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Work of the Week – Peter Eötvös: Angels in America

This month, the University Theatre in Boston, MA will stage Peter Eötvös’ opera Angels in America in a production by Jim Petosa and directed by William Lumpkin, running from 19 to 22 February 2015.

Angels in America received its world premiere in 2004 in Paris, around twenty years after the events depicted in Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama of the same name on which the opera is based. The story explores the hysteria surrounding AIDS in mid-1980s America through the lives of a group of flawed, interconnected characters. Though Kushner’s script comments heavily on the politics of the time, Eötvös’ version is far more concerned with the fantastical elements of the play: his original attraction to the material was based on the omnipresent visions and hallucinations of the protagonists. These visions become central to the opera and its depiction of the emotional turbulence of the characters and their relationships.

In search of suitable musical material for the opera Eötvös and his wife Mari Mezei, who wrote the libretto, watched several Broadway performances – the showtunes were a huge influence on the sound of the opera, to which Eötvös added jazz and rock elements, references to Jewish music and recordings of everyday sounds. The resultant score is actively antithetical to the drama of the libretto and the severity of the plot:

It could have been indigestible were it not for Eötvös’ intelligently constructed hybrid of musical theatre and opera. Of course one can imagine the narrative’s disillusioned existentialism with matching music. But the longer you listen, the more pleasing Eötvös’ musical effect becomes: his clever, ironic way of playing and toying around, rather than throwing the music in your face. – Hans-Jürgen Linke (Frankfurter Rundschau)

Another of Eötvös’ operas Paradise reloaded (Lilith) will receive its German premiere at Theater Chemnitz under the baton of Frank Beermann on 21 March 2015.

Photo: Frankfurt Opera / Monika Rittershaus