Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Two seldom-performed Verdi operas to screen this week

Posted By on Wed, Dec 11, 2013 at 7:55 AM

A scene from Verdis Falstaff with Franco Vassallo as Ford.
Productions of such eternally popular Verdi masterpieces as La Traviata and Aida aren't hard to come by, but productions of the composer's lesser-known works can be as rare as hen's teeth. That's why this weekend offers a pretty extraordinary opportunity for Verdi fans. Two rarely-performed works will be broadcast to local cinemas this weekend from opera houses on two different sides of the pond.

The popular Met Live in HD series, which offers live high-definition broadcasts of Metropolitan Opera productions on Saturday afternoons throughout the season, continues this Saturday, December 14, at 12:55 p.m. with a broadcast of Verdi's Falstaff to area cinemas including Hollywood 24 @ North I-85, Perimeter Pointe and Fork and Screen Buckhead. (Check the Met's website for a full listing or to purchase tickets in advance). The inventive production represents the first new Met Falstaff since 1964, and it also sees James Levine's first return to the podium for a broadcast since his recovery from back surgery. Verdi's last opera is a loose, exuberant adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

I was tempted to write that Falstaff had never been performed in Atlanta before, but I looked it up and found that the Atlanta Opera did a production as recently as the fall of 2001. The Creative Loafing reviewer at the time began his piece by noting how a tragic turn of events meant that the company was rolling out the light-as-air comedy just as the smoke was clearing and dust settling from the events of September 11. As the headline has it: Time to Laugh? In other words, it sounds like the mood may not have been exactly right the first time around. Come check it out now, in happier times, live from the Met. Falstaff will also have an encore broadcast to area cinemas on Wednesday, December 18, at 6:30 p.m.

Opera-goers who attend the screening at UA Perimeter Pointe 10 on Saturday afternoon can take advantage of an added treat. The Atlanta Opera's new General and Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun will be giving a pre-broadcast lecture there on Falstaff beginning at 12:30 p.m. Zvulun should have a fascinating perspective on the work, having just recently directed a much-lauded production of Falstaff in August at the famous Wolf Trap Opera in Virginia.

This weekend also sees the broadcast of the Royal Opera House in London's production of Verdi's Les Vêpres Siciliennes at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

I'd always heard the title, but not knowing much about the work, I'd always assumed for some reason that it was a minor, early, little one-act or a disastrous flop or something. But apparently this is a big kahuna, written at the height of Verdi's power for the Paris Opéra, then the center of the opera world, famous for its huge, elaborate productions. It is five acts with - in the French style - a ballet in the middle. The show was a big hit, and if companies rarely put it on today, it's often simply because it's so expensive, demanding elaborate sets, a big cast, huge choruses, and a company of ballet dancers.

This is actually the Royal Opera House's first ever production. Antonio Pappano conducts a star cast that includes Bryan Hymel, Marina Poplavskaya, Erwin Schrott and Michael Volle. The opera ballet plays a significant role too, with Johann Kobborg choreographing for dancers from The Royal Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet. The New York Times reviewer called the Royal Opera House's Vêpres "one of the year's hottest productions."

The title Les Vêpres Siciliennes translates as "The Sicilian Vespers," and it refers to the infamous events related to the assault of a Sicilian girl by a soldier from an occupying French army in the 13th century as she was on her way to vespers: the ensuing melee became known as the Massacre of the Sicilian Vespers (and the perfect subject for a Verdi opera, natch).

Screenings of the Royal Opera House's Les Vêpres Siciliennes take place on Thursday, December 12, at 5 p.m. and Sunday, December 15 at 9:30 a.m. at the Landmark Cinema. Neither broadcast is live. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the Landmark.

Suffice it to say we're psyched. But with Falstaff clocking in at three-and-half hours and with Les Vêpres at almost five, we know it's going to be a full-on Verdi marathon this weekend. Anyone know where we can pick up T-shirts with "I told you I was hardcore" written in French and Italian?

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