classical music, counter-tenor, counter-tenors, John Cox, literature, music, new music, new operas, opera, opera festivals, operas, Oscar, Oscar Wilde, Santa Fe, Santa Fe Opera, Santa Fe Opera Festival, summer opera, Theo Morrison, world premiere, world premieres
On Wednesday night, my parents, my grandparents, and I attended the world premiere of Oscar at the Santa Fe Opera Festival. We’re here for the week and are seeing all five operas on the schedule – La Traviata, The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein, Oscar, La Donna del Lago, and the Marriage of Figaro. But Oscar was something special.
It’s about the life of the writer Oscar Wilde, and his incarceration at Reading Gaol for “gross indecency” (in other words, homosexuality). The opera explores his experiences in the prison, before and after. The opera was musically and theatrically spectacular, particularly the farce trial at the end of Act I. Oscar is taking refuge in a nursery of one of his friend’s children, and the toys enact the trial. It was quite frightening and disturbing, these children’s toys with grins plastered to their faces condemning Oscar. The judge, who was a jack-in-the-box, was particularly disturbing, popping up and down with a sinister grin. The music was also really great.
The only part that I didn’t like was that the opera was narrated by Walt Whitman in the land of the Immortals, and that at the end, Oscar joins them, as if great writers are just Greate. It’s people who make writers great. The whole end was like an embodiment of Literature with a capital L. A lot of writers wouldn’t be remembered if not for the people who read them and enjoyed them. That part was annoying. Still, the opera was amazing, with great singers. I hope that it’s one that will be performed in other places. It was quite a privilege to see the second performance EVER.
One other thing: Oscar is sung by a counter-tenor, meaning a very high male voice in the female range. It’s quite alien to listen to, but very beautiful. Here’s a recording of David Daniels (who played Oscar) singing Schubert’s “Nacht und Traume”:
Anyway, Oscar was a wonderful opera, and I’m so glad I got to see it. It also motivated me to read more Oscar Wilde. (I’ve only read his fairy tales.) Picture of Dorian Gray, here I come!
Tonight we’re seeing the last of the operas, Mozart’s famous Marriage of Figaro.