In Mark Adamo’s opera The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which received its world premiere at San Francisco Opera on June 19, we get a brief glimpse of the title character in bed with Jesus, and that is something you don’t see every day. One might have anticipated that the city’s War Memorial Opera House would be besieged by fundamentalist picketers, but I didn’t see any. I guess word had seeped out that even the bedroom scene was timid, no more dramatically involving than anything else that would occur onstage that night.
Adamo arrived at this San Francisco Opera commission with a strong résumé. He had scored a stunning success with his first opera, Little Women, which he wrote on commission for the Houston Grand Opera Studio, the group that unveiled it in 1998. It proved so popular that the company’s general director, David Gockley, then mounted a main-stage production of it, and the piece went on to crisscross the globe in more than 60 productions. In 2006, Gockley assumed the reins at San Francisco Opera, where a further Adamo commission seemed an obvious move. Opera aficionados anticipated the unveiling of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene with much interest, not just because of Adamo’s own achievements but also because, being married to John Corigliano, he is half of the opera world’s most eminent composer-couple. For Santa Feans, the event held specific interest thanks to several involved parties who also have important upcoming presences at Santa Fe Opera. The production’s director is Kevin Newbury, its set designer is David Korins, and tenor William Burden portrays the role of Peter; all of them will add their talents to Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere of Oscar this summer. Also among the leading singers is baritone Nathan Gunn, as Yeshua (which is to say Jesus), who is scheduled to sing the central part in Jennifer Higdon’s new opera Cold Mountain during Santa Fe’s 2015 season.
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