Countertenor John Holiday, baritone José Rubio and mezzo-soprano Caitlin Mathes will all be featured as principle artists on a recording of Philip Glass’s Galilieo Galilei. The recording is a joint endeavor by Portland Opera and Orange Mountain Music.
Click here to read more about this new recording.
Encompass New Opera Theater’s world premiere of Angel of the Amazon featured two CCM Opera students, Caitlin Mathes and José Rubio. Click here to read the previous blog post from March which previewed this production.
OPERAGASM EXCLUSIVE REVIEW: ANGEL OF THE AMAZON
by Sarah Heisler
Since its inception in 1975, Encompass New Opera Theatre has tried to champion contemporary American opera and develop new audiences for the medium, and its world premiere production of Angel of the Amazon, a new music drama by Evan Mack has done just that. The two-act work is based on the life of Sister Dorothy Stang , who lived and worked among the indigenous farmers of Brazil, fighting for the protection of the Amazonian Rainforest before she was brutally murdered in 2005 by emissaries of the logging companies. Using forty years of letters as source material, Mack manages to craft an interesting and affecting narrative as the action skips from the “present day” of Sr. Dorothy’s death back and forth through time, starting with her first day in the jungle in 1969.
The intimate Jerome Robbins Theatre in the beautiful Baryshnikov Arts Center seems ideally suited to new works; the resident company in the theatre is the famed and innovative Wooster Group. The production design of John Michael Deegan and Sarah Conly enhanced the minimal set with the steady use of projections onto an inverted V of 4 wings of muslin or scrim and a cyclorama. An additional moveable screen provided a frame for clarifying year and place supertitles (think Les Miserables’ time-traveling supertitles). The projections transported the audience from the rain forest to the office of a bishop to the inside of a small hut to the Capitol building all without feeling contrived; it was so masterfully executed as to make opera aficionados wonder why one couldn’t simply replace the monstrous “machine” of the current Met Ring cycle with this more effective and less troublesome projection concept.
Director Nancy Rhodes, who is also Artistic Director of the company, guided the company through one of the most affecting and nuanced productions imaginable. While the singing and acting was generally quite good, it was the confident directing that created much of the emotional impact and brought the composer’s vision to the audience. There was not a moment that was lazy or had not been thought out, yet there was nothing manipulative about the experience. No one was bludgeoned with meaning; the material simply spoke for itself.
Caitlin Mathes as Sister Dorothy Stang in Encompass New Opera Theatre’s Angel of the Amazon. Photo by Richad Termine.
With a new work there it is always interesting to listen as the composer introduces his musical language. The sections of the story in the “present” time were full of long sustained stringers and atmosphere, which made an interesting contrast with the thicker textures, harmonies, and native rhythms of the flashbacks. Musical theater lovers might hear echoes of Jason Robert Brown’s introspective power, Stephen Sondheim’s peerless narrative style, and even Andrew Lloyd Webber’s unflinching use of chromaticism. However to say that Mack’s work is anything but his own would be to do him a disservice. This music is new and inspiringly brave in its breadth, and yet it is easily accessible to an audience that might have been wary of “modern opera.” The true joys were the Act One quintet and the frequent choral numbers, which were written with an obvious understanding of how voices work together to create something bigger. Mack’s truly beautiful libretto was refreshingly strong. Luiz’s Act Two aria was particularly poignant in its expression of anguished doubt. “What does it take to live the life that you wanted?” He rails at God, “I’ve seen what you did to your only son… what will you do to my dream?”
In the title role of Sister Dorothy, mezzo-soprano Caitlin Mathes possessed a bright and engaging voice with penetrating focus that was shown to its best in the upper range when she opened up and supported. Her acting was truly remarkable; never did one question that this fresh and pretty twenty-something singer was a nun living out her life from her late thirties till her death at seventy three. At times, however, more vocal gravitas would have been welcome; occasionally she simply sounded too young.
The standout performance came from baritone José Rubio as the passionate farmer Luiz. His commanding voice had a depth and presence that was enhanced by natural and crisp diction. His handsome sound was consistent through his generous range. This is a role that star baritones should clamor to sing. Bass-baritone Elex Lee Vann made an strong impression in his multiple roles of gunman, logging company representative, and native farmer. His hearty yet chilling opening solo prepared the way for an evening of evenly beautiful and sturdy singing. Baritone Justin Ryan used his instrument with authority and style in his dual roles of the Bishop and the second gunman. Tenor Adam Russell did not fare as well in his roles of multi-generational landowners. His sizeable tenor was occasionally throaty and tight and turned strident at the top.
The orchestra, ably led by Music Director Mara Waldman, was comprised of marimba, guitar, violins, celli, and two pianos and the amazingly textured sound makes it hard to imagine telling this story with any other grouping. Ultimately this work is almost a love letter to Sr. Dorothy; she is portrayed as such a saint that it is sometimes hard to see with her as a real person. Still, this exciting music gives a voice to a truly important story and Encompass New Opera Theatre has given a voice to a truly important new composer.
From time to time CCM Opera would like to highlight alumni that are working in the field of professional opera. This spotlight session will focus on CCM Opera alumna mezzo-soprano Caitlin Mathes. Caitlin was an Artist Diploma student and performed leading roles in Handel’s Alcina, Argento’s Postcard from Morocco & Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea.
Where are you now and what projects are you currently preparing?
- I’m currently living in New York City. I am covering Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia for Opera New Jersey and working on other concerts with them as well. I am performing in a Weill-ed Night Cabaret in New York City in the beginning of August. Staring in the fall I travel to Portland Opera where I will be covering Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro, Paquette in Candide, Kate Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Mary Madalena in Phillip Glass’s Galileo Galilea.
What have been some highlights from the past year for you?
- I recently placed 1st in the 2011 Lotte Lenya Competition, I performed the role of Sister Dorothy Angel in Angel of the Amazon with Encompass Opera and I’ve performed in several cabarets.
Can you talk about some fond memories you have of CCM?
- I remember a piece of advice/ compliment given to me after a competition…. “I do a lot of wine tasting. And sometimes I come across a wine which I know is a quality wine, but it just isn’t my taste. Voices are like that, and you are going to come across people who don’t like your sound, but rest assured, you are a good wine.” So, that day… I learned I needed to start drinking more wine, or at least find people who liked the wine I offer. Or let the wine age a little, breath a little… and then maybe it’ll be more palatable.
What is something of value you took away from CCM?
- Everyone is so talented at CCM. I think CCM really required me to look to myself and find out what it was that I specifically had to offer in my performances. I had to figure out what it was that I could rely on in my own product, because having self is the thing that I think is going to sustain me in this field.
Official Press Release from the Lotte Lenya Competition Recognizing CCM Opera Students Caitlin Mathes and Alisa Jordheim
Lotte Lenya Competition
Exceptional talents from the United States, England and China win top prizes in 2011 competition
Caitlin Mathes (AD), mezzo-soprano of Dayville, Connecticut, won the $15,000 First Prize in the finals of the 2011 Lotte Lenya Competition, held on April 16, 2011, at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. Instead of awarding Second and Third Prizes, judges presented three equal prizes of $8,000 each to Jing Lin, soprano, of Putian, China; Emma Sewell, soprano, of London, England; and Jacob Lewis Smith, bass/baritone, of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Judges for the competition were three-time Tony Award nominee Rebecca Luker, Broadway and Encores! music director Rob Berman, and the Artistic Director of the Kurt Weill Festival in Dessau, Germany, Michael Kaufmann.
The Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, which sponsors the competition, distributed a record $58,000 in prizes this year. In addition to the top prizes, judges presented three Lys Symonette Awards of $2,500 each, named in honor of Kurt Weill’s musical assistant on Broadway. Baritone Daniel Schwait of Baltimore and tenor John Viscardi of Philadelphia received awards for Outstanding Performance of an Individual Number, and baritone Jorell Williams of Brentwood, N.Y., received one for Outstanding Vocal Talent. The remaining five finalists each received a total award of $1,000: Alisa Suzanne Jordheim (DMA), soprano, of Appleton, Wisc.; Matt Leisy, tenor, of New York; Chris Pinnella, bari-tenor, of Brielle, N.J.; Peabody Southwell, mezzo-soprano, of Los Angeles; and Trevor Strader, tenor, of Queensbury, N.Y.
Now in its 14th year, the Lotte Lenya Competition recognizes versatile singing actors, aged 19-30, who are dramatically and musically convincing in a wide variety of musical theater styles. For the 2011 competition, each contestant presented a diverse program that included an aria from the opera or operetta repertoire; two songs from the American musical theater repertoire (one pre-1968 and one from 1968 or later); and a theatrical selection by Kurt Weill. After a preliminary round of auditions by video submission, twelve finalists were selected from a group of thirty semi-finalists who auditioned in New York City for adjudicator/coaches David Loud, Carolyn Marlow and Vicki Shaghoian.
CCM Opera is proud to announce that alumna Caitlin Mathes took first prize at the 2011 Lotte Lenya Competition this past weekend in Rochester New York. Click here for more information.
History of the Lotte Lenya Competition:
In 1998, to honor the centenary of the birth of Lotte Lenya (1898-1981), an extraordinary singer/actress and one of the foremost interpreters of the music of her husband, Kurt Weill (1900-1950), the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music established an annual Lotte Lenya Competition.
Caitlin Mathes (AD) and José Rubio (AD) will be preforming with Encompass New Opera Theater in the world premier of Evan Mack’s opera Angel of the Amazon. The production runs May 6th – 22nd and will be performed at the The Jerome Robbins Theater at Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 West 37th Street, NYC.
Click these links for more information about Encompass New Opera Theater or the opera Angel of the Amazon.