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TOPIC: opera

In The News

Gaza Ceasefire Extended, Deadly Ukraine Snowstorm, 100% Green Transatlantic Flight

👋 އައްސަލާމު ޢަލައިކުމް*

Welcome to Tuesday, where more hostages and prisoners are expected to be exchanged as the Gaza ceasefire is extended for 48 hours, Indian rescuers are ready to extract the 41 workers trapped in a tunnel since Nov. 12, and the first green transatlantic flight takes off. Meanwhile, Manuel Brug in German daily Die Welt looks at how the emergence of trans performers and storylines in modern opera follows in the genre’s long history of playing with the idea of gender.

[**Assalaamu alaikum - Dhivehi, Maldives]

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Bravo! Brava! Opera's Overdue Embrace Of Trans Performers And Storylines

Opera has played with ideas of gender since its earliest days. Now the first openly trans performers are taking to the stage, and operas explicitly exploring trans identities are beginning to emerge.

BERLIN — The figure of the nurse Arnalta is almost as old as opera itself. In Claudio Monteverdi’s saucy Roman sex comedy The Coronation of Poppaea, this motherly confidante spurs the eponymous heroine on to ever more lustful encounters, singing her advice in the voice of a tenor. The tradition of a man playing an older woman in a comic role can be traced all the way back to the comedies of the ancient world, which Renaissance-era writers looked to for inspiration.

The Popes in Baroque Rome decreed that, supposedly for religious reasons, women should not sing on stage. But they still enjoyed the spectacular performances of castratos, supporting them as patrons and sometimes even acting as librettists. The tradition continues today in the form of celebrated countertenors, and some male sopranos perform in female costume.

“I don’t know what I am, or what I’m doing.” This is how the pageboy Cherubino expresses his confusion at the flood of hormones he is experiencing in his aria in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro – one of the most popular operas of all time, full of amorous adventures and sexual misunderstandings. Cherubino cannot and does not want to choose between a countess, a lady’s maid, and a gardener’s daughter. He sometimes wears women’s clothing himself, and in modern productions the music teacher even chases after the young man.

The role of Cherubino, the lustful teenager caught between childhood and manhood, someone who appears trapped in the "wrong
body, is traditionally performed by a woman, usually a mezzosoprano. The audience is used to this convention, also seen in Richard Strauss’s Rosenkavalier or Siegfried Matthus’s Cornet Christoph Rilke’s Song of Love and Death, first performed in 1984.

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This Happened — October 20: Sydney Opera House Opens

The Sydney Opera House opened on this day in 1973.

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This Happened — September 22: Andrea Bocelli Was Born

Famous Italian opera singer and songwriter Andrea Bocelli was born on this day in 1958, in Lajatico, in the Italian region of Tuscany. He is renowned for his powerful and emotive voice, and he has achieved worldwide recognition for his contributions to classical and pop music.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Lifting The Curtain: Bolshoi Ballet Admits Pro-Putin Censorship

Censoring art because of creators' political views is nothing new in Russia — but it's rarely acknowledged. Now, the director of the Bolshoi ballet is saying the quiet part aloud.

MOSCOW — Vladimir Urin, the General Director of Russia's iconic Bolshoi Theater, has admitted to censoring the theater’s repertoire for political reasons.

In a rare revelation, Urin disclosed that creators of performances who publicly criticized the invasion of Ukraine had their names removed from the Bolshoi Theater's promotional materials. The admission marks a significant departure from the usual practice of Russian theaters, where such censorship is typically concealed.

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In an interview with the Russian state-published newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta, Urin stated, "When certain creators of performances spoke unequivocally against the special military operation, their names were omitted from the posters."

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Valeria Berghinz

French Drama At The Italian Opera — With Low Notes Of Politics Too!

Veteran Italian Maestro Alberto Veronesi protested what he believed was the politicization of the La Bohème production that he was set to conduct. In accordance to the opera's tradition of backstage melodrama, the situation only escalated from there.

Oh the opera, with its powerful voices and high emotions.The melodrama built in to the art form has also been known to play out backstage — and then, the rare occasion when it's pushed back out in the spotlight.

This time, the stage was set in the Tuscan seaside town of Viareggio, where the 69th edition of the Festival Puccini, a celebration of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini's most famous works, kicked off last Friday with a bonafide coup de théâtre.

The opening opera was Puccini’s iconic La Bohème, a four-act tale set in 1830s Paris following the bohemian lifestyle of a poor seamstress and her friends. But after the French director of the current production decided to change the setting of the story to take place during the leftist student protests in France in May 1968, the Italian conductor protested by arriving on stage blindfolded.

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Cecilia Delporte

Pomp And Pirouettes: When Ballet Stars Bid Farewell

The prima ballerina Eleonora Abbagnato recently bid farewell to the Paris Opera, under the gold roof of the historic Palais Garnier. It's an obligatory passage for Parisian ballet dancers of a certain age, a moment that is often happy, always dreaded and sometimes salutary.

PARIS — With one last look at Chagall's enchanting fresco, at the teachers who watched her grow up, at the stage that saw her blossom, Eleonora Abbagnato took her final bow. Never has a star ballerina's farewell been so dramatic, as her big exit was postponed by three cancellations due to a strike, and then the pandemic.

"I'm always positive, I think that destiny does things well," she says in her dressing room a few days before her "adieu" on June 11. "I knew this evening would eventually take place!" This artist, who wanted to model her last dance on Le Parc by Angelin Preljocaj, ended up dazzling the crowd in a tribute to Roland Petit, which nicely echoed her career.

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Manuel Brug

Diversity Efforts in Opera Fall Flat

BERLIN - Now, in the opera, there are Black people portraying Germanic gods, Russians appearing as Chinese people, and Don Giovanni may even be played by a trans woman. If ethnically correct casts are required to be politically correct, this would mean the end for many classics and several would become unemployed.

Trinidadian-born soprano Jeanine De Bique just starred as a forester's daughter at the 200th anniversary performance of "Der Freischütz" ("The Freeshooter") at the Berlin Konzerthaus, just as South African Golda Schultz did earlier this year in a similarly touching and powerful way. She will sing again soon at the Munich Opera Festival. Two people of color sang in "new German," the soprano was remarked as "so German and genuine" that Richard Wagner would probably have praised.

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Drama At French Opera: Real-Life Sabotage Winds Up In Court

A near fatal act of sabotage at a French opera house wound up in a courtroom last week, after a feud between stage hands offered an unsuspecting audience a moment of true drama six years ago. Let's rewind back to January 28, 2015, at the Théâtre du Capitole, in the southern French city of Toulouse, where Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, a five-hour tale of fated lovers, was building toward a dramatic finale. But on this particular night, the audience had no idea just how dramatic the ending would be.

Isolde sings a lament for her now dead lover, Tristan, who is lying beside her as a giant rock is lowered to hover just above him. Powered by steel ropes, the rock is set to stop precisely 60 centimeters (2 ft.) above the body of the tenor Robert Dean Smith, playing the part of Tristan. Only this rock, weighing more than 200 kilograms (440 pounds), didn't stop. Smith managed to deftly roll out just in time as a stagehand applied the emergency brake.

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Michel Guerrin

COVID, Cancel Culture And Crisis At The Paris Opera

A pillar of French culture, the Paris Opera is struggling to survive both the pandemic and criticism of its lack of diversity. Will such an important institution be able to withstand the changes of time?

PARIS — Cultural institutions in France are in chaos, resigned to waiting for the vaccine before they can fully operate again. But for one of them, the drama doesn't end there. The Paris Opera will spend 2021 having a long, hard look at the question of identity after it found itself in the middle of a hot controversy about the lack of diversity of its dancers and singers.

The problems started from a long-form investigation of M, the magazine supplement of Le Monde, published on December 26th. When M journalist Elise Karlin met the Paris Opera's current director, Alexander Neef, and discussed three famous Rudolf Nureyev ballets — La Bayadère, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker — he confessed to her that "some of our famous acts will definitely disappear from the repertoire." Which ones? Neef didn't clarify but the link to Nureyev, a world-famous dancer and former director of the Paris Opera who died in 1993, was clear. His choreographies embody a world of white ballet, and La Bayadère even includes blackface in "Danse des négrillons."

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Michel Guerrin

Curtains Up, Masks On: Performing Arts Return To The Stage

Social distancing measures and face masks will impact not only the atmosphere in theaters and concert halls, but also the bottom line.

PARIS — Six months ago, Stanislas Nordey staged a Paul Claudel play in Hangzhou, in eastern China. The venue seats 1,200 but only 20 people — a group of female students — were in attendance. Still, it wasn't a bad or disappointing experience. Quite the opposite, in fact: "It was a very powerful, emotional moment," Nordey, who directs the Théâtre National de Strasbourg (TNS), recalls.

This is the same man who, for his debut, did a Marivaux play in front of two people. He also directed a Pasolini work once for just 24 spectators. In 2013, he watched an audience in Avignon flee his show because of rain. He also staged plays in front of several sparse theaters after the 2015 terrorist attacks.

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Florence Didier-Lambert

There's A Good Reason Paris Opera Dancers Retire At 42

Dancers don't have things as easy as the French government, which was looking to end their 'privileged' pension scheme, would have people believe.


PARIS — Performers at the Paris Opera were once again on strike, and information was again circulating about the the special pension scheme that allows the venue's dancers to retire at 42. But what's missing from the discussion, it seems to me, is a clear understanding of how the career of a professional dancer really plays out.

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