November has been quite the month, and it isn't even half over. Aleks and I left Jersey City in late October and drove to Miami, where we are performing with the Florida Grand Opera and Palm Beach Symphony this season. We'll be traveling back and forth between Miami and Jersey City, and our dog Rudy is along for the adventure. It's been nice to enjoy a prolonged summer here in South Florida, going back north to the biting cold and snow will be a rude awakening in December...
This month, FGO is performing Mourning Becomes Electra by Martin David Levy. It is based on a play of the same name written in 1931 by Eugene O'Neill, who spent summers in my area of Connecticut (My brother works for the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford)! The play is a retelling of the Oresteia by Aeschylus, a trilogy of Greek tragedies. Rather than featuring King Agamemnon returning from the Trojan War, O'Neill reset the characters as the Mannon family, living in a coastal New England town after the Civil War. The patriarch General Ezra Mannon has returned from defeating the Confederates, but that is the only victory for anyone in the course of this drama.
SPOILER ALERT: Everyone dies.
The operatic version of Mourning Becomes Electra was premiered on March 17, 1967 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, conducted by Zubin Mehta. The music is very 60's... everything is just a little off tonally, and there's all kinds of vocal and instrumental acrobatics in unusual patterns and difficult rhythms. The version we presented at FGO is pared down from the original, and still pared down differently than the revival performed at Chicago Lyric Opera in 1998. Levy said he removed a lot of the atonal material... I can only imagine what was cut, because what's left is still very atonal! I can't say I was a fan of the opera at first listen, but it is growing on me. The musical tension and furor is accurately representative of what's happening on stage, so perhaps the discord does serve a higher dramatic purpose.
The singers at FGO are excellent, and the main roles are capably performed by many veterans of the other productions of MBE. My favorite is soprano Riley Svatos, who plays Helen, a Mannon family friend who is (inexplicably) trying to marry Ezra Mannon's son Orin. Helen's aria is in stark contrast to the rest of the music; it is a beautiful melody that you can actually sing to yourself on the way home from the theater. Svatos' execution is consistently gorgeous. She soars to the highest notes with delicate ease, and her dynamic range and control is remarkable to listen to. I'm sure I'm biased by the type of material she is given, since I am not a fan of atonal music, but regardless her performance is wonderful.
We performed the show in Fort Lauderdale last week, and starting tomorrow will begin our run of shows in Miami. FGO generally performs at both venues, so it's nice that we can serve a larger audience and have the experience of playing in two halls. The Broward Center, our theater in Fort Lauderdale, was a beautiful hall. The Arscht Center in Miami looks even bigger from the outside, and the fact that Miami has a specifically designated "Opera House" is pretty remarkable. I'm very much looking forward to playing in the hall tomorrow.
The composer Martin David Levy is the man in the wheelchair in the picture below, he's a resident of Fort Lauderdale:
Check out some reviews from local critics:
WLRN Public Radio