by Elizabeth Newton and Candace Evans courtesy of IU Opera Theater
The opera is set in the city of Thebes, Egypt. It is a series of episodes from the life of Akhnaten, Pharaoh of Egypt from 1351 to 1334 B.C.
The opera opens with an orchestral prelude and a reflection on the current conditions in Egypt. We are then introduced to the Scribe, a narrator who will guide us throughout the opera. The Scribe’s opening speech predicts the religious and social changes to come during the rule of Akhnaten.
Pharaoh Amenhotep III has died, and the people of Thebes bid farewell to him and accompany the funeral procession along the Nile.
Gian Carlo Menotti was born on 7 July 1911, in Cadegliano, Italy. At the age of 7, under the guidance of his mother, he began to compose songs, and four years later he wrote the words and music of his first opera, The Death of Pierrot. In 1923 he began his formal musical training at the Verdi Conservatory in Milan. Following the death of his father, his mother took him to the United States, where he was enrolled at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music. There he completed his musical studies, working in composition under Rosario Scalero.
His first mature work, the one-act opera buffa, Amelia Goes to the Ball, was premiered in 1937, a success that led to a commission from the National Broadcasting Company to write an opera especially for radio, The Old Maid and the Thief, the first such commission ever given. His first ballet, Sebastian, followed in 1944, and for this he wrote the scenario as well as the score. After the premiere of his Piano Concerto in 1945, Menotti returned to opera with The Medium, shortly joined by The Telephone, both enjoying international success.
A few days before Christmas Amahl, a disabled boy, is playing in his bedroom with his toys when his mother calls for him to get ready for bed (Amahl! Amahl!). Playfully she teaches him about not telling lies (O Mother You Should Go Outside; Stop Bothering Me!) before she gets him to bed. Amahl drifts off to sleep (From Far Away We Come)…
Through his operas, his symphonies, his compositions for his own ensemble, and his wide-ranging collaborations with artists ranging from Twyla Tharp to Allen Ginsberg, Woody Allen to David Bowie, Philip Glass has had an extraordinary and unprecedented impact upon the musical and intellectual life of his times.
The operas – “Einstein on the Beach,” “Satyagraha,” “Akhnaten,” and “The Voyage,” among many others – play throughout the world’s leading houses, and rarely to an empty seat. Glass has written music for experimental theater and for Academy Award-winning motion pictures such as “The Hours” and Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun,” while “Koyaanisqatsi,” his initial filmic landscape with Godfrey Reggio and the Philip Glass Ensemble, may be the most radical and influential mating of sound and vision since “Fantasia.” His associations, personal and professional, with leading rock, pop and world music artists date back to the 1960s, including the beginning of his collaborative relationship with artist Robert Wilson. Indeed, Glass is the first composer to win a wide, multi-generational audience in the opera house, the concert hall, the dance world, in film and in popular music -- simultaneously.
b Paris, June 17, 1818; d St. Cloud, October 18, 1893
Charles-François Gounod emerged as one of the leading figures in French music during the latter part of the 19th century. Although the composer never achieved the titanic stature of Wagner or Verdi, his opera Faust once rivaled in popularity some of their most successful works.
The young Gounod showed early artistic talent, but his parents were determined that he study law. His preference for music eventually won, and at the age of 16, the rebellious teen began the official path of a typical 19th-century composer in France.
At the Paris Conservatoire Gounod studied with Halévy, Le Sueur and Reicha. Winning the Prix de Rome in 1839, he embarked upon a two-year study in Italy, during which time the composer first became familiar with the Faust legend.
Returning to France, Gounod quickly obtained a position in a mission church but was fortunate to befriend an influential soprano, Pauline Viardot, who maneuvered a commission for him from the Paris Opéra. Sapho, set to a libretto by Emile Augier, was a succès d’estime — but not a huge box-office draw. It was dropped after six performances.
Faust’s legendary deal with the Devil has intrigued creative minds for centuries, perhaps reaching its zenith in the music, visual arts and literature of the Romantic period. The story reaches back to early 16th-century Germany, an era of religious turmoil and upheaval, when it was commonly believed Satan was just around the corner. The namesake of the drama, Dr. Johann Faust, was educated at the University of Heidelberg and studied divinity at Wittenberg, but was forced to flee under suspicion of dabbling in the black arts. (Faust himself denied nothing, boldly referring to the Devil as his “brother-in-law” and the spirit of Helen of Troy as his mistress). It is said that he met with a violent end, perhaps by a sleight of alchemy gone awry.
Such a colorful figure hardly could have gone unnoticed, and various treatments of the good doctor’s life began to emerge almost immediately after his death. Festival puppet plays communicated the morality tale to the illiterate, and printed chapbooks began to circulate at county fairs for those who could. Johann Spiess’s Historia von Doktor Johann Fausten (1587) emerged as a popular version (sensationally translated into English as The History of the Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Dr. John Faustus) and inspired a dramatic interpretation by Shakespeare’s contemporary, Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). Unlike Speiss’s moralizing fable, Marlowe crafted his play with a slightly lighter tone in mind. In this case it is Faust who aggressively pursues a contract with the Devil, and with Mephistopheles as his guide, he makes his way through the courts of Europe, creating tricks and feats of magic for heads of state. Throughout he is tormented by two angels — one good and one bad — and repentance is always a viable option (at least until the very end). Oddly out of character, Faust chooses that particular moment to make a pathetic plea to God for salvation, but it is too late — the Devil takes his soul as per their agreement. A moral message concludes the drama.
Cultural life in Paris during the 19th century evolved significantly amidst a whirlwind of improbable events. Tossed back and forth between democracy and autocracy, and transformed by an unlikely and unloved emperor from a medieval maze to well-ordered metropolis, the city’s turbulent history was reflected in its arts. Theaters were especially vulnerable; plagued with closures, relocations, bankruptcies and deadly fires, each competed aggressively for their piece of an upwardly mobile middle class. Out of the chaos emerged such disparate musical forces as Meyerbeer, Verdi, Wagner, Gounod, Bizet and Offenbach, all vying for the opera dollar.
A little political history might be in order. Following the revolution of 1789, which displaced Louis XVI and the ancien régime, the Jacobin Republic was established by 1791, followed by the Thermidorian Republic in 1794. As war was declared on the new government by Europe’s other powers (especially Austria, whose royal family member, Marie-Antoinette, had been executed by the rebels) France began to push beyond its national boundaries, and the new government found among its generals one of stellar quality. Little did they know young Napoleon Bonaparte would seize enough power to install his own Consulate in 1799 and crown himself emperor in 1804. His glory was short-lived, however, as his expansionist designs turned back at him — by 1814 he was ousted and exiled, and Louis XVI’s brothers, first Louis XVIII then Charles X, were restored to power.
The more I learn about opera, and become immersed in this world, the more I realize opera is everywhere. You may think you don’t know anything about this art form, that you don’t like opera, that it’s stuffy and boring and for gray haired old ladies – but several Hollywood directors would disagree with you. If Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Elvis think opera is cool, I can get on board too.
1. The Habanera from Bizet's Carmen
is one of the most performed operas in North America and the Habanera
has been performed and recreated in everything from Disney cartoons to Walmart commercials.The original: Maria Calla sings the HabaneraMovies you’ve heard it in: Trainspotting, Pixar’s UP
, Hudsucker Proxy
Le Gateau au Chocolat ‘Eminence Brune
Adapted from Julia Child’s Kitchen
, Alfred Knopf, 1975
2 teaspoons instant espresso
1/4 cup boiling water
7 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup extra fine sugar plus 2 tablespoons
4 ounces soft unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup cornstarch
Chocolate Filling and Glaze
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch cake pans; place wax paper in bottom of each, and then butter and flour.
- Blend coffee and water in top of double boiler over simmering water. Remove from heat. Add chocolates; cover and set aside to melt.
- Beat yolks and gradually add 1 cup sugar. Continue beating until yolks are thick, pale yellow.
- Beat melted chocolate until smooth. Beat in butter, 2 tablespoons at a time; gradually beat chocolate and butter into yolk mixture.
- Beat whites until foamy; beat in cream of tartar and salt. Continue beating until whites form soft peaks; gradually beat in 2 tablespoons of sugar and beat until whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Sift on 1/4 of cornstarch and scoop on 1/4 of whites; stir with spatula. Scoop rest of whites on top; sift on 2 of remaining cornstach and fold. Sift half of remaining cornstach on top and fold in; sift on remaining cornstarch and fold to blend.
- Spoon batter into pans and smooth. Bang once on work surface to settle batter, then bake for 15 minutes. A cake tester inserted near the edges should come out clean. Cool pans on racks. Wrap and chill for an hour before unmolding.
4 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1 teaspoon instant espresso
2 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsalted butter.
- Melt chocolates with coffee and water; beat in butter. If mixture is too liquid to spread, beat over cold water until lightly thickened.
- Unmold one layer of cake onto serving plate and spread top with 1/4 inch of icing. Unmold second layer on top of first and cover top and sides with remaining frosting. Serve, refrigerate or freeze. Return to room temperature before serving.
Yield: 8 servings.
ROBERT ORTH is the best baritone in his price range. A man of average looks and more than adequate vocal skills, he has somehow made the difficult climb from Chicago Opera Theater (his first operatic engagement) to Opera Grand Rapids (his most recent). It has often been said of him, “He has clawed his way to the middle.” A high baritone, he has been referred to as “half man, half tenor.” But it’s Mr. Orth’s abilities as an actor, not as a singer, that have put him in demand to sing Figaro in THE BARBER OF SEVILLE in such cities as Syracuse, Toledo, Corning, and Wilmington. Critics have often commented on his “windmill arms,” his “toothy smile,” and his general tendency to “overact.” Nevertheless, audiences have tolerated him in roles from Morales in CARMEN to Mr. Gobineau in THE MEDIUM. The Metropolitan Opera may not be interested in him. (“We don’t think you’d hear him in our large theater.”) But he is a regular in Indianapolis and Memphis, where the big stars seldom shine. Last year Mr. Orth created the role of Harvey Milk in the opera HARVEY MILK, based on the life of the famous dead homosexual. Though a few critics did not like the opera, most noticed that Mr. Orth tried really hard. A devoted family man, he is away from his wife and children for 7 to 8 months each year. So it’s probably just as well that he has no work for 3 months this summer. But next January he will spend his 50th birthday freezing in Calgary, Alberta, and after that he will make a triumphant return to Grand Rapids, Michigan. His career may be nearly over, but he refuses to give in, a trooper to the end.