The Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona presents the first European performances of John Adams’s opera Antony and Cleopatra this autumn. Soprano Julia Bullock joins the cast as Cleopatra with Gerald Finley returning as Antony, staged in the original Elkhanah Pulitzer production conducted by the composer.
On 28 October the curtain goes up on the first European staging of John Adams’s most recent opera Antony and Cleopatra. Barcelona’s Teatre del Liceu presents six performances conducted by the composer in the original production by Elkhanah Pulitzer. The title roles are portrayed by Gerald Finley and Julia Bullock – the first performances to feature the soprano for whom the role was composed – joined by Paul Appleby as Octavius Caesar and Elizabeth DeShong as Octavia. The opera was premiered to acclaim at San Francisco Opera last year, conducted by the company’s Music Director Eun Sun Kim, and travels on to New York’s Metropolitan Opera in a future season.
With a libretto in English adapted by the composer from Shakespeare’s tragedy with supplementary passages from Plutarch, Virgil, and other classical texts, the complex drama is distilled into two tautly packed acts. The production sees Adams and his collaborators, director Elkhanah Pulitzer, and dramaturg Lucia Scheckner, blending the mythic imagery of antiquity with the starry glamour of 1930s Hollywood.
> Visit the Liceu website
Reviews from the San Francisco premiere lauded the opera’s “crisply dynamic musical and theatrical vision” (San Francisco Chronicle) and its “constant buzz of tense action” (The Telegraph). Attracting admiration was not only Adams’s dramatic lyricism, with the Wall Street Journal noting how “the vocal writing is carefully tailored for textual intelligibility, and each of the principals has a distinct vocal character - Cleopatra’s undulating seductiveness, Antony’s struggle, Caesar’s implacability”, but also the composer’s orchestral mastery with the San Francisco Chronicle describing how “Adams’s score is a miraculous summation of the best of his work over the last 30-plus years”.
"Finely wrought, fiercely expressive ... an unmistakable personal voice… The richer the language, the stronger Adams’s response... The collision with Shakespeare appears to have been inevitable."
The New Yorker
“Some of the most radiantly beautiful music in the composer’s catalog… theatrical grandeur blended with expressive intimacy in perfectly judged proportions… The music is rich, evocative and full of intricately crafted detail (Shakespeare’s famous invocation of Cleopatra’s ‘infinite variety’ is too apt to resist applying here as well).”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Kaleidoscopically grand… The orchestration is inventive and encyclopedic; the sprawling dramaturgy well-corralled; the text setting clear. The love scenes in which Cleopatra draws Antony back into her orbit have a magical serenity. The opening of Act 2, when they reconcile after the Actium disaster, has an elegant Stravinskian clarity, as the lovers first talk past each other and then kiss; Antony’s death is a poignant, long-breathed sigh, tuning out the world of the martial, brass-heavy Roman sequences.”
Wall Street Journal
Recent Adams opera highlights have included a new production of Nixon in China conducted by Gustavo Dudamel at the Paris Opéra and a concert performance of The Death of Klinghoffer in the ZaterdagMatinee series under the baton of the composer at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. In addition to Antony and Cleopatra in Barcelona, Adams opera stagings in Europe this autumn include Doctor Atomic – ever topical with the recent Oppenheimer movie - at Theater Bremen and The Death of Klinghoffer by Norrlands Opera in Umeå in Sweden.
Next spring brings a new orchestral work, Frenzy, premiered by Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra in March, together with productions in June of The Gospel According to the Other Mary in its Austrian premiere at the Volksoper Wien as part of the Vienna Festival and Nixon in China at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin staged by the Hauen und Stechen collective.
> Further information on Work: Antony and Cleopatra
Photo: Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera
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