Opera New Jersey presents both comedy and tragedy in two mainstage productions for summer 2011. The hilarity of Giacomo Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” balances the intensity of Giancarlo Menotti’s “The Consul.”
Written in 1816, “Barber” has kept audiences chuckling for almost 200 years as it depicts Count Almaviva’s attempt to win the appealing Rosina in marriage. Menotti’s 1950 drama “The Consul” is as relevant a political piece today as it was 60 years ago. Performances take place in McCarter’s Matthews Theater. “Barber,” directed by Mark Laycock, plays Saturday, July 9 at 8 p.m., Sunday, July 17 at 2 p.m., and Saturday, July 23 at 8 p.m. “Consul” plays Saturday, July 16 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 24, at 2 p.m. The instrumentalists are members of the New Jersey Symphony Chamber Orchestra.
In addition, an assortment of performances in McCarter’s Berlind Theater focuses on matters operatic. ONJ carries Princeton audiences to the frontier of opera with two staged readings of “The Family Room,” a new work by composer Thomas Pasatieri, with an original libretto by Daphne Malfitano. American Opera Projects (AOP), a New York-based organization that shepherds operatic projects through from initial conception to final production, presents the piece.
“This is Opera New Jersey’s first partnership with American Opera Projects,” Richard Russell, general director of ONJ, writes in an E-mail. “I’ve followed their work and have even volunteered for them in the past, and I have been extremely impressed by their nurturing of new opera. homas Pasatieri is an important American composer and bringing this new work to Princeton with two of America’s leading singing actresses, Lauren Flanigan and Catherine Malfitano, represents an extraordinary opportunity for Opera New Jersey.”
“Opera in Concert,” a three-concert series at the Berlind, presents vocal favorites. “Crossing Over,” a program of music by operatic composers who wrote for Broadway, and by Broadway composers, who wrote for the operatic stage, takes place Sunday, July 10 at 2 p.m. An evening of Gilbert and Sullivan favorites can be heard Friday, July 15, at 8 p.m. And on Friday, July 22, at 8 p.m., ONJ’s leading artists sing favorite songs and arias.
Members of ONJ’s Emerging Artists Program perform staged operatic excerpts at the Berlind Theater, Friday, July 17, at 7 p.m. and Tuesday, July 19, at 8 p.m.
Russell comments on the inclusion of Menotti’s weighty “Consul” in a summer season with only two productions. “It is somber, but very powerful,” he says. “I don’t see that it should be a problem for a summer audience. `The Barber of Seville’ is obviously a very light piece. I think that `The Consul’ offers a nice contrast. It’s not done often, and it is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the composer. I think Menotti’s works are unjustly neglected, and I knew I had access to a cast and conductor who would do the piece justice. Joel Revzen, who is conducting, has done the piece numerous times, including once with the composer as director.”
“The Consul” is set in an unidentified European totalitarian country. John Sorel, a political dissident, plans to hide from the police at a border-crossing while his wife, Magda, applies for visas for the family to leave the country. At the consular office a magician entertains the visa-applicants. Then, both Magda’s child and her mother-in-law die. She learns that John intends to risk his life and return for her. Hoping to protect John, Magda commits suicide.
Soprano Lina Tetriani, who plays Magda, says, “The role felt very natural to me. I felt the character in my gut. She is persistent, fighting for the right things, for family, for love and freedom. She stands by her husband and his cause. I relate to the role because I come from an immigrant family. You have to be very tough to survive.”
Born in Tbilisi, Tetriani grew up in Soviet Georgia. The family left in 1994, when she was 16. “It took two years to leave,” she says. “It was back and forth, interviews, filling out papers. Getting out was very difficult.
“We wanted a better life. It’s hard to make your dreams come true in a country where there’s always war. Naturally, it was a bad economic situation.
“It was easier for us to come to the United States than for people who left just before us,” Tetriani says. “They had to stay in Europe for three months before coming here. We came directly to Brooklyn. My father had some family there. They were not close relatives. But at least we had someone.
“The U.S. felt like a new planet. We very open when we first arrived. We wanted to experience everything. We didn’t think much. We just did things.”
Tetriani says that when she arrived the extent of her English was being able to count to 10 and say her name. “I was thrown into English when we arrived in the U.S. I spent one year in high school in the U.S. I learned English and passed the Regent’s Exams. Then I went to Juilliard right afterward. Most of my friends are Americans.”
In Georgia Tetriani’s father was a small businessman. “It was something to do with Adidas,” she says. “Something legal. In the U.S. he had two or three jobs at the same time to make ends meet.” Tetriani’s mother taught physics and mathematics. She also taught piano.
“I grew up with music,” Tetriani says. “My dad would have a glass of wine and sing at the table but he had no musical education. My mom’s father grew up in extreme poverty. He finished only two grades in school. He had no shoes and sold pastries, barefoot, illegally on the street. But he had a deep love for classical music and opera. He would always sneak into the opera or concert hall. It’s not a coincidence that I became a classical singer.”
In Tbilisi Tetriani studied piano for 10 years, beginning when she was six or seven. “I realized that I was not really interested in piano,” she says. “When I sang in choirs, teachers began to notice that I had a voice. A teacher told my mom to take me to the pre-conservatory in Tbilisi.”
Tetriani’s family name in Georgia was Tetruashvili. In 2009 she changed the name legally. “It was difficult with a name like Tetruashvili in the States. I would spell it out and would still get letters with my name written incorrectly. Every time I checked into a hotel I had to spell my last name.
If I loved the name, nothing would have made me change,” she continues. “My mom and I came up with the new name while we were sitting on the couch. The new name has Georgian roots. ‘Tetri’ in Georgian means ‘white.’ `Ani’ is a Georgian ending. Georgians find the name totally Georgian. It was a fairly easy transition. I got used to it quickly.”
The name change created no difficulty for Tetriani. “It was not a problem because the operatic profession is a small world,” she says.
Tetriani expects to stay within the operatic world. “Opera is multi faceted,” she says. “It’s the perfect combination of drama and theater. I’m a dramatic person. As a singer, your body is your instrument” She sang the role of Magda Sorel in “The Consul” for first time two years ago at Chautauqua, the cultural summer community in New York State.
Finding satisfaction in the tragic role, Tetriani says, “‘The Consul’ was written when Alfred Hitchcock was popular and when people watched `Twilight Zone.’ It has a horror element that gives you an opportunity to be one step removed from real-life situations. Helplessness opposed to the horror of totalitarianism and bureaucracy makes for nightmare scenes.”
Tetriani sees the opera as “very, very dark, and very twisted.” She finds in it “sexuality in a twisted way. There’s a lot of suppressed sexuality in the love between Magda and John. I found it helpful to think of the scenes with police officers as sadistical. Even though there was no physical attack, there were cruel words. As Magda is dying, she sees John marrying his mother in a nightmare. The basic thing goes back to Freud. It’s Oedipal.
“Magda is a challenge to me as an actress because it calls for a whole palette of emotions,” Tetriani says. “I love playing strong, heroic, powerful women. Magda is emotionally volatile. You have to show that physically. You have to show the tension. It’s a physically active role.”
Tetriani is five feet, three inches. “I shop in the petite department,” she says. “I have a full sound. My size has not affected my casting. It works to Magda’s advantage to be small and powerful; it’s paradoxical. I’m lucky that people sense that I carry powerful roles well. The power comes from your spirit, not your height, and from the atmosphere you create around you.”
The Consul, Opera New Jersey, McCarter’s Matthews Theater, Princeton. Saturday, July 16, 8 p.m., and Sunday, July 24, 2 p.m. New Jersey Symphony Chamber Orchestra accompanies the production. Michael Unger directs. $20 plus. 609-799-7700 or www.operanj.org
The Barber of Seville, Saturday, July 9, 8 p.m.; Sunday, July 17, 2 p.m.; and Saturday, July 23, 8 p.m. New Jersey Symphony Chamber Orchestra accompanies the production. Mark Laycock directs. $20 plus.
Also, free concert of opera favorites by artists of the Emerging Artists Program of Opera New Jersey, Saturday, July 2, 7 p.m., Palmer Square.