On the Beat

Southwest check-in: making audiences pay attention in Austin and Albuquerque.
by BRIAN KELLOW

On the Beat Buckley sm 1014
Austin Lyric’s Buckley
© Leah Overstreet 2014

RICHARD BUCKLEY , artistic director and principal conductor of AUSTIN LYRIC OPERA, gets a little testy when you describe his city as “the indie-music capital of the U.S.” (For an appreciation of the indie scene, see Jann Baskett’s essay in the October online edition of OPERA NEWS.) Buckley immediately points out that Austin also boasts a thriving classical-arts arena, one frequented by the millennials and baby-boomers who also want the vibrancy of Austin’s alternative lifestyle. In the past decade, Austin has seen its population balloon from 1.4 to 1.9 million, and it consistently places high on the lists of the nation’s most livable cities. 

Buckley, a native New Yorker (his father was EMERSON BUCKLEY, longtime conducting collaborator of LUCIANO PAVAROTTI), came to Austin eleven years ago, because he was seeking a permanent artistic home after years of guest conducting and living on the road. “At fifty, I made the decision to come and work with this company and community that gives you back something else — that’s a different experience from a peripatetic wandering gypsy conductor. Nine months on the road takes its toll after a while, and though it’s exciting and exotic, there’s nothing wrong with finding a place and making it home.” Moving to Texas was of course an adjustment, but Buckley says, “As soon as I found the right restaurants and bars, I was happy. You gotta remember this is the home of Whole Foods. I’m a foodie, so I was happy. There was a slight Southern mentality that was not necessarily as open to the New York in-your-face personality that I am. Now people just say, ‘Well … that’s Richard.’” 

Buckley, who considers himself a “demonstrative musician,” says his main mission is to “go for the gut. We did Elektra the first season I was here, and the Texas premiere of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk the second season. The third year, we did the American premiere of Waiting for the Barbarians.” One of Buckley’s proudest accomplishments is a 2013 Don Carlo, starring JAMES VALENTI. “There was nothing weak, nothing regional, about it,” he says. Next month, the company presents Un Ballo in Maschera, starring DOMINICK CHENES as Riccardo.

The company has occasionally presented a heavy-hitter, such as CAROL VANESS as Tosca, and this season includes STEPHEN COSTELLO as Gounod’s Roméo, but Buckley finds Austin “less of a star place and more of a let-me-go-and-experience-what-it-is-and-see-what-gets-me-turned-on place. We did an Elisir,and RENÉ BARBERA sang. I hired him when he won the Domingo competition. The audience felt his performance and went crazy. We don’t have to have names. If we give them the great experience, they’ll respond to it. I remember when GLYNN ROSS was building Seattle Opera, and he used to have one star and then whatever else around it. At that time, there was an operagoing population that would come to that. In Austin, it’s not that.”

WEST OF AUSTIN , there are also some lightning sparks at Albuquerque’s OPERA SOUTHWEST, where the company’s artistic director and principal conductor, ANTHONY BARRESE, is once more involved in some major musical excavation. In 2012, he oversaw a production of the seldom-heard Rossini Otello, which enjoyed a solid success. Now he’s dug even deeper, with a new production this month of Franco Faccio’s Amleto, with libretto by Arrigo Boito. It’s a forgotten work that Barrese quite literally reassembled. 

“I knew that Boito had written a Hamlet libretto. That’s all I knew,” says Barrese in a recent telephone interview. “Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare play, and I hate the Thomas opera. The ending is extremely problematic, and the Italian in me wants Hamlet to be a tenor and not a baritone. I did research on Faccio’s Amleto, and there were a couple of published arias, but contrary to every standard practice, Ricordi did not make a piano/vocal score after the performance, because it was a disaster. The only thing that really existed was an autograph score of the composer’s. I got to the Ricordi archivist, who sent me a microfilm of the entire thing — 600 to 700 pages! Four measures to a page, sometimes two, in crumbling manuscript. It became a hobby. Note by note, I started putting it together, using all my training in harmony, counterpoint. I would think, ‘Oh — I guess that means the horn is playing there.’ It took forever.” 

Barrese says Amleto has a recognizable mid-nineteenth-century Italian flavor to it. “You can tell that he thought he knew what Wagner was doing, because it’s highly chromatic in places. But harmonically it’s much more like Verdi. Amleto is a dramatic tenor, with nothing higher than a B-flat — almost declamatory singing at the top of the staff, like a proto-Turiddu. Ofelia is a pure lyric soprano — a little coloratura, but nothing like Thomas. The Queen is listed as a mezzo, but she has very high notes, and Claudio is a kind of classical Verdian baritone, a little higher than we normally think of, like the original version of Macbeth.” Opera Southwest’s cast includes ALEX RICHARDSON as Amleto, ABLA HAMZA as Ofelia, SHANNON DEVINE as Claudio and the excellent CAROLINE WORRA as Regina. 

Barrese’s company is steadily finding its way out from under the shadow of nearby Santa Fe Opera and is selling a lot more tickets since the success of Otello. “We would like a more diverse audience,” says Barrese. “People ask why we don’t do zarzuela, but we’re not in that business. But we would like to include more of the Hispanic community.” 

Opera Southwest will live-stream Amleto on opening night, October 26. spacer

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Current Issue: October 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 4