Minneapolis–Minnesota Opera announces a casting change for the highly anticipated new production of Wuthering Heights, opening on April 16. American soprano Sara Jakubiak will sing the role of Catherine Earnshaw, replacing Kelly Kaduce, who has withdrawn from the production due to a family emergency. Ms. Jakubiak is described as “a singer who is going places and should delight audiences for years to come” by the New Haven Register, and has recently appeared at New York City Opera in Bernstein’s A Quiet Place and Chicago Opera Theater in Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers.
The opera is a quintessential pairing of Emily Brontë’s gothic romance with a dazzling score by legendary
Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann. Unable to bridge the chasm of social class, Heathcliff and Catherine are consumed by a love that can never be, and its legacy haunts the windswept Yorkshire moors. The production is the first major revival of Herrmann’s only opera and celebrates the centennial of the composer’s birth.
Composer Bernard Herrmann (1911–1975) was a Hollywood legend – an Academy Award-winning American composer who scored almost every Alfred Hitchcock soundtrack from 1955 to 1964, including Psycho, Vertigo and North by Northwest, and his numerous unforgettable collaborations include Citizen Kane with Orson Welles and Taxi Driver with Martin Scorsese. His iconic cinematic style infuses Wuthering Heights, which expertly underscores the passion, prejudice and mystery of Emily Brontë’s classic novel. Though Herrmann completed Wuthering Heights in 1951 (which was partially penned in Minneapolis), the opera did not see its premiere until 1982, when it was staged by Portland Opera.
Academy Award-winning director Eric Simonson (The Grapes of Wrath) leads a world-class creative team: set designer Neil Patel (Roberto Devereux, Mary Stuart), costume designer Jane Greenwood (nominated a record 15 times for the Tony Award and making her Minnesota Opera debut), lighting designer Robert Wierzel (The Grapes of Wrath) and projections designer Wendall K. Harrington (The Grapes of Wrath). Sara Jakubiak (debut) sings the role of Catherine Earnshaw opposite Lee Poulis, who also makes his Minnesota Opera debut as Heathcliff. Edgar Linton, who becomes Catherine’s husband, is sung by lyric tenor Eric Margiore in his debut with former Minnesota Opera Resident Artist Adriana Zabala (The Adventures of Pinocchio) as his sister (and later wife of Heathcliff), Isabella Linton. Catherine’s brother Hindley, who proves ruinous to the Earnshaw name, is sung by Ben Wager (The Adventures of Pinocchio), and Mr. Lockwood, the opera’s narrator, is sung by Jesse Blumberg (The Grapes of Wrath). Michael Christie (La Traviata) returns to conduct the Minnesota Opera Orchestra.
The Creative Team
Conductor . . . . . Michael Christie
Stage Director .. . . . . Eric Simonson
Set Designer . . . Neil Patel
Costume Designer . . . Jane Greenwood*
Lighting Designer . . .. . Robert WierzelThe Minnesota Star-Tribune discusses the changes that the musical director Michael Christie has made to the original score by Bernard Herrmann:
Projections Designer . . . . . Wendall K. Harrington
Choreographer . . . . . Heidi Spesard-Noble
Catherine Earnshaw . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sara Jakubiak*
Heathcliff . . . . . . . Lee Poulis*
Hindley Earnshaw, Catherine’s brother . . . Ben Wager
Edgar Linton, the Earnshaws’ neighbor . . .. Eric Margiore*
Isabella Linton, Edgar’s sister .. . . . Adriana Zabala
Nelly Dean, the housekeeper . . . Victoria Vargas+
Joseph, a farmhand . . . . Rodolfo Nieto+
Mr. Lockwood, a neighbor . . . . . Jesse Blumberg
Hareton, Hindley’s son . . . . . Joshua Ross*
*Minnesota Opera Debut, +Minnesota Opera Resident Artist
Passion for a woman brought Bernard Herrmann to Minneapolis in 1948. But when he was not courting Miss Lucy Anderson, Herrmann was spending long hours working on his other love -- the opera score for "Wuthering Heights." The famous film composer had mixed success with his paramours in Minneapolis. He and Anderson would marry. Herrmann and "Wuthering Heights" had a more complicated relationship.The Minnesota Public Radio talks with Michael Christie:
Like an overprotective parent, Herrmann could not stand to see his baby, finally whelped in 1951 at a length of 3 1/2 hours, trimmed by producers. He twice scotched potential stagings by refusing "to change a note!" Herrmann made a studio recording in 1966, on his own dime; otherwise "Wuthering Heights" sat on the shelf until Portland Opera in 1982 put up a version that cut the score by more than 30 minutes and omitted the ending. Herrmann was seven years in the grave by then.
Now, more than six decades after Herrmann wrestled with his score in a downtown Minneapolis radio studio, Minnesota Opera has slimmed and refreshed "Wuthering Heights" for a new production that is guaranteed to draw international interest. Several companies will send representatives for a look and the opera company is making an HD video for theatrical release.
Not only is the world marking Herrmann's centenary birth year, but opera observers will gauge whether the lumbering "Wuthering Heights" can work onstage when the tempos are hastened and the repetition is shaken from the score. The creative team hopes it has created a definitive new template based on alterations that might have been deal-breakers for Herrmann.
"He was his own worst enemy," said Bruce Crawford, an Omaha-based film historian who made a documentary on Herrmann and remains a devotee. "[Earlier producers] wanted to make cuts and he wouldn't allow it so he said, 'Forget it.'" (...)
Minnesota Opera's staging is part of the company's New Works Initiative. Artistic director Dale Johnson knew of "Wuthering Heights'" troubled production history and felt the piece deserved a better fate. Conductor Michael Christie listened to the recording (which various sources described as ponderous) and reviewed the score. He and Johnson agreed that the piece could withstand massaging -- Johnson particularly noting instances of repetition in the score.
The goal was to trim it to three hours and 15 minutes, so Johnson was delighted when it recently clocked in at under three hours. On the Opera website, it's listed at 2:50.
"The question is, can we make a piece that will play before today's audience, which expects something a little more fleet?" Johnson said.
Even though Herrmann is long gone, Christie admitted to being nervous recently when Crawford watched a rehearsal.
"It's a lot faster than Herrmann's recording, and the scenes are taut," Christie explained. "We couldn't allow it to be as heavy-handed as it was. It was way too slow and I couldn't imagine it working."
Crawford graciously offered that "Bernard would acknowledge there are other interpretations."
Johnson and Christie feel their production (directed by Eric Simonson) will be a turning point for the opera. Representatives from Washington, Philadelphia and Utah plan to attend, and several others -- Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Houston -- have inquired. The HD video is being funded by the Opera's New Works Initiative and the company is discussing distribution agreements.
"Quite honestly, they'll look at our ticket sales, too," said Johnson. "It's got title and composer recognition, and things like that work today."
Herrmann was an Anglophile who began his romance with Brontë literature when he scored the film based on Charlotte's "Jane Eyre" in 1943. Reports conflict whether he then immediately set to work on Emily Brontë's masterpiece, but certainly a trip to the Yorkshire moors in 1946 with his first wife, Lucille Fletcher, put him in the mood for the tempestuous relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine. Fletcher wrote the libretto (completing it even after they had divorced) and later recalled that the visit to Top Withens, thought to be the original Wuthering Heights homestead, clearly affected Herrmann.
"That grey November day, Benny was moved by the place," she wrote.
Indeed, Herrmann would write how the orchestra should describe the "landscape and weather of each act inasmuch as the novel itself depends greatly upon the oneness of the characters and their environment and also the mood and color of the day."
He worked on "Wuthering Heights," fitting it in around a busy film schedule in the late '40s. Audiences will recognize it instantly as Herrmann's work, "especially at the beginning, that brooding anxiety," Crawford said. What strikes Christie is the sense that Herrmann composed as if he were watching a film in his head.
"The music changes character as one might imagine a camera angle changing," he said.
Herrmann was still on top of his Hollywood game when he jotted on the score that he had finished Wuthering Heights" at 3:45 p.m., June 30, 1951. He had every reason to be confident, so he stiffed Julius Rudel at New York City Opera and Kurt Herbert Adler in San Francisco when they offered productions if only Herrmann would trim the beast.
Perhaps he overplayed his hand, but that was Herrmann's way. And Johnson, who is very pleased with Christie's swifter piece, nonetheless can understand the composer's affection for his work.
"He was so in love with this piece, and rightly so," Johnson said. "New composers don't want you to cut their work. It's their baby, and we have to support that." (Graydon Royce)
The Pioneer Press interviews Eric Simonson, the stage director:
"We're starting from scratch," says stage director Eric Simonson, who grew up in rural Wisconsin. "Not many people saw the Portland production, so although ours isn't technically a premiere, it's about as close to one as you can get. This is a big deal for Minnesota Opera."The premiere is also mentioned in the Rochester Post-Bulletin and CBS Minnesota.
Simonson won an Academy Award for directing the documentary "A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin." He is also an actor and writer who has worked at some of the nation's major theaters and directed the Minnesota Opera productions of "Rusalka" and "The Grapes of Wrath."
As stage director for "Wuthering Heights," Simonson coordinates the music with the singers' movements and the production's pacing.
"The big attraction for me is staging pieces of the book," Simonson says. "Whenever I had a question, I went back to Bronte. The key is that Cathy's attraction to Heathcliff is undeniable. Their love is passionate, crazy, the kind that comes along once in a lifetime. And it kills them." (Brontë continues the story into the next generation, but the opera ends with Cathy's death.)
To achieve seamless integration of music and theater, Simonson sits "side by side" with conductor Michael Christie during rehearsals. He says the singers he's directing are also good actors, including soprano Sara Jakubiak as Catherine and baritone Lee Poulis, making his Minnesota Opera debut as Heathcliff.
"Opera succeeds or fails on the musicality of the singers," Simonson says. "It's my job to figure out character development in relation to the music, which is very emotional, beautiful, romantic, then turning on a dime and becoming schizophrenic. Sometimes it sounds like film music, sometimes a little like Wagner. It describes real things in a very imaginative way."
Simonson bases his decisions about staging on what he believes is Herrmann's main musical theme — Cathy and Heathcliff are one with nature.
"When Cathy is dying, she wants to be on the moors," Simonson says. "Nature reflects their relationship — beautiful, destructive, good and bad, indifferent to our needs, sometimes violent, awesome. Their love on Earth is temporary and will transcend their deaths when they will become part of nature. Cathy's ghost is an extension of that mortal love, signaling that if love is strong enough, it will continue after death." (...)
Skilled as Herrmann was as a composer, his opera score has blank spots Simonson has to fill with movement.
"I think he had a movie in his head when he wrote the opera," Simonson says of Herrmann.
"In film, actions can be captured and edited. In the opera, there are places where it isn't clear what the singers are doing during the music. Herrmann hadn't figured out how to move the action from one place to another on a stage or how to allow for scenery changes. There might be two minutes of music when nothing happens, and I have to decide how to fill it by going back to the eternal essence of who these characters are. At one point, we have two dancers representing the spirits of Cathy and Heathcliff."
Simonson, who lives in Los Angeles, eagerly accepted the challenges of "Wuthering Heights" because he has a long working relationship with Minnesota Opera artistic director Dale Johnson, and he trusts Johnson's judgment.
"Dale has had his eye on this opera for a long time," Simonson says. "Why did I take the job? Because this is Bernard Herrmann's opera, and it should have been produced more often." (Mary Ann Grossman)
Categories: Music, Opera, Wuthering Heights