People, myself included, are scared of modern opera. Modern opera tends to be an unhappy experience. It is bereft of humor and beauty. There's even a Facebook Group against modern opera.
Jake Heggie’s Great Scott, which just closed at San Diego Opera, is a modern opera, but it is full of humor and beauty. It is also relevant and poignant. The show works on every single level. Each character is given a moment to reveal their humanity to the audience.
Do I matter? Am I good enough? Will I ever live up to the perfectionist image I have of myself? Have I made the right choices in my vocation and relationships? These are questions we all ask ourselves but especially those in the performing arts.
...San Diego Opera spotlight
There were two elements of the show that were consistent — truth and beauty. Jake Heggie is a composer who stays true to himself. I feel as though he is always writing from the truth of his own story. It is our good fortune that beauty is an element of Heggie’s truth.
Arden Scott, the title character, says, “Beauty is important,” and she is correct. The beauty of the music in Great Scott, even though it was somewhat tongue in cheek at times, overwhelmed.
Even when it was parodying different styles of opera, the music was heartfelt and true. It confirmed my greatest hope that modern music can be beautiful, even wants to be beautiful.
Beauty is an element that has been replaced in the common media by “stunning,” “sexy,” and “thrilling.” Beauty rests above and encompasses all of those more transient emotional elements.
Beauty sits within Great Scott as an equal partner with truth. These twin muses take us to the ultimate destination of any artistic endeavor. Freedom.
My 12-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son both went with me to Great Scott. They both laughed and giggled and might have even squealed a time or two.
I should mention that my daughter has been introduced to 12-year-old social drama and has been confused and even hurt at times as friendships and allegiances shift within the confines of a sixth-grade classroom.
On the ride home she shared. “You know that part after the ghost scene when Arden was singing to herself in the mirror? When she was singing, I felt like everything I’ve been going through doesn’t really matter that much.”
I don’t know how truth and beauty conspire to create freedom but it was there in Great Scott — even for a confused 12-year-old.
The truth of Kate Aldrich’s performance as Arden Scott was never in doubt. The emotions were real. We could feel them in the theater. Her singing was impeccable and rooted in Arden’s dilemma.
I should mention that as a cast this was the most in-tune group I have ever heard. Every single note was in the “center of the pitch.”
Frederica von Stade, a real-life Arden Scott, was perfect in voice and character. The inflections of her singing and acting were the epitome of “how you do it.”
In the second act quartet her character says, “I have been loved.” It’s a simple line but her delivery within the context of the character made me want to cry my eyes out. Catharsis is a fine friend.
Nathan Gunn, a real-life shirtless-baritone, kept his shirt on and reminded us that he is more than a great physique. His character didn’t have as many opportunities to tee-off vocally, but his voice was even and resonant from top to bottom.
An abundance of vocal teeing-off was given to soprano Joyce El-Khoury as the ambitious yet insecure Tatyana Bakst. Her comic timing was spotless and the exaggerated Eastern European accent never failed to produce a chuckle. When it mattered she was able to express the vulnerability of the young singer as the character “grew up” in front of our eyes.
Let’s conclude with Anthony Roth Costanzo in the role of Roane, the stage manager. I am not resistant to counter tenors, but I wouldn’t call myself a fan of them either. I am now a huge fan of Mr. Costanzo and the role created by Heggie and librettist Terrence McNally. The choice of counter tenor worked to perfection.
Roane was the glue that held the show together — just like a stage manager should. The brilliance of that character is almost beyond my comprehension. Yet again, the character was true.
Great Scott. Truth + Beauty = Freedom.