Unlike my previous, lengthy posts (the earmark of a newbie blogger, or so I'm told), I'm going to try to keep this one relatively brief. That really shouldn't be a problem, since New York City Opera's current revival of Sir Richard Rodney Bennett's 1965 thriller, The Mines of Sulphur, has been much commented upon elsewhere. Coverage in The New York Times, especially, has been exemplary, with one comment by Allan Kozinn striking me as well worth repeating:
"...if you think back over the company's productions of the last 15 years, contemporary works - Zimmermann's Soldaten, Hindemith's Mathis der Maler, Carlisle Floyd's Of Mice and Men and Hugo Weisgall's Esther among them - have been the clear highlights. They have typically had short runs and they rarely return, but they are the soul of this company."
To that list, I would add Janacek's From the House of the Dead, the American premiere of which I caught in 1990 -- lucky visitor me, since I didn't move here until three years later. I didn't see most of the others Kozinn mentioned, but the Floyd certainly was outstanding. (And obviously, I wish I would have seen the 1993 revival of Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage.)
But back to Bennett: A reliable source told me that the production had not translated well from Glimmerglass to City Opera. All I can say is that if that's the case, Glimmerglass must have been a miracle indeed, because this stately set, intelligently populated, was one of the most successful City Opera stage productions I've yet witnessed. The score's goth gloom and the libretto's sweaty lasciviousness -- or do I have that backward? -- were entirely well served by the production. And while the New York State Theater, as usual, swallowed some of the voices whole from time to time, for the most part every word of this creepy thriller was superbly audible.
Mark Duffin and Jessie Raven lived up to their headlining status, but Stephen West, John McVeigh, Timothy Nolan and especially Caroline Worra shone just as brightly, often more so. Oddly, the very highest praise that comes to mind is the utter lack of fantasy football going on in my busy dome during the performance. Who, when faced with a terrific singer in an unfamilar role, hasn't thought, "Wouldn't she be a great Carmen?" Or a great Fiordiligi, a great Eboli, a great Pat Nixon, whatever. Tonight, however, I was completely engulfed in hearing these singers play these roles, and while I'm sure they're all versatile and ambitious, for me this was enough. (Still, I'll admit somewhat sheepishly to having occasionally likened the physical attributes of the itinerant troupe of actors to the cast of Are You Being Served? There, I said it.)
I most likely won't feel much need to see The Mines of Sulphur done onstage again, but that's not meant as a slight. Rather, it's a sense that this cast and crew probably nailed everything there was to get out of this rare and welcome visitor. And the recording of the Glimmerglass production on Chandos allows you to dip into one of the more ravishing 12-tone scores whenever you want to.
Anyway, while we're on the subject of contemporary opera, Joshua Kosman had some interesting and encouraging things to report in the aftermath of Doctor Atomic, an opera about which I've not yet said my piece (and won't for a few weeks yet). I don't know how long links at SFGate last, so go here quick as you can.
Ernst Krenek - String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2 - Sonare Quartett (MD+G)
Stefan Wolpe - String Quartet; Earle Brown - String Quartet; John Cage - String Quartet in Four Parts; Leon Kirchner - String Quartet No. 3; Christian Wolff - Summer - Concord String Quartet (VoxBox)
Jacob Ter Veldhuis - String Quartets Nos. 1-3 - Netherlands Quartet (Emergo)
Michael Tippett - The Midsummer Marriage - Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/John Pritchard (Gala)