tight performance of the entire operetta, closely partnering singers and infusing the orchestra playing with enough Viennese rhythmic nuance to sound authentic.

The opening night cast for Johann Strauss II’s dizzy tale of a Viennese practical joke that gets repaid with interest was strong, confident and wonderfully comedic. Read the rest of this entry »

by Mike Telin

OberlinOperaFledermausReality TV step aside! Beginning on Thursday, March 13 and continuing through Sunday, Oberlin Opera Theater presents four performances of Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus (The Bat) in Oberlin College’s Hall Auditorium. Raphael Jiménez conducts the Oberlin Orchestra in his Oberlin Opera Theater debut.

Strauss’s classical comedy with libretto by Carl Haffner and Richard Genee is filled with infidelity, mixed romantic messages, bored-to-tears tears royalty, and manipulation. And who doesn’t like a Strauss waltz? “I’ve done Fledermaus so many times and it’s kind of nice to have an opera that is rooted in music that people absolutely love,” says Oberlin Opera Theater director Jonathon Field. “The interesting thing is, the waltz used to be considered decadent, so a challenge has been to try to figure out how to put the sexy back into the waltz and still keep it kind of period.” Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

The operahere departments of the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music are busy tightening up the final details of their Fall productions, both of which will open on Wednesday evening, November 7. Each school will present four, double-cast performances, Oberlin of Joseph Haydn’s Il mondo della luna (The World on the Moon, Wednesday and Friday through Sunday), CIM of Domenico Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto (The Secret Marriage, Wednesday through Saturday).

Stage directors Jonathon Field (Oberlin) and David Bamberger (CIM) had both aesthetic and practical reasons for choosing the Fall opera titles. “Il matrimonio is a wonderful, delightful piece that I directed once before for Cleveland Opera”, Bamberger told us in a phone conversation, “and it showcases our students well”. Field made his choice in conversation with his colleagues: “Last year the voice faculty became enthused about Il mondo della luna because there are a lot of roles for women. There’s a huge number of sopranos in the department and then an equal number of mezzos, tenors and basses. You need to be sure that you are educating as many students as possible.” Read the rest of this entry »

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