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The year 2000 performance of

Living Room Opera

(Opera Lirica del Soggiorno

3:00 PM Sunday, July 30, 2000 at the Park Avenue Congregational Church in Arlington, MA

Visit the 1999 and 2001 programs.
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Stage Director:

 Marion Leeds Carroll

 

Music Director:

 Juliet Cunningham

 

Producer:  

 Nancy Burstein

Featuring...

Martha Birnbaum(1, 2), Nancy Burstein(1), Rebecca Burstein(1, 2), Richard Burstein(1, 2), Peter Cameron(1), Kate Cunningham(1), Janice Dallas(1), Arthur Dunlap(1), Sybil Gilchrist(1, 2), Johanna Gurland(1), Randi Kestin-Peisach(1, 2), Richard Knowlton(1), Laura Weiss(1), Phyllis Wilner(1, 2)

in scenes from...

Arabella
Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Così Fan Tutte
Martha
The Old Maid
and the Thief
Orphée et Euridice
Semele
Werther 

This program is funded in part by the Arlington Arts Council, a local agency supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

 Arabella

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

Arabella

Martha Birnbaum

Zdenka

Rebecca Burstein

Arabella and her sister, Zdenka, are the daughters of a noble family of failing fortune. The girls are of marriageable age, but the "coming out" of a young noblewoman is an expensive affair, involving a festive season in town complete with ball gowns, jewels and toilettes, dinner parties, evenings at the theater and so on - and this family can only afford one such season. So they dress their younger daughter as a boy, whom they call Zdenko, and bring Arabella to town in the hope that she will make a wealthy match and will then be able to support her sister's "coming out" next season. At this point in the story, Arabella has attracted a trio of wealthy and noble suitors as well as a poor but worthy young soldier named Matteo. She has also noticed a stranger who appears to be watching her but who has not introduced himself. She enjoys flirting with the noblemen, is fascinated by the stranger, and is not at all interested in Matteo, who is her sister's favorite. In this scene Zdenka objects to her sister's flirtatiousness and pleads Matteo's case so strongly that Arabella asks if she has fallen in love with him herself, expressing a fear that her sister's masquerade has lasted too long. (She has, and it has, but that's for later in the opera!) Arabella explains that she's not sure why she feels the need to behave as capriciously as she does - but she is very sure that Matteo is not the man for her, and that when she sees the right man, she will know. Zdenka, who loves her sister, accepts her words, remembering a strange prophesy made by a fortune teller at the beginning of the opera, and declaring her unchanging love and support for her sister. (The story is complicated, but it ends with Arabella finding and marrying that fascinating stranger, and with Zdenka marrying Matteo.)

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 Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868)

Figaro

Richard Burstein

Rosina

Randi Kestin-Peisach

The young Count Almaviva has fallen in love with Rosina, a wealthy middle-class girl whose guardian is the middle-aged, greedy Don Basilio. To woo Rosina Almaviva has enlisted the aid of his old university buddy, Figaro, a clever lower-class fellow who worked his way through college and is now earning a living as a barber/surgeon and general man-of-all-work in Seville. By the start of this scene Rosina has already declared her determination to win the handsome stranger, who had serenaded her at the start of the opera, using the name "Lindoro" and describing himself a poor but honest member of the middle class. Figaro enters in time to overhear Basilio making plans to marry Rosina immediately for the sake of her fortune. In this duet he warns Rosina of her marital peril - which she confidently laughs off - and tells her a winning tale of his poor young "cousin" who has fallen desperately in love with her - which she tops by revealing that she has seen "Lindoro," already loves him, and, finally, that she has already written the love-letter Figaro has spent half the duet urging her to write.

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 Così Fan Tutte (Act II Scene 2)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Dorabella

Randi Kestin-Peisach

Fiordiligi

Martha Birnbaum

Guglielmo and his friend, Ferrando, are engaged to two sisters, Fiordiligi and Dorabella. Their friend, an old bachelor named Don Alphonso, has no faith in the passionate vows of eternal love the young women have made, and is betting against his young friends that the girls will easily prove unfaithful to their lovers, given half a chance. At Alphonso's direction, in support of the bet, the two young men have pretended to leave for the wars, and have since returned, disguised as foreigners with big mustaches, to woo each others' girls.

This duet occurs at the start of the second act. The girls have resisted strongly through Act I, in spite of all sorts of tricks. But just before this scene their maid, Despina (who has been bribed by Don Alphonso) has urged them to have a bit of fun flirting with the "strangers," assuring them that not only will the activity be harmless, but that their soldier lovers are no doubt having the same sort of fun themselves at the front.

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 Così Fan Tutte (Act II Scene 5)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Guglielmo

Richard Knowlton

Dorabella

Phyllis Wilner

Guglielmo and his friend, Ferrando, are engaged to two sisters, Fiordiligi and Dorabella. Their friend, an old bachelor named Don Alphonso, has no faith in the passionate vows of eternal love the young women have made, and is betting against his young friends that the girls will easily prove unfaithful to their lovers, given a chance. At Alphonso's direction, in support of the bet, the two young men have pretended to leave for the wars, and have since returned, disguised as foreigners with big mustaches, to woo each others' girls. This duet occurs near the middle of the second act. The girls resisted strongly through Act I, in spite of all sorts of tricks. (The men have, for instance, pretended to take poison in despair at the girl's rejection.)

But at the beginning of Act II their maid, Despina (who has been bribed by Don Alphonso) succeeded in convincing them to try a brief flirtation, assuring them that not only will the activity be harmless, but that their soldier lovers are no doubt having the same sort of fun themselves at the front. As this scene begins, Fiordiligi and Ferrando wander off, leaving Dorabella and Guglielmo alone together.

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Martha

Friedrich, Freiherr von Flotow (1812-1883)

Plunkett

Arthur Dunlap

Nancy

Sybil Gilchrist

Nancy is a lady's maid to Lady Harriet, a noblewoman who serves as Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Anne. Lady Harriet and Nancy, bored with court life, amuse themselves one day by dressing as peasant girls, calling themselves Martha and Julia, and hiring themselves out as servants to a pair of farmers. The two ladies prove to be terrible servants - but excellent romantic heroines. The two farmers, Plunkett and his foster-brother Lionel, fall in love with the girls, and are devastated when their new maids escape in the night to return to their life at court.

When the farmers encounter their erstwhile serving girls in the train of the Queen, the resulting complications lead to the revelation that Lionel is actually the son of a banished (but since reprieved) nobleman, and is therefore of high enough rank to woo Lady Harriet. But by the time the revelation is made, Lionel, who has been languishing for his "Martha," is so furious with the results of Harriet's masquerade that he no longer wants her.

In the previous scene, Lady Harriet has come to the farmhouse to try to make peace with Lionel. She fails, but thinks of a scheme which may win him back. (It does!) She discusses the plan with Nancy and Farmer Plunkett and then exits, leaving Nancy and her "employer" to make their own arrangements for a future together.

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The Old Maid and the Thief

Gian Carlo Menotti  (1911- )

Miss Pinkerton

Janice Dallas

Miss Todd

Johanna Gurland

The middle-aged spinster Miss Todd and her maid, the young spinster Laetitia, have a visitor. Well, not exactly a visitor. He's a begger named Bob, who came by during the storm last night - but he's so young and handsome, and so very male, that neither of them could bear to let him leave. So he spent the night, and this morning Laetitia, with Miss Todd's approval, fed him a hearty breakfast and asked him to stay a week.

In this scene, Miss Todd steps ouside and meets her friend, the middle-aged spinster Miss Pinkerton, who has some disturbing news: a thief escaped from the local jail last night. He's a terribly dangerous man - whose physical description sounds an awful lot like Bob's. And, by the way, concludes the old gossip - not that she wants to suggest anything - but it was noticed that Miss Todd had a male visitor overnight. Who could that have been? Miss Todd hurries home, determined to rid her house of this dangerous guest.

(In the end, Laetitia convinces Miss Todd to let Bob stay, and, after a week of misunderstanding, convinces Bob, who is not the thief after all, to run away with her.)

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 Orphée et Euridice

Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)

Orphée

Peter Cameron

Amour

Kate Cunningham

The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has been a popular subject for composers since the beginnings of opera as an art form - dealing, as it does, with the power of music to change the world.

Orpheus, a Thracian prince and the son of one of the Muses, was a wonderful singer. He fell in love with Eurydice and married her, but immediately after the ceremony she was stung by a viper and died. In this (French) version of the story, Orphée declares his determination to travel to Hades to plead for her return. At this moment, Amour appears to offer him encouragement. The spirit of Love has been sent by the gods to offer Orpheus a deal: he is allowed to go down to Hades alive, to plead for the return of Eurydice from the dead, and to bring her back with him - but on the return trip he is not allowed to look at her. Of course, nobody has told her why he refuses to look at her. She expresses such despair at his apparent disdain that he can't help turning to her - at which she immediately dies a second time. Luckily Amour, who moved by his final lament, returns and revives her, so the opera ends joyously.

This scene takes place at the very beginning of the opera. Eurydice has just died, and Orpheus starts by lamenting his fate and declaring his determination to seek his bride in Hades. Amour appears and offers him the hope that sets him on his journey.

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 Semele

George Frideric Handel   (1685-1759)

Ino

Nancy Burstein

Athamas

Phyllis Wilner

Semele

Rebecca Burstein

Cadmus
Richard Burstein

Semele, Princess of Thebes, is of an age to be married, and her father, King Cadmus, has, after a long delay, convinced her to accept Prince Athamas of Boetia as her husband. As this scene begins, Semele's sister Ino tries desperately to hide from her father, her sister and the prince the reason for her obvious misery - she is in love with Athamas herself. Cadmus is distressed by his daughter's grief, which is not only a sad thing for a father to see, but is also a dangerous portent at a wedding ceremony. Not even Athamas and Semele's expressed sympathy can break Ino's silence.

The wedding is interrupted by greater troubles. Although the fire on the altar of Juno, goddess of marriage (and wife of Jupiter), burns brightly to suggest that Juno is pleased with the union of Semele and Athamas, the fire is extinguished repeatedly, amid signs that Jupiter is not pleased with the marriage. And no wonder! - Semele loves and is loved by Jupiter himself.

Semele finally leaves the frustrating alter, with Cadmus following. Ino and Athamas are left alone together. Ino's sympathy for Athamas first gives the prince hope that she would willing to plead with Semele to return to the alter - but Ino finally confesses her love, and Athamas tries to comfort her, decrying the pain Love has caused them both.

(In the end, of course, Semele is carried off by Jupiter, and Ino and Athamas marry - but that's the start of a whole other story!)

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 Werther

Jules Massenet   (1842-1912)

Sophie

Laura Weiss

Charlotte

Sybil Gilchrist

Goethe wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther as a cautionary tale on the dangers of over-sentimentality. The protagonist is an artist so sensitive that he never actually creates any works of art, who falls in love with an engaged young woman, and kills himself because she does not choose to leave her fiancé for him. The story was misinterpreted by an entire generation, leading to a wave of suicides among the "artistic" set throughout Europe.

Of course the story was viewed by the librettist and composer of this opera as everyone except the author viewed it: Werther is seen as a sensitive, suffering lover and Charlotte, his unresponsive beloved, as the guilty, ultimately repentant cause of his death.

In this scene Charlotte has been sitting alone in the house she shares with her husband, re-reading the letters Werther has sent her since he left the village on her wedding day. It is Christmas Eve, the day she had asked him to return for a visit, and she has been trembling over a letter in which he tells her, "If I do not reappear on the appointed day, do not reproach me, rather, weep for me."

Her sister Sophie, the next oldest in a large and loving family, enters to urge her sister to visit their home for the holidays. When she sees her older sister's unhappiness, she first tries to make her laugh, and finally questions, innocently, whether the sorrow she sees is the result of Werther's absence. Charlotte breaks into tears at this, begging her sister to let her relieve her sorrow by weeping. Sophie finally prevails upon her sister to promise that she will visit their family home, and leaves.

(Werther does arrive - after Charlotte has spent a few minutes alone praying for the strength to resist her desire to comfort him - and tries to get Charlotte to admit that she loves him. She runs out of the room to protect her married virtue; Werther leaves and then sends a note asking to borrow her husband's pistols to use on "a long journey." Charlotte's husband tells her to go ahead and hand the pistols to the messenger - and she runs out after them, into the night, to arrive just after Werther has shot himself, and just in time for a long Act IV death scene duet.)

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