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http://registerguard.com/rg/entertainment/arts/31253798-60/opera-west-eugene-melo-bandit.html.csp

OPERA

The bold West sings its way into the heart of Eugene

A tale of the American frontier, translated by Giacomo Puccini

By Randi Bjornstad

The Register-Guard

PUBLISHED: 12:00 A.M., MARCH 13

The wild, wild West comes to the stage this weekend — sure as shootin’ — as Eugene Opera presents “The Girl of the Golden West.”

It’s a classic spaghetti Western love triangle, set in Gold Rush-era California: good woman (rough-and-tough outside, heart of gold within) falls in love with misunderstood bandit, breaking the heart of honorable sheriff who loves her so much that he lets them both get away.

And it’s a spaghetti Western in another way, too, because it was written by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, one of the biggest names in opera — you can even call it “La Fanciulla del West” if you want — for the New York Metropolitan Opera, which first performed it in 1910.

It was quite an event back then. Enrico Caruso sang the part of bad guy Dick Johnson, aka Ramerrez, to Emmi Destinn’s Minnie. And Arturo Toscanini himself conducted.

Wow again, because the three leads in the show — soprano Emily Pulley as Minnie, tenor Raul Melo as Johnson/­Ramerrez and baritone Aaron St. Clair Nicholson as Sheriff Rance — all are veterans of the Metropolitan Opera stage.

They’ll be joined by Eugene’s own William Hulings as Ashby, the Wells Fargo agent on the trail of the bandit, and Brennen Guillory, a Lutheran pastor from Junction City who plays Nick, the bartender.

Andrew Bisantz — now in his fourth season as Eugene Opera’s music director, besides working with orchestras all over the country and the world — will conduct.

Pulley has sung the role of Minnie for years, and it has personal as well as professional meaning for her.

“I remember the first time I saw the show, I fell in love with the character,” she said. “That time period is part of the myth of the American West, and if I’d lived in that time, Minnie is the character I would hope to have been.”

Then Pulley pulls out her cellphone and scrolls through photos until she comes to one of her great-great grandfather, John Frederich Grau.

“He called himself J. Fred, and he was a sheriff in the Oklahoma Territory at about the same time this opera is set, so I think of him,” she said.

“I love this show because Minnie — she’s one of only two women among the main characters — is sister, mother, friend and teacher to all of the miners. She even teaches them about the Bible.

“This is basically a story of redemption in the Old West. These are all such human, human characters.”

For Melo, singing the Johnson/Ramerrez role is a first.

“I’m really excited to be doing it; I get to be a cowboy,” Melo said. “This opera is the trope for practically every movie Western, with the good woman who sees the good in a man and saves him from the wrong path.

“Even the music from this opera has been stolen for all kinds of other movies, including the big love tune in ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ Same key and everything.”

Melo has plumbed the depths of his role, a combination of the bandit Ramerrez and the pretender cowboy, Johnson.

“What I’m trying to do is not to act like I’m not a bandit, just not to say it,” he said. “So the question is, ‘Why is this character a bandit?’

“And the answer is, because this is all part of history. It’s a very complex backstory.”

A history lesson

The opera takes place circa 1900, about the time the U.S. government declared the end of the Western frontier, Melo said.

“Before that, parts of the West had been under Spanish control for centuries, then Mexican, and then American,” he said.

As time passed and governance changed, “Land was taken away from many of the big landholders — some of them were even killed — their cattle were stolen and their way of live destroyed. There was nothing left for their sons but to become bandits, and of course there was also some taking of revenge.”

But in the opera, Melo gets “only 12 measures” to convey this complicated history.

“I have this crazy, very difficult thing to sing: Yes, I’m a bandit; no, I didn’t rob you; yes, I’m ashamed; that’s the way life is — and then I have this high note that lasts for six measures.”

It’s not so much the difficulty of holding the note that concerns him, but “the dread of what color I turn,” Melo quipped. “No amount of makeup will cover that purple.”

When it comes to being on the losing end in the pursuit of Minnie, St. Clair Nicholson said, the sheriff may be the antagonist, “but he’s not evil.”

“He feels his own kind of love, but he’s a man of honor,” he said. “His honor and his obsession battle within him, but he keeps his word.”

It may all be a bit melodramatic, but that’s the way of both spaghetti Western movies and operas, “and I think this one is a masterpiece that really appeals to people,” St. Clair Nicholson said.

A genuine horse opera

As for Hulings, “The Girl of the Golden West” is his debut performance with Eugene Opera, “and I’m excited to be in the same room with these folks,” he said.

“I’m continually watching what they do, and they’ve been tremendously welcoming, and I’m also trying to bring my theater experience along.”

This production is a premiere for Eugene Opera, and general director Mark Beudert sees it as a real crowd-pleaser.

Even for people who don’t know much about opera or think they don’t like it, “This won’t be boring,” Beudert said, because of the spirited acting this group of opera singers is known for, the nontraditional cowboy costuming, the American West plot line and the participation of local people who make up the supporting cast.

At the same time, he said, coming to it with an appreciation of history that recognizes the contributions — and confrontations — among people of all cultures who settled the West also is important.

“This opera is not like fast food. You have to chew it, but it’s tasty, and it’s good,” Beudert said. “And it’s being performed by people who want to share the meal with everyone.”

Follow Randi on Twitter @BjornstadRandi. Email randi.bjornstad@registerguard.com.

OPERA PREVIEW

The Girl of the Golden West

When: 7:30 p.m. March 14 and 2:30 p.m. March 16

Where: Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center, Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street

Tickets and information: $20 to $69 (541-682-5000, hultcenter.org ,eugeneopera.com )

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 from The Dallas Observer:  http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/mixmaster/2013/05/jennifer_higdon_at_the_dallas.php
higdon-915a1cfee48478de9762c7229ed47261480dd258.jpg
Candace DiCarlo
Higdon with her cat, Beau

It’s been three years since composer Jennifer Higdon won both a Grammy and a Pulitzer for her music, but she stills seems a little shocked by the onslaught of attention and fame those awards inevitably garnered her. In fact, she still seems surprised that she ended up composing classical music at all, except for the very grounding fact that, quite frankly, she’s worked her ass off along the way.

Last night The Dallas Opera hosted Higdon as part of its Composing Conversations series. The free event was hosted by KERA’s jack-of-all-arts critic/reporter/producer Jerome Weeks, who lead the open-ended discussion with Higdon. The smallish audience was also invited to ask Higdon anything they liked, and several stayed after to chat with her at the end of the night.

Higdon has a forthright, down-to-earth personality that gave the evening a casual and accessible feel. She started her career in classical music unconventionally and rather late in the game, teaching herself flute and joining the marching band in high school. Looking back, she laughs at the naivety of her decision to study music.

“I didn’t know what a major chord was when I started college as a music major,” she confessed.

As a child of a hippie freelance artist, studying classical music was perhaps the most subversive thing this self-proclaimed rebel could do. She said her dad still doesn’t quite get why she chose to pursue classical music.

At every step of her career, Higdon said, she defied conventional logic by “barreling through.” To catch up with her peers, she studied harder and worked longer hours. She said she’s still going back constantly and learning the standard repertoire other classical musicians grew up around. A sincere passion to communicate through music drives her daily.

Higdon is still breaking rules. Unlike virtually every other contemporary composer, she does not have a manager or a publisher. Her music is quirky but extremely likeable, just like Higdon herself.

TDO’s Composer Conversations series is one of their best ongoing programs. At no cost, anyone interested in picking the brain of a contemporary composer can show up for an in-depth discussion with one of modern opera’s biggest names. In the past, discussions with Tod Machover and Joby Talbot have accompanied announcements about collaborations, but last night, no such announcement was made.

Higdon’s first opera, based on the novel Cold Mountain, will be premiered in Santa Fe in August of 2015. The opera is also set for a production in Philadelphia and Higdon hinted that a couple of other companies are interested beyond that. Here’s hoping TDO brought her to town this week for some private conversations about the future in addition to last night’s public talk.

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