Company debuts, star power, excitement and audience cheers ruled at the much-anticipated May 7 west coast premiere of Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s newly minted opera-within-an-opera, Great Scott.
Opera’s foibles and fancies were deftly depicted in this San Diego-Dallas Opera co-production, a satirical portrayal of parallel universes between a city’s opera company and its ever-popular football team.
The cast was outstanding. Returning SDO mezzo Kate Aldrich gave a vocally strong, dramatically convincing depiction of protagonist Arden Scott. “She’s attracted to the danger of the stage and theatre,” Aldrich says, “But never able to give herself fully over to her artistic capacity.”
Making a high-profile company debut, superstar mezzo Frederica von Stade showed her love for opera and for Heggie’s music in her winning portrayal of the opera company’s patron: “A mother-like figure in the opera house… not there because of her expertise in opera but her passion for it,” says von Stade.
In his company debut as Aldrich’s love interest, baritone Nathan Gunn portrayed his character with self-deprecating charm, and delivered a vocally superb performance. Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo admirably displayed his unique timbre and dramatic agility. Debuting soprano Joyce El-Khoury predictably stole the scene in an ambitious young soprano’s rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.
Conductor Joseph Mechavich did a fine job of interpreting Heggie’s complex score. Bob Crowley’s sets and costumes were clever and innovative, especially in the opera-within-an-opera, and Brian MacDevitt’s lighting played up the special effects. Veteran director Jack O’Brien deftly handled his skilled team of players to merge Heggie’s demanding, diversely-styled writing with McNally’s clever libretto.
The story has great relevance for SDO, which has successfully weathered the threat of closing in 2014. “San Diego Opera has ended the past two years with balanced budgets and without spending down our remaining reserves, due to the board and staff’s hard work and incredible generosity of many donors,” says general director David Bennett.
The moral to Heggie’s opera-within-an-opera is not cut and dried. “It’s open ended,” says von Stade. “There’s no resolution. That’s how life is.” Aldrich says Great Scott represents the universality of the art form. “Jake’s opera speaks to everyone,” she says.
According to Heggie, Great Scott is “more timely and relevant than ever,” adding optimistically, “Opera is going to look and be different 50 or 100 years from now, but it will be here.”
Indeed, the state of opera is a consistent through line in Great Scott. If SDO’s progress is any indication, Heggie’s prediction will hold fast.
Cover photo: A scene from “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompei” the opera within the opera GREAT SCOTT. Photo by Karen Almond, 2016.