Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Girls of the Golden West

Hye Jung Lee, Julia Bullock, J'Nai Bridges 

Here are our Girls of the Golden West, a new opera by John Adams on a libretto assembled by Peter Sellars.  I say assembled because there is no evidence he wrote any of these words himself.  The characters of the opera represent real people whose words are used.  Some of the words are from a speech by Frederick Douglas and were sung by Davóne Tines.  An opera about California should start in California at the San Francisco Opera.

Conductor Grant Gershon *
Director Peter Sellars

Clarence (bass-baritone) Ryan McKinny *
Dame Shirley (soprano) Julia Bullock *
Ned Peters, fugitive slave (bass-baritone) Davóne Tines *
Joe Cannon (tenor) Paul Appleby
Ah Sing (soprano) Hye Jung Lee
Ramón (baritone) Elliot Madore
Josefa Segovia (mezzo-soprano) J'Nai Bridges
Lola Montez (dancer) Lorena Feijóo
Fayette, Dame Shirley's husband (silent) Kai Brothers

Up by the proscenium were what appeared to be speakers. Toward the end of the opera I experienced pain in my ears which I attribute to these.

There are many many stories and little continuity.  Joe Cannon is abandoned by his girl friend in Missouri and takes up with Ah Sing, a prostitute.  Joe secretly marries Ah Sing who thinks she has it made.  Joe and the crowd then turn on her and drive her off.

Dame Shirley portrays Lady Macbeth along with her narrator role.  Her husband Fayette is seen, but she spends most of her time with Ned.

I have seen Peter Sellars' work as a director of other people's works in his original Da Ponte/Mozart trio of operas, in Vivaldi's Griselda at Santa Fe, in The Death of Klinghoffer in San Francisco, in Theodora from Glyndebourne, in the Bach St. Matthew Passion from Berlin and in last summer's La Clemenza di Tito from Salzburg.  I didn't wildly hate any of these though Griselda seemed beyond anyone.  In contrast I wildly loved the Bach and Clemenza di Tito.  This was a great surprise for me.  Theodora was also excellent.

The list of his text assemblages that I have seen consists of El Nino, Doctor Atomic, and his newest GirlsEl Nino was rather like an oratorio and might have worked if I had seen it live or in a split screen filming.  Other people liked Doctor Atomic better than I did.  But assembling fragments of only roughly unrelated texts into something that only approximates a story doesn't work for me.

Sellars seems to be seeking to transform the genre into something representing truth.  Real words are closer to truth than made up ones, I guess.  He hasn't yet sold me.

I don't want to leave this subject before mentioning how much I loved Julia Bullock whom I have never heard before.  Every note, every word was a diamond.  She raised her character to greatness.  J'Nai Bridges was also beautiful.  Adams' music was generally good but sometimes excruciatingly loud.  There were occasional scenes of greatness.

The guitar and the accordion did not make it into the program.

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