So we did go to see the U.S. Premiere of Alberic Magnard's "Berenice" conducted by Leon Botstein and staged by the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall today.
The libretto is lightly historical, quite predictable and without undue drama. Blogger Arthur Leonard at Leonard Link reviews the whole shebang with some care summarizing for us the story line,
According to Magnard's plot (he wrote the libretto), after the Romans had conquered ancient Israel, Berenice was brought to Rome, where she became the lover of Titus, the Roman general (and son of Emperor Vespasian). They had a hot five year affair, but then Vespasian fell ill and the moment of truth arrived. Would Titus keep his promise to marry Berenice and make her Empress of Rome when he took office upon his father's death, or would he bow to the demands of patriotic Romans who could not stand a foreigner in the Caesar's palace, and require her to return to her homeland to demonstrate his loyalty to Rome above his personal emotional interests? That's the entire plot of this three-act opera that contains about 2-1/2 hours of music. During the first act they receive news of Vespasian's illness, during the second act Titus agonizes about the terrible choice and gives the bad news to Berenice, and in the third she leaves after a final confrontation with Titus.Leonard liked the music, as did we, though we found it put us to sleep more than once. We found Botstein's conducting lacking energy and any pretense of drama. Unstaged opera usually seems like a rehearsal and Botstein's effort did little to counter that feeling.
The one scene in which the citizens of Rome call for Berenice to return to Judea smacks of antiSemitism, but does not reach the threshold of actual bigoted singing.
We had a hard time after the show applauding the singer who played Titus. After all he destroyed the Temple, now you want we should applaud him?
Hard to fault the unenthusiastic conducting because it is amazing that Botstein can manage at all to be at once a college president and conduct an orchestra.
Blogger Leonard gushed over the opera. We thought is was an okay plus pleasant afternoon on 57th Street.
Official site here.