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May 5, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 18
 
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Bits & Bytes
Opera America meets in Seattle, Macbeth opens at Seattle Opera, Black Box scores with Emperor, MOR offers children's Brundibar
by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

It's another great week for Emerald City arts fans-and, of course Bits&Bytes. Classical music-especially opera-takes the focus this week as the Seattle Symphony's Made In America series continues and Seattle Opera opens its new production of Verdi's Macbeth. Opera America meets in Seattle this weekend, and opera productions are all over the place. Read on:

OPERA AMERICA MEETS IN SEATTLE

Opera America meets in Seattle this week with conference delegates from all across the United States gathering in Seattle to discuss trends in modern opera, financial concerns, artistic quandaries, the growth of new and commissioned operas and other topics related to the growing operatic movement.

Peter Gelb, the new, incoming general manager of the prestigious Metropolitan Opera gave the keynote address yesterday, and panels and discussion groups continue through the weekend. Watch Bits&Bytes next week for details on Gelb's address.

Delegates will attend performances of Seattle Opera's Macbeth and the riveting Black Box Opera production of The Emperor Of Atlantis at the intimate Columbia City Theatre (details below). Many delegates will undoubtedly sample the Made In America series at the Seattle Symphony.

While most of the Opera America events are open only to registered delegates, Seattle opera and music fans are sure to stumble into many of the conference participants at performances, restaurants and other venues throughout the city.



EMPEROR OF ATLANTIS HIGHLIGHTS BLACK BOX DEGENERATE CABARET

The new Black Box Opera Theatre scores its third hit in a row with the intriguing new double bill of Cabaret Youkali and Viktor Ullmann's The Emperor Of Atlantis, billed as A Degenerate Cabaret for both works. The program opens tonight and continues tomorrow night, May 6, and Sunday, May 7.

Press and public previews last weekend were total sellouts with several procrastinators turned away. As often happens, reservations and advance purchases are a "must" for many Seattle arts events. (If Bits&Bytes has told you once, he's told you a thousand times-make reservations early!)

While Black Box has quickly built a loyal following in Seattle music and theater circles, the Opera America conference this weekend (see above) has made The Emperor Of Atlantis the hottest ticket in town.

The first part of the evening, Cabaret Youkali (Island Of Escape), features the Black Box company in seven songs from composers banished as "degenerate" by the Nazi regime in the 1930s. Strangely, six selections are from Kurt Weill with only one from Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who fled Nazi Germany and is best known for his Hollywood screen scores.

Black Box's cabaret cast offers most of the works in their original language, mainly German with some French. While each song was beautifully presented, a lack of English translation-even for the song titles-left many of the lesser known songs floating alone in a musical haze for many in the packed house.

Weill's "The Soldier's Song," from The Threepenny Opera, was sung in English, making lyrics like "a soldier marries/the gun he carries" stand out. "Mack The Knife" was sung in German and in English, but Korngold's haunting "Marietta's Lied (Song)" from Die Tote Stadt was sung only in German, leaving this scribe (and many others) bewildered by what it was all about-certainly it was the lyrics to many of the "degenerate" works that made the composers out of favor with Hitler and his era.

The major part of the evening was devoted to the Seattle premiere of Viktor Ullmann's The Emperor Of Atlantis-or Death Abdicates. Written in 1943 in the Terezin concentration camp-the "paradise ghetto" where Nazi leaders used prominent arts and composers as a showcase for visiting International Red Cross officials-the opera was never presented.

After months of rehearsals, Nazi officials cancelled the September, 1944, production after one of the final dress rehearsals when they realized the "political elements" in the historical fable paralleled German politics of World War II too closely. Ullmann and his family were sent to Auschwitz that October where all perished on arrival. Amazingly, the score survived.

The Emperor Of Atlantis was never performed until 1975 when Rhoda Levine directed it for Netherlands Opera. Sets were by the then-young Robert Israel who is in Seattle for his new production of Macbeth at Seattle Opera and recreated his original set designs for Black Box. Levine joined Black Box for this incredible staging and recreated her original direction.

The opera's subtitle, Death Abdicates, outlines the basic plot, which, in itself, is reminiscent of Broadway and Hollywood's 1930's Death Takes A Holiday-a morality tale about what would happen if Death just stopped coming for the dead, if people lived uncertain lives for eternity. As an operatic work, The Emperor Of Atlantis is a minor, historical curiosity. While it has some interesting music and some striking musical effects, the work draws much of its power from the story of its creation and survival. An opera fan cannot help but wonder what success Ullmann would have had if he had survived World War II.

The entire cast of Emperor is first rate, reflecting the goals of the new Black Box Opera Company-to stage productions to showcase its three founders and other opera performers and allow them to perform, to grow, and-in effect-"audition" for major opera companies in the region. Yaacov Bergman, music director, led the small orchestra in a polished performance.

Two casting "bits" that readers of Bits&Bytes might enjoy:

Julian Patrick, a veteran of New York (and Seattle) opera and theater performances, is a board member of Black Box and "graciously" joined the production in the role of Death. The Seattle-based performer, gradually moving into retirement, added a polished performance to his long, long roster of major works and gave the new company a bit of "star" polish.

Victor Benedetti, one of the Black Box founders and the group's artistic director, finishes his work in Emperor on Sunday and moves immediately into rehearsals for the UW's upcoming Marriage Of Figaro where he joins the UW student cast as a "guest artist." (See details below.) Little by little, the Emerald City broadens the symbiotic relationship between its diverse classical music companies.

Ticket information on the Black Box production is available at (800) 838-3006. Email: www.blackboxoperatheater.com.

SEATTLE SYMPHONY HOSTS MADE IN AMERICA FESTIVAL

The Seattle Symphony hosts its 2006 Made In America Festival for the next two weeks. This year's encore of last season's first festival opens tomorrow and runs May 6-20. The Festival offers a number of highlights, including the May 20 Day Of Music grand finale with a full Saturday of musical events-many of them free. Several musically minded close friends simply plan to "move into Benaroya Hall" for the full day.

Another major highlight is the May 18 concert which includes an encore performance of Samuel Jones' Concerto For Tuba And Orchestra, the SSO commissioned work that was a critical and audience favorite in its premiere last fall. It is one of the few original works of modern music that this scribe and many in the premiere crowd wanted to hear again the very next day. Tickets for the Thursday evening concert start at just $10-but order early. The encore performance of Jones' tuba work will be a hot ticket and inexpensive seats will sell out fast.

The Festival has a focus on modern, living composers this year. A special effort has been made to program works by women, a group of artists often overlooked in the classical music community.

Call the SSO box office and ask for a free Made In America Festival brochure. Details at 215-4747 or toll free at (866) 833-4747 for out-of-area music fans.

VERDI'S MACBETH OPENS TOMORROW AT SEATTLE OPER

Seattle Opera opens its eight performance, May 6-20, run of Verdi's Macbeth, the world famous operatic adaptation of Shakespeare's beloved, immortal tragedy.

The new production features direction by Bernard Uzan and sets and costumes by Robert Israel, the controversial team that always creates headlines.

The ad campaign for SO's Macbeth outlines the concept-"An 11th Century King, A 17th Century Play, A 19th Century Opera, A New Production"

As usual, Seattle Opera offers two casts of leading singers. Check with the box office for performance details and ticket reservations-389-7676 or (800) 426-1619 for out-of-area opera fans. Be sure to ask for a free season brochure for the 2006-2007 season.

MUSIC OF REMEMBRANCE STAGES BRUNDIBAR ON MONDAY, TUESDAY

Music Of Remembrance is the Seattle-based group that honors the music and composers of the Holocaust-those who perished and those who lived and young composers who now honor the memories of both. While concentrating of Jewish artists, MOR also includes works associated with the Gay and Lesbian victims of the Nazi years, and the gypsies and other ethnic groups persecuted by the German SS troops.

MOR'S upcoming concerts, Monday and Tuesday, recreate Brundibar, a short children's opera by Hans Krasa.

Tony Kushner, the Jewish, openly Gay Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the Gay-themed Angels In America and other major theater works, recently translated the opera's libretto into English A New York production is now premiering the new version of the World War II work, but it is MOR's Seattle production that will be recorded on the Naxos label.

MOR offers Brundibar Monday and Tuesday evenings, May 8 and 9, at 7 p.m. at the Nordstrom Recital Hall at the SSO's Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle. Ticket information is available at 292-ARTS or at MOR, 365-7770. (If you call MOR, ask to be added to the mailing list for future concerts-and, yep, tell 'em Bits&Bytes sent ya.)

Krasa wrote Brundibar in 1938 for a Jewish boy's orphanage, but it was never produced because of the Nazi deportations. Krasa decided to stage it in the Terezin camp and it ran, off-and-on, for 55 performances. Most of the children in the original cast perished during the performances. Only Ela Stein Weissberger, who played the cat, lived for the full run of the show. She, amazingly, survived Terezin and will be in Seattle to see the show once again. Her appearance is sure to be an emotional highlight of the performance.

UW OPERA OFFERS MARRIAGE OF FIGARO FOR MAY 17-21 RUN

The University of Washington's School of Music and School of Drama team up to present Mozart's beloved The Marriage Of Figaro for a May 17-21 run at Meany Theatre of the UW campus.

The UW's operatic offerings are always major productions and add to the musical focus of Seattle rich entertainment scene. The stagings often sell out so advance tickets are usually a "must." Performances are offered Wednesday, May 17, Friday May 19, both at 7:30 p.m. The popular Sunday matinee-usually a total sell out-is May 21, at 3 p.m. Claudia Zahn directs. The production will be sung in Italian with English supratitles.

Victor Benedetti joins the student cast as a "guest artist." A talented baritone, Benedetti, one of the founders of the new Black Box Opera Company, will sing Count Almaviva. The casting of Benedetti reflects the growing cross-pollination of musical talent in the Emerald City. The handsome singer finishes his work at Black Box Opera's Emperor Of Atlantis this weekend and moves into final rehearsals for Figaro next week. Ticket info and reservations at the UW Ticket Office, 543-4880.

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