Patti LuPone, the musical theater prima donna assoluta who has played all those roles and more on Broadway, sings her first performance with Baroque instruments this evening, co-starring with Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, as San Francisco's Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra gives its very first world premiere.
To Hell and Back, a brand-new opera by Jake Heggie with libretto by Gene Scheer, was commissioned by Philharmonia Baroque to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ensemble. An accomplished songwriter and lyricist, Scheer has previously written librettos for Tobias Picker's operas Th_rese Raquin and An American Tragedy; Heggie — whom mezzo Frederica von Stade has called "my Mozart — is the composer of the operas Dead Man Walking and The End of the Affair.
The plot of To Hell and Back is based on the Greco-Roman myth of Persephone, the goddess of spring, who was abducted to the underworld by the god Pluto and must spend half the year with him there. Scheer has based his text on the the story as told in Ovid's Metamorphoses. In a note for the Philharmonia Baroque program book, Heggie writes: "Gene formulated a modern tale of two women, Stephanie and Anne. He read the many versions of the Persephone myth and then read modern stories of spousal abuse. Based on these, he created an original libretto with extraordinary resonance. I was inspired and heard music instantly ... This is a story of gods and mortals — the ones within each of us. Stephanie (Persephone) is a young woman who has survived a violently abusive marriage to Peter (Pluto), thanks to a heroic act by her mother-in-law, Anne (Cyanne). Both are from a very small town in Appalachia. Stephanie has written her story as part of her rehab in Arizona, and calls to see if Anne has received a copy. Anne is her hero, but she is still back in Appalachia living with the fact that it was her own son, Peter, who married Stephanie and nearly beat her to death."
The magazine Opera News has a podcast — its first, and available via http://www.metoperafamily.org/operanews/ — previewing the work, including a conversation between composer, librettist and the two stars, with PBO music director Nicholas McGegan joining in by phone from London.
Patti LuPone, Isabel Bayrakdarian and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra under Nicholas McGegan perform Jake Heggie's To Hell and Back tonight in Mountain View, California, tomorrow night in San Francisco, and in Berkeley on Saturday, and Sunday (November 4-5). More information is available at www.philharmonia.org.