On the morning of Dec. 23 last year, Gil Rose began making calls and sending e-mails to directors, designers, orchestra musicians, singers — as many people affiliated with Opera Boston as he could reach.
The innovative, ambitious company, of which Rose was artistic director, had made the decision to close its doors and cancel its remaining productions. Since Rose had been with Opera Boston the longest of anyone at the top of the organization, he felt it was his responsibility to give its people the news personally, before it was announced to the press.
But when he was about halfway through his list, Rose said in a recent interview, the news began to break publicly. “I went into some kind of hyperdrive, to try to get the word out. I really wanted people to hear it from me first before they read it in the paper or saw it online.” A few hours after finishing this sad task, Rose went on the radio to discuss Opera Boston’s demise.
“I can tell you, it was a rough day,” Rose recalled, clearly in understatement.
One of the scheduled productions that didn’t come to fruition was British composer Michael Tippett’s opera “The Midsummer Marriage.” So it was extra sweet when, a few months ago, Rose was able to call some of the soloists and choral singers who were originally slated for that production and invite them to participate in a concert performance by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, which Rose has headed since its creation in 1996. The Nov. 10 performance will be the opera’s New England premiere; it also represents a salvaging of one of the company’s bolder projects, and perhaps a way forward for similar repertoire in the future.
“Other than some very large, well-funded organizations in this country, we’re going to get back to the model where there are going to be much fewer standing institutions,” said Rose. “I regret the shutdown of Opera Boston. But what you make of what happens when you go down is more important than the going down. What phoenix is there from these ashes? I think there’s a lot of possibilities.”
That this will be the first Boston-area performance of “The Midsummer Marriage” is somewhat surprising, given “the value of the music and what it stands for in the canon of 20th-century opera,” Rose said. Most listeners know the piece, if at all, from the “Ritual Dances” which are excerpted and played in orchestral concerts with at least moderate frequency.
Among the barriers to wider appreciation is the story, a hodgepodge of borrowings — Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” Jungian psychology, a few mythic figures — that does not, in the end, add up to a coherent plot. Suffice it to say that it concerns two couples who want to get married and the barriers they have to overcome before doing so. At the end, an incandescent flower bud envelops one of the couples, Mark and Jenifer, and then bursts into the fire of divine love, and the betrotheds disappear. (“Yeah, if I had a nickel for every time that happened to me,” Rose deadpanned.)
Staging all this is problematic, though Rose said that Opera Boston had gotten as far as looking at production sketches. “[The opera] is almost better as a concert . . . you can just think of it as an oratorio,” he said. The lack of staging makes it easier to focus on Tippett’s bracing score, which leaps off the page from the beginning and almost never slows down.
“It’s a blast — just a kaleidoscope of orchestral sound and vocal writing,” Rose said. “You only have to listen to the first 20 bars and you’re like, we’ve definitely gone over the top of the rollercoaster hill.” He added that while Tippett paces the demands on the singers, “I actually think it might be harder for the wind and brass players to get from beginning to end. They just play all the time.”
“Things don’t always come back fully formed,” Rose said, reflecting on both the long path of getting “The Midsummer Marriage” performed and the possibility of similar ventures in the future. “They find their way back in different ways. I have ideas and hopes. But mostly I’m focused on how to bring down the house with this thing.”
A veteran ‘Butterfly’
One of the noteworthy aspects of Boston Lyric Opera’s new production of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” which opens Friday, is the presence of soprano Yunah Lee in the role of Cio-Cio San. Lee is, by any measure, a veteran of the role: She has sung 111 performances of the role in about 30 productions.
Asked how she keeps the experience of such a familiar role fresh, Lee said that Puccini’s music does a lot of the work for her. “I was surprised, myself, at the first rehearsal, two weeks ago, because I was so much enjoying it, as if it was my first time singing it,” she said in a phone interview. “I told my colleagues I was really shocked I could enjoy it so much, over and over again.”Continued...