‘Three Decembers’

Maui debut for the show and its star

Starring (from left) Kristin Clayton, Keith Phares and Frederica von Stade. • Photo courtesy of Hawaii Opera Theatre

Just like the Broadway musical, opera needed to reinvent itself to survive in the 21st century. When baby boomers preferred rock concerts in the late 1960s and ’70s, along came “Hair,” “Godspell,” “Pippin” and the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber. When their children and grandchildren showed similar disinterest toward Broadway, the institution adapted once again with hits like “RENT,” “Wicked,” “The Book of Mormon” and “Hamilton.”

Opera has followed a similar trend with contemporary offerings like “Jerry Springer: The Opera” (not a parody), and adaptations of “Cold Mountain,” “The Manchurian Candidate” and the works of Jake Heggie: “Dead Man Walking,” “Moby Dick” and “Three Decembers.”

Oahu’s Hawaii Opera Theatre has modernized itself as well, most recently with its Maui performance of “The Mikado” in 2014, which re-invented Gilbert and Sullivan’s “three little maids from school” as Harajuku girls. HOT returns to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater on Saturday night with its production of Heggie’s “Three Decembers” starring the original cast, Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, soprano Kristin Clayton and baritone Keith Phares.

Described by the New York Times as “one of America’s finest artists and singers,” von Stade continues to be extolled as one of the music world’s most beloved figures. In “Three Decembers” she plays a fictional stage actress, Madeline Mitchell, who is entering the twilight of both her career and life. The story is set over the course of three Decembers (1986, 1996 and 2006) and reveals hidden truths as all struggle to find their identities in life and as a family. Ms. von Stade is making her Hawaii Opera Theatre and Maui debut in what the Houston Chronicle called “the role of a lifetime” for the opera legend. Created especially by Heggie for von Stade, the three-person opera had its world premiere in February 2008 at Houston Grand Opera.

Another frequent collaborator with Heggie is four-time Tony Award-winner Terrence McNally, who authored the libretto for “Dead Man Walking.” Shortly after the premiere of that opera, which was Heggie’s first, McNally mentioned a one-act play that he had written for an AIDS benefit at Carnegie Hall in 1999.

Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade in her HOT and Maui debut of “Three Decembers.” • Liz Lauren photo

“He gave me a copy of ‘Some Christmas Letters (and a Couple of Phone Calls)’ and from the first words, the story sang to me. It felt true, honest, emotionally big and exactly what I was looking for as a chamber opera. I started sketching musical ideas in the margins and knew I wanted to compose it for the great, inspiring American mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade. She and I have a rich history of collaborating, and by then I’d already written many songs for her as well as a major role in ‘Dead Man Walking.’ She was on board right away,” says Heggie.

McNally is the author of “Master Class,” which presents a fictional class helmed by another opera legend, Maria Callas. McNally also wrote the book to the musical stage version of “The Full Monty,” and received his four Tonys for “Master Class,” “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” “Ragtime” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” Heggie first began working on the McNally script in 2001, but it wasn’t until 2007, with the addition of librettist Gene Scheer, that the opera began to take shape.

“Taking this 14-page script and turning it into a viable opera was a big leap requiring imagination, invention and vision, all of which Gene has in spades” explains Heggie. “He enlarged the story and gave it dramatic conflicts and actions not found in the original script. He also invented the big family secret at its core. After considering several titles for the opera, we settled on ‘Three Decembers.'”  

The merger of Broadway musical and opera can be heard throughout the score due to the character of Mitchell, the famous Broadway star and matriarch of the family. No stranger to the genre, von Stade has appeared in productions such as “The Merry Widow,” “A Little Night Music,” and frequently performs musical theater standards when in concert. That five-decade career has taken her to the stages of the world’s great opera houses and concert halls, debuting with New York City’s Metropolitan Opera in 1970 where she has sung nearly all of her great roles. She has appeared with the San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Los Angeles Opera, Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the Vienna State Opera and the Paris Opera. Though “Three Decembers” has had 20 international productions, the Hawaii production will be the first to reunite its original cast.  

Also this week

Compagnie Herve Koubi’s “What the Day Owes to the Night” is presented by the MACC tonight. • Philis Didier photo

The Maui Arts & Cultural Center presents Compagnie Herve Koubi’s “What the Day Owes to the Night.” The 12 male dancers from Algeria and Burkina Faso meld twirling motion similar to whirling dervishes, kickboxing and capoeira (a Brazilian martial art) with head spins, 15-foot trust falls, and the tossing of each other in the air as well as double back and front flips as they catapult off of one another, climb up each other and leap into space with the aid of what can only be described as human trampolines.

• Performance at 7:30 tonight in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets range from $35 to $45 (plus applicable fees) and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.

Upcoming

Baldwin High School Performing Arts Learning Center and Baldwin Theatre Guild present “The Wizard of Oz.” This production, with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, was adapted by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company and is based on the 1939 MGM film. Baldwin’s staging is being directed by Linda Carnevale, under the musical direction of Tana Larson, and with orchestra direction by Stephen Rodrigues.

• Performances are 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays April 6 through April 16 in the auditorium at the Baldwin High School campus. There will be no performance on April 8 and an additional 2 p.m. performance on April 15. Tickets are $12 for adults; $10 for seniors; $7 for students 12 to 17; and $5 for children 11 and under, and are available at the box office 45 minutes before showtime.

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ProArts Inc. presents “Dial M for Murder,” by Frederick Knott (“Wait Until Dark”), directed by Francis Tau’a. Tony Wendice has married his wife, Margot, for her money and now plans the perfect murder by hiring another man to strangle her and arranging a brilliant alibi in this suspenseful stage classic.

• Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays April 14 through 30 at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. There will be no performance on April 16. Tickets are $26 and available by phone at 463-6550 or online at www.proartsmaui.com.

Opportunities

Students entering ages 8 to 18 can spend their summer singing, dancing and acting in theater youth camp culminating in eight public performances of “Disney’s Mulan Jr.” presented by the Maui Academy of Performing Arts.

The camp runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays, June 12 through July 20 with performances Friday, July 21 through Sunday, July 30 at the ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center at the Seabury Hall campus in Makawao. Tuition is $895 per child with partial needs-based scholarships and payment plans available.

• Parents can register their children starting on Tuesday online at www.mauiacademy.org/summer-musical-theatre-camps or in person at the MAPA administrative offices in Wailuku. For more information, call 244-8760.

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The Maui OnStage Youth Theater Program will be hosting a summer camp culminating in a performance of “Willy Wonka Jr.” This musical production is for students ages 7 to 14 who want to learn all the aspects of rehearsing and performing a musical.

The day camp runs from 1 to 5 p.m. weekdays, beginning June 19 with performances Saturday, July 22 through Sunday, July 30 at the Historic Iao Theater. Tuition is $675 per student. Sibling discounts and needs-based scholarships are also available.

• Registration is limited to 25 students. For more information visit www.mauionstage.com or call 244-8680 x 23.

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