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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Critic's Notebook: National Opera Week

Last year, National Opera Week had a ton of cool events all over the country and a snazzy kick-off message from none other than Aretha Franklin herself. So far this year, there's just a web page telling companies how to submit an event and a link to last year's message from the Queen of Soul. Well, whatever. I'm still totally celebrating, and everyone's invited.

National Opera Week is October 25-November 3, and mostly by coincidence, there are actually a bunch of cool opera-related events happening in the Atlanta area.

To kick things off, on Thursday, October 24, at 7 p.m. the Landmark Midtown Arts Cinema will broadcast the Royal Opera House's production of Puccini's Turandot.


On Saturday afternoon, October 26 beginning at 12:55 p.m. the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts its production of Dmitri Shostakovich's The Nose, based on the famous short story by Nikolai Gogol, to movie theaters around the world, including several in Atlanta. The popular production, which premiered last year at the Met, features projections by famed South African visual artist William Kentridge. There will be an encore broadcast to area cinemas on Wednesday, October 30, at 6:30 p.m. For more info or to find a theater and purchase tickets, visit the Met.


If you missed the Atlanta Opera's production of Puccini's Tosca earlier this month, shame on you: you missed a fantastic, compelling show. But it's not too late to experience some Puccini with the Atlanta Opera. This Saturday, October 26, marks the Atlanta Opera's annual ball at the St. Regis Atlanta in Buckhead, beginning at 6 p.m. and this year's event, titled Puccini's Palazzo, is themed after the season's opening production.

On November 1 and 2, the Atlanta Opera presents its 24-Hour Opera Project in which contestants are given one 24-hour period in which to write, cast, rehearse and perform a short opera. The kick-off event Friday at 5 p.m. and the subsequent 24 hours of composing and rehearsing will take place at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. The showcase performance will take place at the Woodruff Arts Center's 14th Street Playhouse at 8 p.m. on Saturday, November 2. Admission to the performance is free and open to the public.

Another fantastic and intriguing event that weekend is totally free. Francisca Vanherle Maxwell, instructor at Agnes Scott and a Belgian soprano who specializes in Baroque music, has put together a concert with her sister Sofie Vanherle, who is a scholar who has uncovered some lost cantatas by Georg Philip Telemann that have never been published before. The cantatas had been kept in original manuscript in the library of the Royal Conservatorium of Brussels, Belgium, since they arrived there in the late 19th century. Although concerts in Europe have been planned for the winter, the pieces will see their first public performance here in Atlanta. The free concert is at at the Julia Thompson Smith Chapel at Agnes Scott College in Decatur on Saturday, November 2 at 7p.m. The concert is preceded by a lecture about the lost cantatas at 6 p.m.

This week also sees the release of the new DVD and Blu-ray editions of Phillip Glass' opera about the last days of Walt Disney The Perfect American. The world premiere production of the opera (which does not paint a particularly flattering portrait of the creator of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck) earlier this year in Madrid wasn't allowed to use any Disney images, and their absence in a highly visual story about the man and his work are sometimes felt. Nonetheless, Glass captures some pretty dramatic and operatic moments: Disney is haunted by his killing of an owl as a boy in Marceline, Missouri; he raves at the malfunctioning robot Lincoln from the Hall of Presidents; he's confronted by an animator he fired for trying to organize a union, and he meets artist, and here kindred spirit, Andy Warhol.


Nico Muhly is the youngest composer ever commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera.
  • Nico Muhly is the youngest composer ever commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera.
There's no way for Atlanta audiences to participate other than buying a ticket to New York, but it's worth noting nonetheless: This week marks the American premiere of the new opera Two Boys by composer Nico Muhly. At 32, Muhly is the youngest composer ever to be commissioned by the Met. His opera - a dark detective story based on true events which transpired during the early days of the internet in which a boy convinced an older boy to kill him by using a variety of assumed online identities - is not included in the Met's line-up of Saturday matinee broadcasts. Our favorite opera blogger La Cieca of Parterre Box points out the irony of the new opera being passed over for broadcast to cinemas as part of the Met's Live in HD season due to its "adult themes." Child-appropriate themes the Met will explore this season in its broadcasts of opera classics, she writes, include rape, dismemberment, adultery, suicide, ethnic cleansing and interspecies sexual relationships. Rock on, opera world.

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