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On the Beat

On the Beat

Cinematic connections: Marilyn Monroe and Dolores Claiborne both get operatic treatments; Mercadante's Francesca da Rimini gets strangled at rebirth.

On the Beat lg 412
Duesing, set to play a Hollywood mogul in Waiting for Miss Monroe
© Wolfgang Runkel 2012

BACK IN THE LATE 1980 s, when baritone DALE DUESING was a constant presence on the U.S. opera scene, he appeared at the 92nd Street Y in the New York Chamber Symphony's concert presentation of Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti. I remember my boss, OMUS HIRSHBEIN, leaning over my shoulder during a rehearsal and whispering, "Duesing is such a tasteful singer, isn't he?" It was a casual comment, but I think it's a key to Duesing's long and varied career. He has earned a reputation as a first-class musician, natural actor and serious-minded, diligent colleague who never hogs the limelight and always raises the level of every production in which he appears. "I was a piano major when I went to college," says Duesing. "I had a teacher who always talked about the music having to be clear and correct. And then you add your own emotions into it — and I think that's a little bit of what was carried over into my singing." 

In June, Duesing appears in the world premiere of ROBIN DE RAAFF and JANINE BROGT's Waiting forMiss Monroe at Netherlands Opera, in a coproduction with the Holland Festival. The Miss Monroe is Marilyn (played by next month's OPERA NEWS cover girl, LAURA AIKIN). The "waiting" refers to Monroe's much-documented habit of holding up production on her films, and Duesing is cast as a composite of moguls William Fox and Darryl F. Zanuck, an executive attempting to deal with his delinquent star. Clark Gable, John F. and Robert F. Kennedy, among others, pass through the opera.

I am never quite comfortable when it's suggested that Monroe had unplumbed depths as an actress. (The movie My Week with Marilyn veers a bit in this direction.) Duesing agrees. "I would never go so far as to say she was a great actress, but she was a great personality, and there's an honesty in her performing, somehow. I wouldn't put her up there with MERYL STREEP and JUDI DENCH. But it was a talent for knowing how to use the camera."

Duesing has sung in numerous world premieres and little-performed operas, and he's disappointed that some of them have failed to get much of a toehold in the repertory. "The Life of an Idiot, by Schnittke, for example," he says — "I did it here in Amsterdam twenty years ago. It's a masterly work, and it was done maybe one more time. Two years ago, I did Wagner Dream, by JONATHAN HARVEY, a fine composer. That piece was very successful, and only now have they [revived] it in England. NICHOLAS MAW's Sophie's Choice, which I did in London and Washington, D.C. — they made cuts in D.C., and I missed the music they left out. Was Ihr Wollt, by MANFRED TROJAHN, at Bayerische Staatsoper — we did eight sold-out performances." 

At sixty-six, Duesing continues to explore directing as well as singing. His directorial ventures include Il Viaggio a Reims at Oper Frankfurt, which led Opernwelt magazine to nominate him for 2004–05 Director of the Year. "The things I've done have been very successful," he says, "and I think it's because I understand the music as well as the theater. I did
L'Étoile at the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, and I had the chorus doing fast dancing — but still, the music needs to speak. It's not about shocking people — it's about speaking to them." 

WEXFORD FESTIVAL OPERA has pulled a switch for its 2012 season, opening next October 24. Initially, the company had planned Mercadante's Francesca da Rimini. It would have been a coup in this festival's long history of presenting neglected works, because Mercadante's opera has been neglected to the point of never having gotten off the ground: the theater it was written for burned to the ground in 1831, and the score was never published. Wexford's artistic director, DAVID AGLER, struggled to have a critical edition prepared for his 2012 Festival, but it was a more daunting task than anticipated. The upshot is that Francesca da Rimini has been replaced by Cilèa's L'Arlesiana, known primarily for its famous tenor aria, "È la solita storia del pastore." The other two operas on the company's 2012 season, Chabrier's Le Roi Malgré Lui and Delius's A Village Romeo and Juliet, remain in place. 

According to Agler, Paolo Cascio, editor of Francesca's critical edition, was unable to complete the task in time. "We've done a great deal of Donizetti and Mercadante in our time," says Agler, "and we have not done a verismo opera since Zandonai's Conchita in 2000. I do not have the money to do Ponchielli's I Lituani — which I would love to do — so we're doing L'Arlesiana."

TOBIAS PICKER 's next opera, Dolores Claiborne, in the works for some years, has been announced as part of San Francisco Opera's fall 2013 season. STEPHEN KING's popular novel has intriguing possibilities as an opera (as does his even better-known story, Misery). The casting of the title role seems quite surefooted: DOLORA ZAJICK has a natural American-grain persona and a forceful presence that makes her an ideal operatic counterpart to King's great onscreen interpreter, KATHY BATES. (For some years, PATRICIA RACETTE, star of Picker's Emmeline and An American Tragedy, was mentioned as a possibility for Dolores Claiborne.) Picker's frequent collaborator GENE SCHEER worked on the script for Dolores for some time but has now ceded final authorship to the seasoned librettist J. D. MCCLATCHY. spacer 

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