Claire Nowak

The Florentine Opera Welcomes a New “Sister”

Opera will workshop "Sister Carrie" by Aldridge and Garfein this weekend

By - May 22nd, 2014 04:37 pm
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SisterCarrie_2014_01La Bohème brought a strong end to The Florentine Opera’s 2013-2014 season, but the company still isn’t quite ready to break for summer.

Thanks to a Repertoire Development Grant from OPERA America’s Opera Fund, the Florentine will present a workshop performance of Sister Carrie, a new opera by composer Robert Aldridge and librettist Hershel Garfein, this weekend. Adapted from Theodore Dreiser’s classic novel of the same title, it follows a young woman named Caroline Meeber as she leaves her rural life in Waukesha, Wis. for the lure of Chicago and New York.

According to director William Florescu, it not only gives a social commentary on manufacturing and women’s plight at turn of 20th century; it compares those struggles to current issues.

“It reflects how, in a lot of ways, things haven’t changed that much,” Florescu says.

The opera is not entirely completed, but audiences will see more than half of its scenes, including arias, duets and choral numbers, which Aldridge and Garfein themselves will introduce. This behind-the-scenes experience takes viewers into the operatic development process. It’s also an opportunity for the composer and librettist to hear how their work looks and sounds onstage.

“A lot of people, I think, enjoy that, being able to look at something while it’s in progress and not just the end product,” Florescu says.

Discussions for the production began in 2010 after The Florentine performed Elmer Gantry, another Aldridge-Garfein show that won two Grammy awards. At the time, the composer and librettist told Florescu they were looking at Dreiser’s novel for as the basis for a new piece. Florescu had faith in their work and suggested the Florentine workshop it.

Adriana Zabala

Adriana Zabala

The opera company’s business and artistic model takes pride in showcasing traditional operas, but also encompass newer works every season, like Sister Carrie and Elmer Gantry, which the Florentine is reviving next spring.

“Somebody had to do La Bohème the first time,” Florescu says. “Somebody had to do La Traviata the first time, and to keep the art form alive and thriving, new work is important. That’s become very popular in this country.”

However, the Florentine can’t take sole credit for the production. It collaborated with the University of Minnesota’s music department to include five college students in the cast. Since the university is putting on Sister Carrie’s collegiate debut and Florentine the professional premiere, workshopping together seemed like the logical decision. OPERA America awarded its grant because of that unique collaboration.

“The granting sources generally don’t blend like that, but this was an interesting enough hybrid,” Florescu said. “The composer and lebrettist have done work with us very closely and with the university so it was a match that made sense.”

Daniel Belcher

Daniel Belcher

Adriana Zabala and Daniel Belcher will take on the leads as Carrie and Hurstwood. Both have worked with the Florentine twice in the past; Zalaba performed the role of Sesto in Julius Caesar earlier this season. Florescu intends to have them revive their current roles for the full main stage production.

Aldridge’s score isn’t like anything the Florentine has showcased this season, having a distinct Americana feel that classical music lovers might compare to Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.”

“Bob (Aldridge) writes with a very melodic, almost neo-romantic style that you immediately recognize as having some Americana to it,” Florescu says. “Depending on the scene, you might say it has a little bit of Broadway feel to it, but what it doesn’t have is the feeling of very dissonant, angular harmonic structure that a lot of modern work has.”

Despite this deviation from genre standards, audiences will still recognize some of the same elements, like the way the music can grab you like traditional opera does.

“Bob really knows how to write not just intellectually but for the heart as well,” Florescu says.

7:30 p.m. May 23 and 24 at the Wayne & Kristine Leuders Florentine Opera Center. Tickets are $15 and are available online or by calling 414-291-5700 ext 224.

MSO Chorus

MSO Chorus

Chamber Series III by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

When conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong programmed the final installment of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Chamber Series, he wanted to showcase more than the orchestra – namely the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus and the performance space, the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.

With that idea in mind, he chose three contrasting works for Chamber Series III: Vaughan Williams’ “Flos campi,” selections from Wagner’s “Tannhauser” and Cherubini’s “Requiem in C minor.” The chorus will perform along with the orchestra for the entire performance, an unusual feat but one that will better show the musicians’ versatility.

“Flos campi” does not include any text, so singers will hum and add accenting “oohs” and “ahs” to compliment the orchestra. According to Lecce-Chong, it’s an unconventional approach, especially with the solo by principal violinist Robert Levine, but allows the chorus to be used like an additional instrument.

Though Cherubini’s “Requiem” was idolized by composers like Beethoven and Brahms, conductors often overlook it as a concert selection. Lecce-Chong, who calls the piece his “baby,” hopes to bring it back into the limelight by performing it in a sacred space, as Cherubini originally intended. The reverb and acoustics in that space will also give the audience a more immersive experience into the music.

“It’s like you’re getting the effect of each one of these works, which is really what a concert should be,” Lecce-Chong says. “It’s about the effect and experience of the music, not every single note that the orchestra plays.”

8 p.m. May 23 and 24 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. Tickets are $5 and are available online.

Jeffery Siegel Keyboard Conversations® at Wisconsin Lutheran College

Wisconsin Lutheran College welcomes Jeffery Siegel as part of its Guest Artist Series. During his Keyboard Conversation®, Siegel will speak informally on each piece before performing it in its entirety.

7:30 p.m. May 21. Tickets range from $20-36 and are available online or by calling 414-443-8802.

0 thoughts on “Classical: The Florentine Opera Welcomes a New “Sister””

  1. Anonymous says:

    A Theodore Dreiser novel as the theme for an opera? And the opera itself in progress, with the composer and librettist present? How wonderfully unique!

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