Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 11 2021 02:00PM

It’s cold outside, and the pandemic still rages. You may not feel like singing a happy tune. But if you’re a Janeite, someone else is currently doing it for you:

--Back when live performances were a thing, the opera company in the city of Modesto, in California’s Central Valley, hosted a weekend-long JaneCon whose centerpiece was an orchestrated production of British composer Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park opera.

Exactly a year later, the opera company is making that performance available for online viewing, as the first offering in an eight-month series of pre-recorded concerts and operas. For the price of a ticket -- $35 is suggested, but there’s a pay-what-you-can option – you can watch the video any time for the rest of this month.

--If you can’t spare the time for a full-length opera, perhaps you’d prefer “Jane Austen’s Mamma Mia,” a minute-long TikTok video (watch here or here) that is the brainchild of Madelaine Turner, a twenty-six-year-old screenwriter and “content creator” from Southern California.

The breezy mashup, following in the great tradition of “Jane Austen’s Fight Club,” features Turner, in Regency costume, as Sophie, a bride-to-be seeking the identity of her unknown father. As an appropriately orchestral version of ABBA’s hit plays in the background and Sophie stamps fresh sealing wax onto a folded paper, her voiceover reads the enclosed letter to her cousin. . . and if you saw the stage show or the movie, you know the premise: reticent mom, revealing diary, dueling wedding invitations.

We even glimpse a framed portrait of the mother (Meryl Streep, natch) and images of the three candidates for paternal honors -- all familiar faces to fans of the Mamma Mia! movie: Colin Firth, in the Darcy portrait from the Pemberley section of the BBC’s iconic Pride and Prejudice adaptation; a bearded Pierce Brosnan, here with Regency cravat; and Stellan Skarsgard, under a headline reading, “Fitzwilliam Anderson, Traveller Extraordinaire.”*

Is it silly? Exceedingly so. But it sure beats reality.

* Intriguingly, Fitzwilliam Anderson appears to be the for-real name of a Los Angeles-area PR officer who is roughly Turner’s age. Coincidence? Boyfriend? Inside joke? Named by Janeite parents? Enquiring minds want to know.

By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 17 2016 01:00PM

The ordinary happiness and quiet heartbreak of Jane Austen's novels hardly seem to fit the melodramatic template of so many grand operas, with their bloody revenge plots, tragic suicides and epic acts of heroism.

Despite that incongruity, a couple of intrepid composers have tried adapting Austen for the operatic stage. In 2007, the American composer Kirke Mechem released a Pride and Prejudice opera, and in the summer of 2011, the British composer Jonathan Dove premiered his operatic adaptation of Mansfield Park at a stately home in Northamptonshire, the county where most of the novel is set. (The Austenonly blog reviewed the production here, and it certainly sounds like a lovely occasion.)

This weekend, Dove’s opera, with a libretto by Alasdair Middleton, will get its American professional premiere at the Indianapolis Opera; a special tea for the local chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America will precede the Sunday matinee.

Mansfield Park is a “chamber opera,” meaning it’s less sprawling and ambitious than many staples of the classical repertoire. The score is written for four-handed piano (two musicians on one instrument), and the entire performance runs less than two hours.

If that seems a suspiciously short time in which to cover the whole of this complicated novel, a glance at the cast list confirms it: Dove and Middleton have achieved this brevity by sacrificing several characters, including Tom Bertram, Mr. Yates and the Price siblings and parents. (Indeed, Wikipedia explains that the entire Portsmouth sequence is gone, although the amateur theatricals and the expedition to Sotherton remain.)

Does the slimmed-down Mansfield Park succeed as Austen adaptation, as operatic performance, or as both? We await the reports from Indiana.

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