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The 1999 performance of

Living Room Opera

(Opera Lirica del Soggiorno)

3:00 PM Sunday, August 1, 1999 at the Park Avenue Congregational Church in Arlington, MA

Visit the 2000 and 2001 programs.

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Stage Director:  Marion Leeds Carroll
Music Director:  Eric Schwartz
Producer:  Nancy Burstein


Don Giovanni Act I L'Elisir D'Amore Luisa Miller Samson et Dalila
Orlando Les Dialogues des Carmélites Don Giovanni Act II Das Rheingold


Don Giovanni Act I

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Don Giovanni

Thomas Weber


Dawn Perlner

Don Giovanni, perhaps better known in America as Don Juan, has been having a bad day.  This morning he was forced by circumstances to kill the father of a girl he’d just tried to rape - the old fool simply insisted on dueling with him!  Next he approached an attractive stranger - only to find, when she turned around, that she was Donna Elvira, a lady he had seduced and abandoned in another town, and that she was determined to avenge her own honor, or force him to marry her.  It took some fast talking to palm her off on his servant, Leporello, and make his escape.  Now he has found a pretty peasant girl, Zerlina, on her wedding day.  He has interrupted her wedding procession and tricked and bullied the rest of the party - including her fiancé, Masetto - into leaving the scene.   By the end of this duet he has convinced the disconcerted Zerlina that he truly loves her and intends to marry her - but never fear!  This is only the first act of the opera; Zerlina will be rescued by the next person who enters. (Return to top)

L’Elisir D’Amore

Gaetano Donizetti          (1797-1848)


Larry Seiler


Janice Dallas

The peasants working in the fields near a country village have passed the hot noon hour listening to Adina, a pretty young land-owner, read the tale of the love potion of Tristan and Isolde.  Now they’ve all returned to their work - except for Nemorino, who is desperately in love with the girl, and takes every opportunity to speak with her. In this duet she explains that his love for her is hopeless because it is in her nature to be fickle, as a breeze is fickle, to which he replies that he cannot leave her because it in is his nature to be faithful, as a stream faithfully flows to the sea.  (You may be glad to know that by the end of the opera, although Nemorino is no wiser after his encounter with a charlatan who sells him a fake love potion, Adina has learned a bit, and realizes that she’s in love with him after all, without the help of the Elixir of Love.)  (Return to top)

Luisa Miller

Giuseppe Verdi              (1813-1901)

Count Walter

Arthur Dunlap


Randi Kestin-Peisach


Richard Burstein


Rebecca Burstein

The plot of this opera was freely adapted from the play Kabale und Liebe (“Intrigue and Love”) by the great German playwright Johann C. F. von Schiller.  In the opera, Luisa is a village girl who has fallen in love with Rodolfo, the son of Count Walter. The count has called his son home from his travels abroad to marry him advantageously to Federica, a wealthy widow with political connections who has loved Rodolfo since childhood - but Rodolfo is determined to marry Luisa.  Rodolfo knows a shocking secret about his father which he has already used once to protect Luisa, but in this scene the count and Wurm, one of his retainers, have the upper hand:  In Rodolfo’s absence they have imprisoned Luisa’s father and threaten to execute him for lack of respect to his lord if Luisa does not swear to Federica that she loves nobody but Wurm and that Rodolfo is not really in love with her. 

You might find it interesting to compare this scene musically with the previous scene.  Donizetti uses a lot of expressive vocal ornamentation; so does Verdi, but the harmonies are darker, there’s much more harmonic rather than simply melodic music, and the ornamentation is more passionate: This is a tragedy, not a comedy.  (Return to top)

Samson et  Dalila

Camille Saint-Saëns       (1835-1921)

High Priest of Dagon

Richard Knowlton


Katherine Engel Meifert

A visit to French opera is often a visit to distant lands and Biblical or mythological themes.  This opera is almost an oratorio, with its static choral numbers and its simple presentation of biblical characters - but in this scene, we see a passionate Delilah in a confrontation with a quite human Philistine High Priest.  The High Priest visits Samson’s lover to urge her to use her power over the champion of the Hebrews for the advantage of her people, and is surprised and thrilled to learn that she is already on his side.

Musically, you’ll hear much more going on in the accompaniment than you did in the Mozart, Donizetti and Verdi scenes.  In those earlier pieces, recitative - that is, speaking on pitch in a conversational tone - is more likely to be accompanied very simply, with the speech itself more important than the accompaniment.  In this later-period work, influenced by Wagner, melodic and harmonic themes recur as important hints in the background, while the singers converse in simpler lines - until it’s time for them to let loose in a passionate duet!  (Return to top)


Georg Frederich Handel   (1685-1759)


Rebecca Burstein


Katherine Engel Meifert


Dawn Perlner

We’re now going back in time to 1732, ten years before Handel wrote The Messiah.  Until the prevailing political and religious situation put a temporary stop to opera in England (leading to the growth of oratorio as a predominant English musical form), Handel had built his career writing Italian-style operas like this one: basically an Opera Seria, full of kings, queens, heroes and gods interacting in secco (that is, “dry” or very simply accompanied) recitative, and then bursting into florid arias and ensembles meant to show off the singers’ vocal powers rather than to advance the plot. 

The story of this opera is based on a section of the French medieval tales surrounding Charlemagne, analogous to the British tales of King Arthur and the Round Table.  The French seem to prefer tales set in exotic foreign lands (unlike the British, whose tales glorify their own archipelago), and their characters are frequently exotic as well - which is why we find Angelica, the Queen of Cathay, and her beloved, the African knight Medoro, in conversation with Dorinda, an idealized French shepherdess.   Like the Arthurian stories, however, these tales are full of magic, chivalry, and romance.

In this scene Angelica, who has nursed Medoro back to health in Dorinda’s cottage after he was wounded in battle, first prevents Medoro from jealously attacking the famous hero Orlando, who has been pursuing her - and then confesses to Dorinda that she and Medoro are not cousins, as they had told her before, but are engaged to be married.  Dorinda is heartbroken, because she is in love with Medoro herself.  The two fortunate lovers try without success to comfort her.   (Return to top)

Les Dialogues des Carmélites

Francis Poulenc              (1899-1963)

Mère Marie

Randi Kestin-Peisach


Kate Cunningham


Janice Dallas

Forward now to the newest opera on our program.  This 20th-century work, which deals ultimately with the persecution and execution of the members of a convent of Carmelite nuns during the French Revolution, was first performed in 1957 - in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and during some of the chilliest parts of the Cold War witch hunts. The musical style is very different from that of Handel’s opera.  In a musical language strongly influenced by the theme-laden accompaniments and simply sung recitatives of Wagner, it follows the story of Blanche, a proud but timid young noblewoman who joins the convent out of a general fear of life and death, and who finds that even in the convent she can’t escape either.

 In the previous scene the Prioress of the convent had died after a long illness, shrieking in terror in Blanche’s arms, after privately entrusting the health of Blanche’s soul to Mother Marie, her zealous and ambitious assistant.  As this scene begins, Blanche is guarding the coffin of the Prioress together with Sister Constance, a fellow nun.  When the hour comes for their replacements to arrive, Constance leaves to find them - and Blanche is alone with a dead body.

(For the second scene from this opera, the performers playing Blanche and Constance will switch roles.) The two young nuns are decorating the Prioress’s tomb.  Sister Constance, a sweet, healthy girl who has said in a previous dialogue that she finds life so amusing that she’s certain that death must be amusing as well, expresses a whimsical thought concerning the recent death - and Blanche, who has learned not to discount her Sister’s thoughts, asks her to explain.  Constance, whimsical as she is, happens to be right:  at the end of the opera we see that timid Blanche comes to the calm, proud acceptance of death which would have been expected of the Prioress, and voluntarily joins her convent sisters in their march to execution.  (Return to top)

Don Giovanni Act II

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Don Giovanni

Richard Knowlton


Richard Burstein

The Commendatore

Thomas Weber

In this scene from the second act of Mozart’s opera, Don Juan leaps into a graveyard to escape his angry victims and their friends, who are hunting him through the night.  He looks at life as one amusing adventure after another:  he’s been hunting for girls while dressed in his servant’s cloak, and when one girl actually mistook him for his servant, it was all part of the fun.  Leporello, meanwhile, has been attacked because he was dressed in his master’s cloak, and is finding the situation less amusing.  As they banter, a voice rings out in the night… and Don Giovanni notices that a statue has been raised in the graveyard as a monument to the Commendatore,  the man he killed at the beginning of the opera.  Enjoying Leporello’s terror, he insists that his servant invite the statue to dinner  - and is startled by the result.

The mixture of comedy, drama, romance and tragedy found in Mozart’s operas might be taken for granted by modern audiences, but it was a bold step in Mozart’s time, when Opera Seria (such as Orlando), with its series of serious, dramatically static but emotion-laden arias and its noble characters was a separate genre from Opera Buffo, with its comedy, quick interactions between lower-class characters, and freer musical and dramatic forms.  Mozart dared to enrich opera by merging the two types into a complex whole.  Is Don Giovanni a comedy or a dramatic opera?  What do you think?  (Return to top)

Das Rheingold

Richard Wagner             (1813-1883)


Larry Seiler


Thomas Weber


Arthur Dunlap

Wagner’s famous Ring Cycle is a story of gods and heros like Orlando, but the music, and the manner in which the story is told, are very different.  Instead of simple accompaniment and ornate singing, we hear simple, speech-like singing projected forcefully over complex orchestral melodic elements indicating themes in the extended story.  Our Music Director will play and identify a few of these themes for you before the scene begins, so that you can recognize them when you hear them

Wotan, the chief among the Teutonic gods, has hired Fafner and Fasolt, two giants, to build the gods a wonderful castle in the clouds.  The giants have demanded in payment Freia, the goddess of spring and youth - a bargain the gods are unwilling to complete, since once she has left the other gods, spring will leave them and they will start to age.  The giants agree to a new bargain, suggested by Loge, the clever and undependable god of fire: a pile of gold large enough to hide Freia from their sight.  How to find that much gold?  Loge has another suggestion: capture the dwarf Alberich and take from him the wealth and magical tools he has collected since he ritually renounced love, stole the gold which had been guarded by the Rhine Maidens, formed it into a magic Ring, and became a powerful ruler instead of a mere dwarf.

In this scene Wotan and Loge have captured Alberich through a trick, using his own magical Tarnhelm against him,and now force him to give up not only the gold he has gathered but the Ring itself.  When they free him after taking the Ring, Alberich responds with the Curse which follows the Ring through the rest of the operas in the Ring Cycle.  (Return to top)

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© March 2000 Marion Leeds Carroll 
     was last modified 02/16/02