Tuesday, July 26, 2016

IRIS, Rare Revival at Bard College's 2016 SummerScpe festival: Review by Polly Guerin

Poster for IRIS, 1898 
Pietro Mascagni's three-act opera IRIS, the tragic story of a young girl's innocence, abduction and betrayal is as relevant today as it was when first performed in 1898 at the Teatro Constanzi in Rome and a revised version in 1899 at La Scala, Milan. The story was set in Japan during legendary times, and the Opera's "Verismo" theme was a triumph.
     Maestro Leon Botstein, conductor/music director said, "It was the Hamilton of its day. It played for a long time in the 20's. In fact, 
Iris was performed more than Butterfly."
     Mascagni did not include love duets; the opera has a modern aspect to it---the oppression of women. The opera was timely because in 1920 women received the right to vote and their voice and plight was heard around the world. However, in Italy it was not granted until 1946.
    Mascagni's IRIS is based on a universal theme, the huge emotions it generates and the mastery of the music. For instance, unlike traditional operas, the music in the first act rises to a crashing climax, the instrumentation including cymbals, drums, and bells, the choired voices singing, "Calore!. Luce! Armor!" (Warmth! Light! Love!). Such an unexpected opening technique sets the high voltage mood throughout the opera.
     BARD's IRIS production is the first major professional North American staging in nearly a century (1898-2016). There are three more performances this rare revival this summer and tickets are available here (http://www.fishercenter.bard.edu/calendar/event.php. Left: Poster of IRIS, published by Casa Ricordi in 1898.
      As Maestro Leon Botstein said in his pre-performance talk on Sunday, "Mascagni was an innovator. While previous opera librettos relied upon literature for inspiration, Mascagni IRIS relied on a new element called "Verismo" or realism, telling stories that were drawn from everyday life. "
      Mascagni's introduction of "Verismo," influenced other opera composers' new operas with realistic themes. It is a well know fact that Giacomo Puccini observed Mascagni's opera IRIS, over and over, until he no doubt incorporated realism into the production of Madame Butterfly, which incidentally was a disaster at first and had to be revised. Then too, Luigi Illica wrote the original Italian libretto for both Mascagni's Iris and Puccini's Butterfly. To make matters worse, Mascagni's popularity waned and his politics factored into his decline-- his reputation became somewhat tarnished through his close links to Mussolini's fascist regime.  With Mascagni no longer in favor, in time Butterfly eventually went on to eclipse IRIS.
IRIS and Her Blind Father, Act One
    The first act is a very touching dramatization of innocence and abduction. Fujiyana glows in the early morning light as Iris, who is devoted to he blind father, sings as a shower of petals cascade. American soprano, Talise Trevigne's rich voice is resplendent and heart wrenching as the young, beautiful and vulnerable IRIS. 
     Kyoto, keeper of questionable establishment of ill repute, plots to obtain IRIS for the wealthy rake, Osaka.  While Iris is distracted in a fascinating dance sequence, three women representing Beauty, Death, and the Vampire, dance around her. In exotic black costumes they conceal her from view by spreading their skirts and IRIS is seized and carried off to Yoshiwara. a place of perdition. When Il Cieco, her father returns, he is led to believe that his daughter has gone voluntarily.
The Brothel in Yoshiwara
    The modern aura of the red and black set design for Act II provides the sensuality and mysterious interior of the brothel, where Iris awakens  The tenor, Gerard Schneider's "Osaka's" robust and buoyant voice attempts to woo her with jewels. Impatient he grows weary of her innocence and leaves. The dramatic baritone, Douglas Williams' Kyoto commands the scene with a frightening presents. He places Iris in sheer garments and places her up for the bidding.  Iris's father returns only to disown her believing she is a willing inmate of the brothel. In deep despair, Iris jumps into a gaping hole, falling into the subterranean sewer below to die.  Such a climatic end would not do for Mascagni, in his third act's additional sequence the composer gives Iris and the characters in the opera the opportunity to reappear and sing again. As Iris momentarily gains consciousness as in Act I, there is the choired tribute to warmth, light, love--the sun!
IRIS Disrobing from Innocence
BARD's Iris is a very touching opera, brilliant and dramatic, sensitive yet modern and so realistic that its universal appeal resonates with opera enthusiasts. Leon Botstein concluded, "Our mission is to stage under appreciated, rare operas like IRIS that deserve to be produced for modern audiences today." Order tickets online: fishercenter.bard.edu. By phone: 845.758.7900.

     Ta ta darlings!!! IRIS is worth a daytripping visit up to Bard at Annandale-on-Hudson. There is a Summerscape coach from New YOrk City on July 31.  Fan mail welcome please email Polly at pollytalknyc@gmail.com. Visit Polly's Blogs at www.pollytalk.com and click in he left hand column the link to the Blog that resonates with your interest.

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