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Austen Opera 001Pride and Prejudice, an opera written by Kirke Mechem, will make its debut November 20th-23rd at the Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall, located at historic Mt. Vernon Place in Baltimore. This event is part of the Peabody Opera Theatre, Johns Hopkins University.

I had the privilege of attending a preview at Goucher College last Wednesday. Managing artistic director, Samuel Mungo, explained the origin of the opera (“Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice practically begs to be set to music!”). In the early 20th century, atonal music was all the rage and did not lend itself well to a novel set in the Regency era. Mr. Mechem writes tonal music, which is perfectly suited to Jane Austen’s most famous work.

In his extensive and successful career, Mr. Mechem has written over 250 works, many of which are produced the world over. His three-act opera, Tanuffe, has been performed over 400 times. Songs of the Slave from the opera John Brown had its 100th performance in Boston in 2018. The premiere of Pride and Prejudice the Opera will be held in Baltimore this fall.

During the Goucher College preview, the audience heard 3 songs from the opera. In order, they were:

  1. Claire Cooper and Kyle Dunn as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Wickham

    Claire Cooper & Kyle Dunn. Photo: V. Sanborn

    Wickham’s and Elizabeth Bennet’s first meeting, in which they discuss Mr. Darcy. Wickham’s opinions confirmed Lizzie’s first impression of Darcy. Singers: Claire Cooper and Kyle Dunn

Noted Austen scholar, Juliette Wells, who teaches at Goucher, observed that Mr. Dunn, who sang Mr. Wickham’s role, was wickedly handsome!

 

  1. Claire Cooper and Joshua Scheid as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy

    Claire Cooper & Joshua Scheid. Photo: V. Sanborn

    Darcy expresses his feeling for Elizabeth (much against his good judgment). The scene is dramatic. Bingley has left Jane, due to Mr. Darcy’s influence, and Mr. Darcy explains his actions while declaring his love.

Joshua Scheid, who sang Mr. Darcy’s role, has a strong, assertive voice – one that suits Austen’s hero. Both he and Kyle Dunn (Wickham) sing baritone, so that the men are dramatically matched during their scenes.

  1. 20190918_170600

    Joann Kulesza. Photo: V. Sanborn

    Lizzie reads the letter from Darcy, which explains Wickham’s behavior towards Georgiana and Darcy’s role in saving his sister from Wickham’s machinations.

Joann Kulesza, Music Director of Peabody Opera (right), explained this scene beautifully. Darcy slowly and methodically enunciates his words in the letter as Elizabeth reads it. Her reactions to his explanations are quick, dramatic, and emotional. This scene is quite effective and a delight for Austen fans, who can probably recite the words of the letter to a tee.

After the songs, Dr. Mungo and the singers answered questions from the audience. The opera is a little over 2 hours long, which necessitated drastic cuts to the plot. The Bennets have only three daughters (Mary and Kitty are cut out, as is Jane Bennet’s illness), and the focus is on Darcy’s and Lizzie’s story. While Mr. Bennet is featured, Mrs. Bennet appears more often and has one of the major roles.

The three singers who performed are young, and it was amusing and informative to hear their interpretations of their characters. One had not read P&P before, and two had not read the novel since high school (which was not too long ago). Their characters’ voices are telling. Lizzie is a mezzo-soprano, for she is too sensible to be a soprano. Jane is a soprano and Mr. Bingley a tenor. Their tender hearts are reflected in their voices. Both Darcy and Wickham are baritones, which should create interesting vocal confrontations.

Interestingly, Mr. Collins has a bass-baritone, a voice with a low register. If you read Austen’s description of Mr. Collins, he is a “tall, heavy-looking young man of five-and-twenty.” I rather like the choice that Kirke Mechem made for Mr. Collins, as well as for the shrill Mrs. Bennet, who is a high soprano. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a contralto, the lowest female singing voice. I can’t wait to hear the scenes between Lizzie’s mezzo and Lady Catherine’s imperious contralto demands.

The stage sets are still in the design phase, although almost completed. The main part of the stage will be a gazebo with four wings that open or close to represent Netherfield or Longbourn. The set designers are still figuring out how Rosings will look. A garden is also included.

Sketches of the movable wings

Tickets, which are free, will be available October 1: https://peabody.jhu.edu/event/kirke-mechem-pride-and-prejudice/

Kirke Mechem http://www.musicsalesclassical.com/composer/work/43050

Short biography of Kirke Mechem: http://www.musicsalesclassical.com/composer/short-bio/Kirke-Mechem

Peabody Opera Theater Presents Pride and Prejudice: About Samuel Mungo, DMA: https://www.goucher.edu/learn/graduate-programs/sage/programs/pride-and-prejudice

Images published with permission from Samuel Mungo

 

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