March 14, 2011

Operas by Poulenc and Ravel complete Peabody’s French Season

On March 16 to 19, the Peabody Opera Theatre will present a double bill of 20th-century French operas, Francis Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tiresias and Maurice Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortileges, with the Peabody Concert Orchestra, conducted by Hajime Teri Murai. Sung in French with English supertitles, and staged by Garnett Bruce, the production is the second half of Peabody’s French Season of Opera. Fall’s production was Massenet’s Manon.

“While Manon was a standard repertoire opera, the Ravel and Poulenc are both fantasies, with a host of characters—oddball caricatures in the one piece, furniture and animals in the other—creating a kaleidoscope of color and sound,” said Roger Brunyate, the director of Opera Programs at Peabody.

Les mamelles de Tiresias (The Breasts of Tiresias) is a surrealistic work based on a play by Guillaume Apollinaire first performed in 1917, and was composed during World War II. The opera was premiered at the Opera-Comique in Paris in 1947. (The breasts of the title are those of the character Therese; they float away when she transforms into a male character, Tiresias.) L’enfant et les sortileges (The Child and the Enchantments), with a libretto by Colette, dates to World War I and the years following. It was premiered in Monte Carlo in 1925.

“Poulenc wrote the bulk of the music for Mamelles during the summer of 1944 as the Allies liberated France, and his buoyant themes capture the cautious optimism of the era,” Bruce said. “Its theme of renewal makes it the perfect companion to Ravel and Colette’s parable, which speaks to what makes us a better society.”

In choosing to stage these nontraditional works, Peabody is extending the repertoire for its singers and instrumentalists and continuing a collaboration with Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance, in Philadelphia. The two schools were able to share production expenses by coordinating their spring opera schedules.

The set designs are by Dirk Durossette, an adjunct faculty member in Temple’s Department of Theater, and the costume designs are by M. Michael Montgomery, resident costume designer with Temple Opera Theater. Eileen Cornett, who heads the Vocal Accompanying Program at Peabody, is principal coach. The lighting is by Douglas Nelson, resident lighting designer at Peabody and production manager for Peabody Opera; Jeanne DiBattista Croke, who works frequently with Peabody artists, is the wig and makeup designer.

Both works are ensemble operas, and most singers perform different roles in each production on different nights.

In the listing of the lead roles that follows, the first student in each pair will perform on Wednesday and Friday, the second on Thursday and Saturday.

In Les mamelles de Tiresias, the Theatre Director is played by Christian Waugh and Nathan Wyatt; Therese, by Kisma Jordan and Amber Schwarzrock; Le Mari, Therese’s husband, by Stephen Campbell and Jayson Greenberg; and Le Gendarme, keeper of the peace, by Jisoo Kim and Nathan Wyatt. In L’enfant et les sortileges, the Child is played by Erica Hamby and Mary-Lacey Rogers, and the Fire/Princess/Nightingale by Sarah Hayashi and Lisa Perry.

The four performances of the two operas will all take place at 7:30 p.m. in Peabody’s Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall. Tickets are $25, $15 for seniors and $10 for students with ID. To purchase tickets, call the Peabody Box Office at 410-234-4800.

Visitors to the Web page for Peabody’s French Season,, will find links to Baltimore businesses and organizations that offer further encounters with the language, literature, art and food of France, including the Alliance Francaise, the Baltimore Museum of Art and Patisserie Poupon.