GREAT PERFORMANCES: THE ASPERN PAPERS (TV)

Summary

One in this series on the performing arts. This Dallas Opera production, taped before a live audience, marks the world premiere of Dominick Argento's English-language opera. Set in the garden and music room of an Italian lakeside villa in 1895, this tale of intrigue, based on a novella by Henry James, explores an aging diva's shrouded past through flashbacks to the summer of 1835. As the opera begins, Juliana (Soderstrom), formerly a celebrated opera singer, ponders the events of 60 years earlier that led to the death of her lover, Aspern (Rosenshein), a gifted young composer. Now infirm and reclusive, Juliana lives with her niece, Tina (Von Stade). They take in a lodger (Stilwell), who suspects that the score of Aspern's final opera is still in Juliana's possession and covertly seeks clues to its whereabouts. In a flashback to 1835, an impresario, Barelli (Halfvarson), planning to be away for the summer, asks Aspern to look after his latest mistress, a young singer named Sonia (Ciesinski). When the story returns to 1895, two months have passed, and the lodger has been wooing Tina while slyly probing for information. Though Juliana mistrusts the lodger's intentions, she nevertheless encourages the love-struck Tina to spend the evening out with him. Once alone, Juliana again recalls a scene from the past, in which Sonia, Juliana, and Aspern practice a portion of his latest opera. When Juliana leaves the room, Aspern and Sonia exchange vows of love. Juliana overhears Aspern describe his plan to sneak out and row across the lake to meet Sonia later that night. In the present, Juliana stealthily removes a stack of papers from a chest in the music room. When Tina and the lodger return, they discover that Juliana has taken ill. As Tina attends to her, the lodger seizes the opportunity to search the music room. At the end of Act I, Juliana staggers in just in time to see him lifting the lid of the chest, and she cries out and collapses.

The lodger (Stilwell), having fled from the villa, returns after several months, which he spent trying to discover whether the score to the final opera composed by Aspern (Rosenshein) still exists. During his search, he finds a diary that had belonged to the impresario Barelli (Halfvarson), which gives an account, as told to Barelli by Juliana (Soderstrom), of Aspern's destruction of the manuscript and his subsequent death by drowning. This information only heightens the lodger's suspicion that Aspern's papers are still in Juliana's possession. In a flashback to the final afternoon of Aspern's life in 1835, Juliana laments Aspern's duplicity and infidelity. To prevent him from crossing the lake to meet Sonia (Ciesinski), she releases his boat from the dock. When Aspern discovers that the boat is missing, he decides to swim across the lake. In the present, the lodger returns to the villa and discovers that Juliana has recently died. Juliana's niece, Tina (Von Stade), offers him Aspern's manuscript in return for marriage, but he turns down her proposal. In the final flashback, Barelli mourns Aspern's death, the loss of his final opera, and Juliana's self-imposed retreat from the world. When Barelli leaves, Juliana removes Aspern's manuscript from its hiding place. Following the flashback, in the opera's final scene, the lodger relents and is prepared to accept Tina's proposal in exchange for the manuscript. She tells him that she has burned it, and the stunned lodger staggers from the villa. After he has left, Tina removes the manuscript from its hiding place and burns it.

Details

  • NETWORK: PBS WNET New York, NY
  • DATE: June 9, 1989 Friday 9:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 1:01:20
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: T89:0408
  • GENRE: Music
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Operas
  • SERIES RUN: PBS - TV series, 1974-
  • COMMERCIALS:

CREDITS

    • WNET-TV (New York, NY) … Production Statement
    • KERA-TV (Texas) … Production Statement
    • Jac Venza … Executive Producer, For "Great Performances"
    • David Horn … Executive Producer
    • John Walker … Producer
    • Kirk Browning … Director
    • Mark Lamos … Director, Stage Director
    • Henry James … Writer, Based on the novella by
    • Dominick Argento … Librettist, Composer
    • Nicola Rescigno … Conductor
    • Dallas Symphony Orchestra … Symphony Orchestra
    • Elisabeth Soderstrom … Cast, Bordereau, Juliana
    • Frederica Von Stade … Cast, Tina
    • Richard Stilwell … Cast, The Lodger
    • Neil Rosenshein … Cast, Aspern
    • Katherine Ciesinski … Cast, Sonia
    • Eric Halfvarson … Cast, Barelli
    • John Calvin West … Cast, The Painter
    • Joan Gibbons … Cast, Olimpia