Michigan Opera Theatre's 43rd spring season gave University of Michigan alumni something to crow about. Saturday’s opening night performance, which was graced by U of M President Mary Sue Coleman and a strong turnout of loyal fans, actually opened with a rousing chorus of ‘Hail to the Victors’ performed by the MOT orchestra.
Even MSU grads in the audience could appreciate the hoopla. MOT’s production of “A View from the Bridge” marks the Michigan premiere of Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award-winning composer William Bolcom's second opera, which runs for five performances from April 5 -13. Bolcom still calls Ann Arbor home after teaching at U of M for 35 years. The opera is an adaptation of famed playwright Arthur Miller's play of the same name. Miller himself was a U of M student, and he co-wrote the opera's libretto with Arnold Weinstein and chose Bolcom as composer.
Mr. Bolcom was in the audience for opening night and took a curtain-call bow, with the rest of the company, to the ovation of an enthusiastic audience.
MOT founder Dr. David DiChiera, who has gratefully transitioned to his role as artistic director, noted that he had always planned to produce “A View from the Bridge” and was delighted to open the 2014 season with this show. With characteristic charm, DiChiera reminded the audience that MOT aspires to present a mix of beloved classics as well as new or lesser-known works, because it’s hard to know, early on, what will be important and lasting. Pucinni, he noted, was critically rejected at first and only became one of thos beloved classics over time.
“A View from the Bridge” is not Puccini – but it is a complex, layered operatic composition that showcases beautiful voices, salutes a variety of musical forms (including jazz, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and Broadway), and makes room for Miller’s wry sense of humor even amidst the impending tragedy.
Even audience members not familiar with the Arthur Miller play will have no trouble recognizing the note of doom that sounds when the chorus sings out “mala fortuna” – and the character of Alfieri begins to tell the tale of Eddie Carbone.
The opera is set in 1950s Brooklyn, in a community of longshoremen and their families literally huddled under the omnipresent Brooklyn Bridge. Eddie is a working class Italian-American – a stevedore who is respected in his Italian-American community. But he is troubled by his taboo feelings toward his niece, Catherine, whom he has helped raise since childhood. As the story opens, Eddie does his expected part by housing two illegal immigrants from Italy who have come to find work. Marco and Rodolfo are cousins of Eddie’s wife Beatrice, and he is at first proud to lend the two young men a hand. But his jealousy over the budding love between his Catherine and the younger cousin, Rodolfo, leads to disastrous results for all.
American baritone Kim Josephson makes his MOT debut in the role of Eddie, a role he created for the opera's world premiere in 1999 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and later reprised at the Metropolitan Opera. This is a wonderful character, and it is all his – a sort of Archie Bunker who has swallowed Rigoletto and can’t exorcise that daemon. Adding to the nuance of this production is the fact that Josephson's daughter, American soprano Kiri Deonarine, debuts in the role of Eddie’s niece, Catherine. Her voice is clear, lovely, and conveys the youthful excitability that is so important to this character.
Returning to the company is bass Ricardo Lugo, whose lends the storyteller Alfieri both his resonant voice and commanding stage presence. When he describes Eddie’s eyes as resembling two dark tunnels, the hairs on one’s arms stand at attention. We also welcome back tenor Brian Leduc as Tony, baritone Jonathan Lasch as Marco, and baritone David Moan as Mike.
Barbara Gibson Young Artist Apprentices include Evan Ross, who was in the fall's “La Traviata,” and John Arnold, who's making his debut with the company.
The chorus of “A View from the Bridge” acts as a true Greek Chorus – giving us the entire community of Red Hook as a single omnipresent, omniscient voice. Given the importance of the chorus in this opera, it’s fitting that Suzanne Mallare Acton, who also serves as MOT's Chorus Master, is also the conductor. Stage direction is by Tazewell Thompson.
Access tickets for students and young professionals, ages 18-40, are available for the performance on Wednesday, April 9, at a reduced price, with a special "Back to Brooklyn" reception following the performance. Please visit MichiganOpera.org/Access for more information.
A free opera talk begins one hour prior to each performance; Dr. Peace always makes it worth your time.
Ticket prices for “A View from the Bridge” range from $25 to $125. Tickets may be purchased online, by calling (313) 237-SING, or in person at the Detroit Opera House (1526 Broadway, Detroit). Tickets may also be purchased at any Ticketmaster outlet or by calling (800) 745-3000. Remaining performances take place Wednesday, April 9, Friday April 11 and Saturday April 12 at 7:30 p.m.; there is also a matinee on Sunday, April 13 at 2:30 p.m.