Battle of the Sexes, Opera Style

"... the battles and scars of love abound in this summer season, set to thrilling musical scores in the wonder of Santa Fe’s hilltop theatre where sunsets and storms compete with the singers in a season that ranges from farce to tragedy"

Date June 5, 2013 at 12:47 PM

Author Desirée Mays

Publication Santa Fe Sun Monthly

Categories Community Culture Entertainment & Nightlife Performing Arts

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"The Glorious Battle of the Sexes," including a same-sex battle, will be contested on the stage of The Santa Fe Opera in its upcoming season, which runs June 28 through August 24.

Three men will battle for the love of a Highland Chieftain’s daughter in "La Donna del Lago" (The Lady of the Lake); three men will seek refuge from the sexy cougar lady who is stalking them in "The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein"; while in "Oscar," the scandalous behaviour of two men land one, a great writer, in jail.

"Oscar," composed by Theodore Morrison and set to a libretto (the words of the opera) by co-collaborator and stage director John Cox, will have its world premiere on July 27. The opera explores the fate of the celebrated Irish writer, Oscar Wilde, a famous playwright, storyteller, poet and novelist of the late 20th century. As his career approached its zenith, Wilde met and fell in love with Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Bosie. The pair had a passionate, tempestuous, flamboyant and dangerous affair – dangerous because homosexuality was banned by law in England at the time.

Bosie was spoiled, self-centered and reckless. Resenting his father’s interference in his lifestyle, he encouraged Wilde to sue his father, the Marquess of Queensberry. Wilde did and lost the case, finding himself indicted instead for “acts of gross indecency.” Bosie vanished to France when Wilde was found guilty and sentenced to two years hard labor in the notorious Victorian prison system. The opera starts here at Wilde's sentencing, then focuses on the brutality and his suffering in prison. A change of heart took place within the prison when he recognized, empathized with and felt compassion for his fellow prisoners. His treatise on prison conditions were the focus of his “Ballad of Reading Goal,” lines from which are included in the opera. Though Wilde came out of prison a changed man, the opera finds consolation for him and ends on a note of redemption.

Counter tenor David Daniels, an international star, was seeking a new role which, he hoped “would passionately say something significant about social justice in a contemporary form.” When Morrison and Cox suggested he play Wilde, he accepted at once and the creative team went to work. Director Kevin Newbury suggest we all have, at one time or another, been discriminated or prejudiced against, so we can empathize with Wilde's fate.

"The Lady of the Lake" is loved by two Scottish Highlanders and King James V who, until the very end of the opera, is in disguise. Elena knows him only as Uberto, a hunter lost in the woods. This opera, filled with glorious melodies, is by Gioacchino Rossini. Set closely on the poem by Walter Scott, the action takes place around a Scottish Loch where Uberto first sees Elena, the Lady of the Lake, when she sails her little boat across the waters. He falls in love at once, of course. She offers the lost huntsman the hospitality of her island home, but she keeps Uberto at arm’s length because she is in love with Malcolm Graeme, who is sung by a mezzo-soprano in the tradition of the time. The third suitor is a warlike chieftain, Rodrigo, who provides protection for Elena’s father, Douglas of Angus and his followers, and who wants Elena’s hand in return. The plot resolves around the manoeuverings of the three men to win Elena, with ongoing battles to defeat the Scottish king underpinning the action.

Joyce di Donato is considered the world’s leading interpreter of Rossini roles. She will sing Elena, a character who seeks only peace and love in a warlike environment. She wins all the battles and this opera ends happily.

"The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein" is a romp, a farce by Jacques Offenbach and will be sung by another leading lady of opera and Santa Fe favorite, Susan Graham. This very French opera was set in Paris just before the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 but, since it is a comedy, the production team, led by Lee Blakeley, has moved the setting across the Atlantic to an American Military Academy (think Westpoint) at the turn of the 20th century. The Duchess is the patron of the Academy, a lady with too much time on her hands whose life revolves around falling in love with all the wrong men. First up is Fritz, a lowly soldier whom she fancies and promotes rapidly from private to general. Fritz is a bit of a klutz who doesn’t, or chooses not to see what the Duchess is after. He marries his sweetheart in the end. Next up is a Baron who escapes home to his wife and kids at the first opportunity. The Duchess finally settles for Prince Paul who appears to love her.

The comedy in this crazy scenario is hilarious, the music with its galops, waltzes and military marches is infectious. The musical numbers will be sung in the original French while the dialogue is in English, so the audience can catch the humor as it happens.

The much loved opera about the tragic life of a courtesan in Paris during the Second Empire, "La Traviata" (The Strayed One) by Giuseppe Verdi returns in the highly acclaimed production by Laurent Pelly. Based on the book and play, La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas, who had an affair with the real-life courtesan, Marie DuPlessis, the story describes her hectic life as the mistress of the most wealthy and influential men in Paris. The opera tells of this young woman who, at 23 years of age, dies of consumption; of a brief affair in which she hoped to find love and a life away from Paris. But it was not to be, her young lover abandoned her, his father condemned her. Both men showed up, seeking forgiveness in a deathbed reunion. But Violetta dies, as all great operatic heroines must.



Mozart’s "The Marriage of Figaro" completes the season, with not one but three couples embroiled in the holy state of marriage. Figaro, at the center of it all, outwits his philandering master, Count Almaviva, at every turn when the count attempts to seduce Figaro’s fiancée Susannah. The unhappy countess intrigues with Susannah to have the errant husband she loves return to her, while Dr. Bartolo and Marcellina are forced, more or less, to wed in a kiss and make-up situation. Mozart understood so well human foibles, presenting his characters and their dilemmas compassionately, with no judgment; the music is enough. Daniel Okulich, ("Santa Fe’s Last Savage") sings the Count and Zachary Nelson, a Santa Fe Opera discovery, sings Figaro.

So the battles and scars of love abound in this summer season, set to thrilling musical scores in the wonder of Santa Fe’s hilltop theatre where sunsets and storms compete with the singers in a season that ranges from farce to tragedy. Be there! See you at the Opera!

Desirée, author of Opera Unveiled, now in its 15th year, lectures nightly at the Santa Fe Opera at the Preview Buffets. For dates and tickets call the Box Office at 800-280-4654 or santafeopera.org.

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