BWW Interview: Gail Gordon of DER ZWERG at Theatre In The Ace Hotel
As the child of a Jewish immigrant, Founding Director of Numi Opera Gail R. Gordon feels an acute responsibility to champion the work of those whose voices have been lost for too long beyond the veil of war and genocide. Having been deeply inspired by the work of other programs toward this goal, Numi Opera now marks my personal effort to give these "recovered" works a home and an opportunity to breathe again in the atmosphere of our rich and diverse community in Los Angeles.
Numi Opera Will Perform Alexander Zemlinsky's Der Zwerg May 30 And June 2, 2019. The Company Will Present Erich Korngold's Der Ring Des Polykrates In December Of That Year.
What originally drew you to opera?
When I fourteen, I saw the movie biography of Grace Moore staring Kathryn Grayson. She sang "Voi che sapete" from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. It was instantaneous. At the same time my brother bought a membership in the Columbia Records Club. He bought many records of all genres but among those selections was much opera. So my ear began. I always sang in chorus when I was young, but that was different. My mother sang professionally on the Jewish Radio. So it was a combo effort. My voice was too big for anything else. So be it. I loved it.
What roles did you sing?
My roles included Lola in Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, Pitti-Sing in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, as well as Mercédès, Frasquita, and the title role in Bizet's Carmen. I also sang the mother roles Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors, and Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel, along with the Second Prioress in Poulenc's The Dialogues of the Carmelites, and Giorgetta in Puccini's Il tabarro.
Why did you start Numi Opera?
There are many reasons I started the company. First was that my career ended as Director of the Opera at Santa Monica College. Second, since my mother didn't have long to live, I wanted to choose repertoire that connected to her experience in life. My mother was a Polish refugee. The rest of her family hid out for five years, living in basements, and dug in under furniture in kitchens. Ultimately they were taken into a Displaced Persons camp. The choice of repertoire is directly related to my family's experience. After having seeing the Recovered Voices series by James Conlon, I particularly fell in love with Der Zwerg (The Dwarf). I wanted to produce opera that had social relevance as it connects to today's world. My Lost Voice series highlights composers who were suppressed by the Nazis. Their music has not been heard in many decades. I am very excited to present these "new works" to the public, I believe they have political relevance in today's world.
Could you describe a Recovered Voices Class?
It was a summary class that focused on the music of composers who were suppressed by the Nazi regime for reasons of religious beliefs or political opposition. Recovered Voices involves an examination of lesser-known composers and works of the early twentieth century. I wanted to have more knowledge of Recovered Voices musicians and I learned a great deal about many composers who fell into this category.
How would I describe the music?
The music is neo-romantic, meaning it has the basic feel of romantic period music but maintains current tonality and stays within the limits of tonal music. That's the intellectual answer, the music is magnificent. It brings tremendous joy and pain, maybe in the same measure. The melodic lines are viscerally reactive. It hits every crevice of my being. It's beautiful and seeps deeply into the soul. Some of the tonalites may be a bit difficult for the general audience, but halfway into the opera one's ears adjust to the magnificence of the colors and moods that Zemlinsky provides.
Can you give me some more examples of unknown operas with political messages?
I have a special connection to music that isn't public fare. I'm excited about presenting new music to an audience that will walk away with a message about political or religious persecution. At some point in time I am not opposed to presenting music of a famous composer whose work has not been given life, but I am primarily interested in opera as a learning experience. I hope that the audience walks away wanting to hear more Zemlinsky or more Korngold. I want them to seek out performances of works by these composers and listen to them during their daily lives.
What was Zemlinsky like?
I believe he was a very romantic man with a deep soul. That is one of the reasons he chose this story of the Infanta of Spain based on Oscar Wilde's short story The Birthday of the Infanta. A few adjustments were made to bring the Infanta, Dona Clara, closer in age to that of a young woman. She should be almost 18. This story is loosely autobiographical. Zemlinsky fell hopelessly in love with Alma Schindler Mahler. It was a torrid love affair that broke his heart. The Dwarf is identified with Zemlinsky who was a small and ugly man who had the heart of a lion.
Zemlinsky was considered the finest composition teacher in Vienna. He taught Korngold from the time he was a small boy. Korngold, who was considered a wunderkind, wrote his first opera at age 17. Zemlinsky's music is raw and powerful, full of colors and textures. His vocal music is reminiscent of the neo-romantic composers of the time. It may remind the listener of some Strauss and a bit of Wagner, but Zemlinsky has his own style, and it's magical.
What should the audience learn from Der Zwerg?
I hope they learn about the story in which a young girl, spoiled by her status in life, treats a human being as a toy. It is rather a tragic story line, but it is also comparable with many events of today. The audience will hear beautiful singing and be swept away by the magnificent flowing lines of the music. Most important for me is that members of the audience choose to keep Zemlinsky as part of their day and their hearts. www.numiopera.org