When you’re a writer they tell you that the first sentence of your story should convey the most important information. I keep sitting down to write about the Argento festival at UMD and getting stuck on sentences along the lines of, “So there’s this great festival at UMD this week and you all should definitely go.”
Tonight’s concert features “Miss Manners on Music,” a setting of selected Miss Manners columns; Judith Martin, the actual Miss Manners, will give the pre-concert talk. (The work was written for her 60th birthday; some excerpts of it were performed last year at Wolf Trap.) Tomorrow night is “A Water Bird Talk,” a classic monodrama.On Sunday, we get Frederica von Stade in the song cycle “A Few Words about Chekhov,” which she premiered.
Then there are two fully-staged operas, “Miss Havisham’s Fire” (20th-century bel canto) and “Postcard from Morocco” (20th-century theater of the absurd), which I was thrilled to have a chance to see this weekend and which I reviewed in Monday’s Washington Post.
Reviewing little-known operas is frustrating. On the one hand, you want to speak your mind; I had mixed reactions to what I saw and heard this weekend. On the other hand, you want everyone to see it so you can all discuss together what you thought. I don’t know what the answer is; I don’t think that acting as a cheerleading section is quite it. I just wish this music were performed more often so there was more chance to absorb and discuss it; it’s a significant segment of American opera history, and it’s frustrating to feel that it needs rediscovering so relatively soon after it was written.
In any case, this is an eminently worthwhile festival, and you won’t waste your time if you check it out.
Above: An excerpt from Dominick Argento’s engaging monodrama “A Water Bird Talk” in 1990. The piece comes to UMD on Tuesday night.