May 1, 2017
Creator and librettist Cerise Jacobs – whose Ouroboros Trilogy, produced last September, was “the most ambitious opera undertaking Boston has ever seen” (Berkshire Fine Arts) – premieres her new opera REV. 23, composed by Julian Wachner, in the fall at Boston’s John Hancock Theater, as the centerpiece and opening show of the first Boston New Music Festival hosted by Juventas New Music. The opera marks a first outing for the newly reconfigured production company White Snake Projects, headed by Boston producer Georgia Lyman with Jacobs as Executive Producer. REV. 23 is Wachner’s second full-length opera; the first, the “colorful and assured” (Boston Globe) Evangeline Revisited, was showcased at New York City Opera’s VOX Festival in 2010. The opera will be directed by Mark Streshinsky, and conducted by Lidiya Yankovskaya, leading instrumentalists from Juventas. Tickets go on sale May 1 for performances September 29-October 1. Buy now at www.rev23.org
Like all Jacobs’s projects, the original libretto for REV. 23 is not based on a previously existing source, but in this case it is related to one: she has conceived the opera as a comic addition to the Book of Revelation. Jacobs styles herself the “transcriber” of this addendum, according to dictation by St. John the Divine, the putative author of the first 22 chapters. REV. 23 poses the question of whether, in the paradise-on-earth promised at the end of history, human beings could ever be truly happy or even truly human. Wachner – who is Director of Music at Manhattan’s Trinity Church Wall Street, where he oversees the program the New Yorker calls “a mini Lincoln Center for classical music downtown” – calls Jacobs’s subject matter “an über-myth that is articulated in many different faith traditions.” This allows her to eclectically borrow characters from various places, not only the Book of Revelation itself, but also mythology and Chinese history. Thus, the banished angel Lucifer joins with Hades, ruler of the underworld, and his girlfriend, Persephone, harbinger of the seasons, to lament the endless paradisiacal summer that has rendered each of their jobs obsolete. The biblical Archangel Michael serves as an antagonist; Sun Tze, the author of The Art of War and a permanent resident of Hades’s realm, offers strategic advice in exchange for the temporary remediation of one or two everlasting torments and a cup of tea; three Furies supply choral backup.
La Scena Musicale contributor Charles Geyer, who attended a workshop of the opera, observed:
“REV. 23 … is a madcap yarn, spun with all of Jacob’s trademark wit, irreverence, and mythopoetic virtuosity – gutsy, unique, hilarious and, ultimately, profoundly moving in its affirmation of the spirit’s irrepressible need to be free.”
The stellar cast assembled for REV. 23 includes Michael Mayes as Lucifer, fresh from his recent debut with Washington National Opera, where he gave “an intense, tortured and laudably dramatic performance” (Washington Post) in the company’s revival of Dead Man Walking. Vale Rideout lends his “bright, clear tenor” (Opera News) to the character of Hades, and his significant other is portrayed by Colleen Daly, who proved a “confident, dramatic Persephone” (Washington Post) when she sang the REV. 23 aria “Blood Rubies” with Wachner and the Washington Chorus earlier this year. Michael Maniaci, who created the role of Xiao Qing in the Ouroboros Trilogy’s Madame White Snake, sings the countertenor role of the Archangel Michael, while “remarkable young American tenor” (New York Observer) Jonathan Blalock and “never less than intensely present” (Parterre Box) mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen portray the new Adam and Eve. Bass Matt Anchel’s “strong, crisp and dulcet” voice (Opera News) gives life to the co-conspirator, Sun Tze.
On May 24 the Boston Athenaeum will sponsor a symposium devoted to REV. 23, with a group of interfaith panelists: Walker Bristol, Humanist Chaplain at Tufts University; Celene Ibrahim, Muslim Chaplain at Tufts University; and Tenzin Priyadarshi, Buddhist Chaplain at MIT. Sheila Winborne, Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Northeastern University, will act as moderator. The panelists have been asked in advance to select arias from Jacobs’s libretto that particularly resonate with each of their faith traditions. For the symposium Jacobs will bring in singers to perform the selected arias, after which each panelist will lead a discussion based on their choice.
As was the case with each of the three operas in the Ouroboros Trilogy, REV. 23 benefited from a three-week development process at the New England Conservatory, led by Chair of Opera Studies, Joshua Major, which culminated in a piano performance featuring NEC students last October. The following month, conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya (who previously served as chorus master for the Ouroboros Trilogy premiere), led an excerpt from the piece at a preview concert for this year’s inaugural Boston New Music Festival. Further steps in the development process included orchestral readings with Wachner leading Trinity Church Wall Street’s resident new music ensemble, NOVUS NY, first at Manhattan’s St. Paul’s Chapel, and then at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust as part of the Prototype Festival.
Director Mark Streshinsky, who since 2009 has served as the Artistic Director of California’s West Edge Opera (formerly Berkeley Opera), has also directed a number of productions for Boston Baroque, including Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, The Magic Flute, and Handel’s Agrippina, after which the Boston Globe noted how he “elicited some wonderfully vivid performances” from his cast. Producer Georgia Lyman is an award-winning producer for her critically acclaimed theater company, Orfeo Group, as well as an accomplished curator of performing arts. She is best known as the Artistic Director of Outside the Box, Boston’s largest interdisciplinary outdoor performing arts festival, and has recently been named the Artistic Director of TEDxCambridge. See members of the creative and production teams discuss REV. 23 here.
The monumental undertaking that culminated in last September’s premiere of the Ouroboros Trilogy was applauded by audiences and critics alike. As Opera magazine summed it up: “Cerise Lim Jacobs, the intrepid and artistically ambitious muscle behind the long-in-gestation Ouroboros trilogy, has much of which to be proud.” The Boston Musical Intelligencer proclaimed that “the cast of each opera…performed not just adeptly, but captivatingly. The visual display of the trilogy took advantage of modern digital technology to create awe-inspiring sets.” Special praise was reserved for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Madame White Snake by composer Zhou Long, which was proclaimed to be “excellent, a near perfect score.” The same review went on to describe the audience reaction to Jacobs’s amazing achievement: “Each segment of the three-part performance hummed with excitement. Will-call lines stretched down the sidewalk. … Each opera played to a nearly full house.” As the South Shore Critic blog added: “The crowning moment was a (well deserved) standing ovation for Jacobs, whose obvious glowing elation with the reception of this audience was unforgettable. After decades of work on her trilogy, the palpable warmth from the opera-lovers present seemed to overwhelm her, as well it might. It was a magnificent night for opera.”
Cerise Jacobs: REV. 23 world premiere
Sep 29-Oct 1
John Hancock Theater
180 Berkeley Street
Boston New Music Festival
Lucifer: Michael Mayes
Hades: Vale Rideout
Persephone: Colleen Daly
Adam: Jonathan Blalock
Eve: Annie Rosen
Sun Tze: Matt Anchel
Archangel Michael: Michael Maniaci
Fury 1: Jamie-Rose Guarrine
Fury 2: Melanie Long
Fury 3: Norah Graham Smith
Composer: Julian Wachner
Creator and librettist: Cerise Lim Jacobs
Director: Mark Streshinsky
Conductor: Lidiya Yankovskaya
Dramaturg: Cori Ellison
Lighting Designer: Lucas Krech
Projection Designer: Jeremy Knight
Costume and Set Designer: Zane Pihlstrom
Executive Producer: White Snake Projects
Producer: Georgia Lyman
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© 21C Media Group, April 2017