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Beyond the BU Fringe Festival


Performances, lectures, and discussion in this year’s Fringe Festival, the fifteenth from Boston University, running from from October 9 through 28, will focus on art’s response to the different aspects of violence in our society, a timely theme, given the world’s current multitude of religious conflicts and the individual psychological stresses of a society replete with unemployment. A collaboration between the School of Music Opera Institute and the School of Theatre, the musical events zero in on domestic violence and family discord in Bluebeard’s Castle by Béla Bartók and Three Decembers by Jake Heggie, and on the country-wide shared horror at the events of September 11 in Art Song Meets Theatre: Jake Heggie on Jake Heggie.

“Fringe” is commonly thought of as something peripheral, on the edge, but it can also be thought of as the decorative element that adds interest to whatever it is attached. In this spirit, Sharon Daniels director of Opera Programs at Boston University, founded the BU Fringe Festival in 1997 to heighten interest in the field of opera, to encourage a broader audience.

Adrian Smith (Bluebeard) with Meredeth Kelly (Judith). Credit is BU Photography.

With a career singing a wide variety of opera roles and recitals throughout the United States, Daniels has produced principal artists in many professional venues locally, nationally and internationally since she joined the Boston University faculty in 1989 and has directed mainstage productions of the same wide diversity of repertoire that  her singing career. (She also developed the new curriculum for the Opera Institute, started by Phyllis Curtin.) A history of the productions is here.

Daniels wrote to BMInt, “In keeping with the Festival’s mission, the musical offerings this year are dynamic in content, music, design, and direction.  While production values are still minimalist, they have unique designs which support the music and action. Audience is close to the action. The singers have advanced training not only in vocal technique but also as actors. We are excited to have the composer Jake Heggie (Moby Dick, Dead Man Walking) in attendance for opening night of his Three Decembers on October 14; and he will also narrate and play his own songs with our singers on October 28 in Heggie on Heggie, Art Song Meets Theatre. Our singers and the school will have had the benefit of his coaching in a residency the previous week.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, the mordant story which opens the Festival offerings this weekend, is jointly presented by The BU Opera Institute and School of Theatre. It is based on the French fairy tale by Charles Perrault. The English translation of the libretto by Béla Balázs — whose own life was filled with upheaval — is the one by Jeffrey Stevens. William Lumpkin is music director and piano accompanist, and Jim Petosa, director. The one-act opera of 65 minutes is double cast with students, so each cast will sing twice. Costume and set design is kept to a minimum, as is the tradition at the Festival. Performances are the BU Theatre, a 90-seat black box theatre, on Friday, October 7, at 8:00 pm; Saturday, October 8, at both 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm ; and Sunday, October 9, at 2:00 pm, with a post-show discussion with special guests.

Three Decembers, according to the BU press release, is a “powerful and poignant one-act opera explores the painful and complex relationships between a famous actress and her two grown children, as they unfold the family’s hidden truths: infidelity, separation, homophobia and AIDS, tragedy, and loss.” It is based on an original play by Terrence McNally and with a libretto by Gene Scheer; music director is Allison Voth, and director, Tomer Zvulun, from the Metropolitan Opera. The composer will be at the performance on Friday, October 14, 8:00 pm, for a post-show discussion. Performances are also scheduled for Saturday, October 15, at 8:00 pm; Sunday, October 16, at 2:00 pm and at 6:00 pm.

Heggie explained, “Under the shadow of a tragic event, a famous, beloved Broadway star and her two adult children struggle to know and love each other. Over three decades, they become estranged due to family secrets and lies, love, loss, AIDS, alcoholism and homophobia. The opera poses powerful questions of identity: Who are you in the context of your family? Who are you on your own? Who are you in your chosen family? Especially influenced by the lyricism and sweep of the American musical theater, the opera was originally composed in 2008 for the great American mezzo Frederica von Stade with an 11-member chamber orchestra. The music uses melodic and rhythmic motifs to identify characters and events, and offers big solo arias as well as duets and trios. “Three Decembers received its premiere at Houston Grand Opera and has since been performed at San Francisco Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Central City Opera, Ft Worth Opera, as well as at USC. The production at Boston University features a new, two-piano reduction.”

Art Song Meets Theatre: Jake Heggie on Jake Heggie is being given one performance, on Friday, October 28, at 8:00 pm. Heggie joins singers from the School of Music to perform selections from his vast song literature, including a new cycle marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. The evening of staged songs concludes his residency.

Check BMInt’s “Upcoming Events” for details and dates.

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