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Three Decembers: Surprisingly Intimate Opera

Courtesy of Hawaii Opera Theatre
Courtesy of Hawaii Opera Theatre

Traditional grand opera is comically characterized by big violent scenes and jumping from great heights, but more recently especially, introspective, psychological operas are winning new audiences.  Hawai‘i Opera Theatre’s latest production, Three Decembers, could do just that.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports the production will bring one of opera’s most beloved performers to four Hawaiian Islands.

Courtesy of Hawaii Opera Theatre
Credit Courtesy of Hawaii Opera Theatre
Keith Phares (Charlie) and Kristin Clayton (Beatrice) play the children of Madeline Mitchell. They've pretty much had it up to here with their mother, but what can you do? They're a family.

Hawai‘i Opera Theatre’s  “Three Decembers” premieres tonight (3/24/17) at Hawai‘i Theatre, three performances only through this weekend.  GenHOT , a group of young professional opera supporters, will party for the opening tonight (3/24/17) at Bethel Union.  There’s an LGBTQ special event Saturday, March 25, at Rain Honolulu. 

HOT takes Three Decembers on tour to Hawai‘i Island’s Kahilu Theatre March 29th, to Kaua‘i CommunityCollege March 31st, and the MACC on Maui April first.  

On ?Kaua‘i and the Big Island, Hawai‘i Public Radio is offering "Night at the Opera" ticket packages that include pre-show dinners with convivial public radio listeners.   

Hawai?i island - Kahilu Theatre
Wednesday, March 29, 7:30pm
5pm dinner at Merriman’s Waimea

Kaua?i – Kaua?i Community College
Friday, March 31, 7:30pm
5pm dinner at Gaylord’s Restaurant

Maui – Maui Arts & Cultural Center
Saturday, April 1, 7:30pm

It’s always exciting backstage if you ask me.  We’re here at Hawai‘i theatre to meet Adam Turner, conductor for Three Decembers, who is thrilled to be working with the original cast for this Hawai‘i Opera Theatre premiere.

Courtesy of Hawaii Opera Theatre
Credit Courtesy of Hawaii Opera Theatre
A rare shot, Frederica von Stade relaxing backstage at HOT. Von Stade is one of the opera world’s best loved singers—her warm timbre, her humor, her personal generosity with fans and young singers are legendary. She will certainly continue singing, but this tour with Three Decembers is widely considered her farewell to opera productions. She has sung in all the great houses, it will be lovely to hear her in intimate surroundings here in Hawai?i.

“It’s really catered for these voices.  It was written with each of these three voices in mind, including the mezzo soprano Flicka, Frederica von Stade, she’s this incredible voice.” 

Frederica von Stade plays Madeline Mitchell, a celebrated stage actress who faces the toll her career  has taken on her family.

“I fell in love with this piece when we first did it ten years ago, and we have the original cast, Keith Phares (Charlie) and Kristin Clayton (Beatrice).  It’s magic because we’re different people now so we have a whole other aspect.  It’s a wonderful story, too.” 

Based on a play by Terrence McNally, Three Decembers unspools through three holiday gatherings, each a decade apart.  In just 90 minutes and one act, secrets, intimacies, including a bomb shell , are revealed.   

Von Stade:  “The situations in Three Decembers I daresay have occurred in every family---certainly every family that has a performing mother or father.”

Composer Jake Heggie is known for his empathy in a tough business and the approachability of his scores. 

Von Stade:  “It’s very much the story of my life.  I really have in a way gotten to explore different aspects of motherhood.  That’s my most important role in my life, my kids and my relationship with my children.  I’m very grateful to Jake for that.”

Karen Tiller is directing HOT’s production of Three Decembers:

“So much of this story is what we’re not actually talking about.  It is the unsaid which is really driving a lot of the action, which I think is true to life.  It’s conversational, it’s modern, it’s very in the moment.  It’s very much like your own family’s good things and bad things.  There’s dysfunction in every family, there are secrets in every family.  The audience will become engaged from the very beginning because it feels real.”

Tiller:  “The music is very melodic, lyrical, there are sweeping moments of just breathtakingly gorgeous music.  It’s a modern esthetic, beautiful music, I was humming it this morning, I’m not kidding, while I was brushing my teeth.  It’s hummable and yet it serves the purpose of the drama of the piece.  And this cast is just ridiculously good.”

One of the greatest opera singers of our time, Frederica von Stade is known for not being a self-consumed diva.  How would you describe von Stade’s voice?

Heggie:  “Creamy, rich, intelligent, full of color and depth.”

A ten piece chamber ensemble will accompany the singers, both on Oahu and on tour, for an intimate night of music and humanity.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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