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Gerald Carpenter: UCSB Presents ‘An Afternoon of Opera Scenes’

The UC Santa Barbara Department of Music and the UCSB Opera Theatre Workshop will offer "An Afternoon of Opera Scenes" at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 10-11, in Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall (Music Building).

Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold at the time he wrote Die Tote Stadt.

This ever-popular quarterly event — pure young voices, trained to mature dramatic expressiveness, singing the choicest bits of operas both beloved and obscure: go figure! — will have the overall stage action directed by Paul Sahuc, and the music itself directed by John Ballerino. The selections, presumably, were made by Sahuc and Ballerino.

The scenes and singers are as follows:

» "Prologue" from The Turn of the Screw (1954) by Benjamin Britten (Aaron Gallington, Colleen Beucher)

» Opening scene of The Old Maid and the Thief (1939) by Gian Carlo Menotti (Alice Chung, Kara Smoot, Lauren Shigemura, Dalia Juarez, Thorvald Blough)

» Duet from Act I of Il barbiere di Siviglia (1782) by Giovanni Paisiello (Aislinn Burnett, Evan Pretzlaff)

» "Fair Robin I Love" from Tartuffe (1980) by Kirke Mechem (Wendy Matsutani, Kajsa Nelson)

» Pierrot's "Tanzlied" from Die Tote Stadt/The Dead City (1920) by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (Thorvald Blough, Caroline Geenen)

» Trio from Act I of Zazà (1900) by Ruggero Leoncavallo (Kajsa Nelson, Luvi Avendano, Alice Chung)

» Quartet from Act I of Edgar (1888) by Giacomo Puccini (Jenna Friedman, Arthur Wu, Kara Smoot, Luvi Avendano; Temmo Korishelli, organist)

» Duet from Act I of Lucia Di Lammermoor (1839) by Gaetano Donizetti (Colleen Beucher, Mark Covey)

» Trio from Anna Bolena (1830) by Gaetano Donizetti (Caroline Geenan, Christopher Edwards, Aaron Gallington)

» Final scene from Falstaff (1799) by Antonio Salieri (Mark Covey,  Caroline Geenan, Aaron Gallington, Alice Chung, Christopher Edwards, Colleen Beucher)

Wow! Paisiello's Barber of Seville and Salieri's Falstaff on the same program, rescuing them from the shadows cast by Rossini, Verdi and Nicolai. The Paisiello I know quite well, and it's a lovely work; the Salieri I had never heard of. This should be interesting.

With more than 400 performances around the world since its premiere, Mechem's Tartuffe may well be the most popular opera ever written by a composer born in the United States. After we hear "Fair Robin I Love," you will not be puzzled by the work's popularity.

Korngold is a tremendous favorite of mine, and The Dead City is his masterpiece, written when he was 23. The three-act opera was based on the 1892 novel Bruges-la-Morte by Belgian writer Georges Rodenbach. It is a moody, impressionistic story, very much in debt to Rodenbach's compatriot, Maurice Maeterlinck, particularly to the latter's play, Pelleas et Melisande (Rodenbach had adapted his novel into a play he called <I>Le Mirage</i>, but Korngold based his opera on the novel). Korngold's father, Julius, was a music critic, and when Erich was ten, his father took him to meet Gustav Mahler, who pronounced the boy a "genius."

When he was 11, Korngold wrote a ballet called The Snowman, which was performed to great acclaim at the Hapsburg court in Vienna. Some skeptics among the Viennese critical establishment suggested that Julius had written most of the work, to which he replied, "If I could write music that good, do you think I would have wasted my life as a critic?"

Here is hoping that the scene we hear will provoke you to seek out the whole opera, and maybe some of Korngold's other great works, like his Violin Concerto, his Symphony in F#-Major, his three string quartets, or even his wonderful film scores.

Tickets to the Opera Scenes are $10 for general admission, $5 for students, and free for children under 12, and they are available at the Lehmann Hall box office, or online through the Department of Music website by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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