The odyssey of the battle-scarred warrior making his precarious way back to a lover waiting at home is the oldest story in Western literature — the stuff of epic poems, plays, novels, movies and many operas. So it is a delight to report that the newest manifestation of this oft-told tale — the opera version of the best-selling novel “Cold Mountain,” just given its world premiere in Santa Fe — captures all of its adventure, romance and pathos in a fresh, vibrant musical idiom.
...that gives Scheer a big spotlight. Words matter in "Cold Mountain" and he is alternately sparse and poetic, and always on point as his characters suffer greatly from their lost conflict and evolve as humans. They sing: Some borders can't be crossed, Some wounds will never heal, Some things you can't forget, Hearts buried beneath regret, In the end, how will I feel? Who you are the war reveals.
The climactic finale involved the local premiere of Jake Heggie’s Camille Claudel: Into the Fire (2011), an extensive ode to the agonised sculptor — Rodin’s lover — who died in 1943. Ever popular, obviously facile and increasingly daring, Heggie dealt sensitively with the introspective sentiments at hand. He juggled acerbic lyricism craftily with oppressive drama, adorning Gene Scheer’s text with florid wails and eerie melismas at jolting intervals. In the process, he made the primitive lamentations propulsive, the otherworldly illusions, delusions and allusions gripping. DiDonato sang the expansive solos with rare conviction and lustrous, subtly shaded tone.
The life of the French sculptor Camille Claudel is a tangle of art, passion, madness and betrayal. A student and lover of Rodin’s, Claudel was a critically acclaimed artist when she began to show signs of mental distress, which led her family to commit her to an institution, where she spent the remaining 30 years of her life. On Thursday at Zankel Hall, the incandescent mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato presented the New York premiere of Jake Heggie’s “Camille Claudel: Into the Fire.” Set for voice and string quartet, the work compresses a tragic life of operatic dimensions into a song cycle of great beauty and emotional resonance.
‘Everest,” a remarkable first opera by the British composer Joby Talbot, which had its world premiere at the Dallas Opera on Friday, forges art from a contemporary tragedy. Based on the true story of three climbers trapped on Mount Everest in a blizzard in May 1996 (the expedition that was chronicled by Jon Krakauer in “Into Thin Air”), this 70-minute juggernaut makes you feel disturbingly in the moment, living—and dying—along with the characters. Gene Scheer’s taut, streamlined libretto, drawn from interviews with survivors, focuses on two situations: Rob Hall (the expedition leader) and Doug Hansen push on to the summit even though Doug is unwell, and Beck Weathers stays behind and gets lost. The fragmentation of the narrative builds suspense, and the stories are welded together by a chorus that echoes and questions the climbers.
Composer Jake Heggie achieved his goal Friday night with an achingly beautiful, magnificently sung and gorgeously staged world premiere of his Moby-Dick, the highlight of the Dallas Opera's first season at the sparkling new Winspear Opera House. The audience responded with an eight-minute standing ovation. Heggie is a rarity, an accessible composer whose melodic lines and sense of drama are aimed at audiences rather than academics. With librettist Gene Scheer, he has transformed Melville's sprawling novel into an active stage work.
In Heggie’s piece, never have word settings been so vividly naturalistic, and with orchestral writing that creates the world of the characters so completely that staging isn’t necessary.
"To Hell and Back" has a hell of a lot of good music. As the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Nicholas McGegan, launched into the work, I sat bolt upright … Heggie’s work punches in the stomach with a brief, intense introduction that you instantly want to hear again. Those opening measures are to be treasured – Bartok meets Gluck, Shostakovich merges with Bernstein – and yet, it’s all distinctively Heggie. Heggie’s synthesis of Bernstein’s Broadway voice, Sondheimesque sprechstimme, smooth harmonic progressions, and gripping orchestration, offers an important contribution to contemporary music.
… a striking performance in which all of the various elements fell convincingly into place, serving the powerful narrative superbly. Patti LuPone is formidable as Anne, never trying to be more than the Broadway belter we remember from “Evita” and so many other shows. Isabel Bayrakdarian as Stephanie is every bit her equal, singing in a large, focused and beautifully colored dramatic soprano. The contrast of styles, approaches, and deliveries is startling, but both are so compelling in their narratives, vocally and theatrically, that the contrast sorts itself out and we hear not two different voices, but youth appealing to age, innocence to experience, sufferer to survivor. Heggie’s score is stunning, tonal, sweetly dissonant, and much of it written in a distinctively American style. “To Hell and Back” may be his strongest and most convincing writing to date. The libretto by Gene Scheer is equally potent, a tight and compelling story, straightforward and eloquent and spare. The orchestra, led by Nicholas McGegan, unites score and singers in a performance that is musically charged, perfectly balanced and entirely engaged. The warm sound of period instruments carries the story admirably.
[a] resourceful and often eloquent score. [Heggie] rises vividly to the challenges of using the old instruments in new but idiomatic ways, including an impressive version of a French overture that alludes to historical models while keeping its own dramatic profile and establishing a set of identifiable motifs that return tellingly throughout the piece. Stephanie’s main aria boasts a vibrancy and eloquence that are all the more touching for being a blend of melodic styles. McGegan led a vivacious rendition, moving nimbly from one phrase of the work to the next and underlining Heggie’s most arresting inventions.