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Opera queen

Now that cold war thriller The Manchurian Candidate is on track to become an opera, La Cieca naturally will turn to you, the cher public, for production advice for the upcoming opus.

Yes, it’s another parterre competition! In the comments section below, you are to offer casting for the following principal roles:

  1. Major Bennett Marco
  2. Raymond Shaw
  3. Eugenie Rose Chaney
  4. Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin
  5. Chunjin
  6. Senator John Yerkes Iselin
  7. Jocelyn Jordan

You are encouraged to offer a rationale for your casting of each role, e.g., that a given singer has enjoyed success as a similar character type. La Cieca’s blue ribbon panel of experts will select a winner in each of two categories: Most Plausible and Most Fanciful/Amusing. Upon each winner will be bestowed a coveted Gift Card.

All entries must be date-stamped prior to midnight on Friday, November 16, and the decision of your doyenne’s panel is, as always, utterly final.


  • 1
    sharky says:

    I’ll play!

    Major Bennett Marco: Luca Pisaroni. Possesses requisite Sinatra-esque qualities and sings perfectly in English.

    Raymond Shaw: Paulo Szot. Look at the best photo you can find of Lawrence Harvey. See?

    Eugenie Rose Chaney: Anna Netrebko. I want to hear her pronounce “Eugenie.”

    Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin: Joyce DiDonato. Perfect English and knows how to properly chew through a line like “… when I take power, they will be pulled down and ground into dirt for what they did to you. And what they did in so contemptuously underestimating me.”

    Chunjin: Bejun Mehta. Come on, he’s perfect for this.

    Senator John Yerkes Iselin: Dwyane Croft. The logical jump from Sharpless.

    Jocelyn Jordan: Betsy Norden, I mean Ashley Emerson. Same reasons, different decade.


    • 1.1
      Maury D says:

      OMG, I was so completely going to say DiDonato as Best Screen Villain Ever Eleanor Shaw Iselin. She’s young, but Angela Lansbury was only, I think, a few years older than Lawrence Harvey.

      Also of course I am hearing the voice of Podles intoning “Raymond!” but her English is not the finest.

  • 2
    Cocky Kurwenal says:

    I’m not going to play properly because I’m not sufficiently familiar, except to say that I feel strongly the role of Elena belongs to Grace Bumbry.

  • 3
    Ilka Saro says:

    Major Bennett Marco: Could be Gerald Finley. Will be John Relyea.

    Raymond Shaw: Could be Teddy Tahu Rhodes. Will be Zelko Lucic.

    Eugenie Rose Chaney: Could be Anna Netrebko. Will be Danielle Deniese.

    Mrs Eleanor Shaw Iselin: Could be Dolora Zajick, or even Stephanie Blythe. Will be Patricia Racette.

    Senator John Yerkes Iselin: Could be Eric Halvarsson. Will be James Morris.

  • 4
    Loge says:

    I think Simon Keenlyside as Raymond and Jennifer Larmore as Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin. They do that creepy mother-son thing so well.

    • 4.1
      Loge says:

      Doing this piecemeal. Jonas Kaufmann as Bennet Marco. Perfect English and portrays inner turmoil well and, hey, we need a tenor somewhere in this opera. Eugenie-Renee Fleming. Sympathetic and beyond the first blush of youth. Chunjin-Christophe Dumaux because I like him and he does secondary characters very well. Jocelyn Jordan-Danielle Deniese. Sen. Iselin-Agree with Dwayne Croft.

    • 4.2
      kashania says:

      We might have a winner with Larmore.

      • 4.2.1
        Loge says:

        She was an awesome Kostelnicka. So she can easily play conflicted characters who do bad things.

  • 5
    kashania says:

    I love Di Donato but she’s not fierce enough for Eleanor. Bumbry in her prime would have been a natural but I’d rather not hear her sing these days. Edda Moser would also have been great. Ghulegina can strike a mean pose but I feel that she’s trying too hard when she acts all fierce. Zajick and Blythe would both be good.

    What about Gherghiu?

  • 6
    Maury D says:

    Oh how about Mattei as Raymond Shaw?

  • 7
    ardath_bey says:

    the only opera queen worth talking about today is La Stupenda! happy BDAY Dame Joan

  • 8
    Camille says:

    Have Angela Lansbury do the role. Have soprano xyz lay down the tracks and Angela can lipsinc to them. Not even Streep could beat Angela in this part.

    • 8.1
      ardath_bey says:

      Lucille Ball was actually very close to playing the part in the movie, she would’ve been phenomenal no doubt, but Lansbury is terrifying.

      • 8.1.1
        Camille says:

        How very interesting to think of I Love Lucy in this part — it would have become I HATE Lucy instead.

        Doubtless, we would never have had that gem Here’s Lucy had that happened.

        Anyway, the soprano most perfekt for this part would have been LEONIE, of my favourite long-running series, I Love LEONIE!.

          ardath_bey says:

          the movie came out in 1962, it’s The Lucy Show (1962), not Here’s Lucy, that perhaps wouldn’t have happened.

          Mr. Mooney (Gale Gordon) playing the part of Senator Jordan or Senator Iselin would complete the cast with Viv could playing Jocelyn Jordan. Lucy could’ve played all the other parts, Sinatra’s, Leigh’s and especially the Asian butler Yen Lo (haaha)

          • Camille says:

            Now I noh!

            What if that were the Double Jeopardy winning question and I had answered that way for the team? I’d have lost my socks not to mention the limo and yacht!! Yikes.

            Guess I got her mixed up with Here’s Johnny!
            Thanks, a_b.

  • 9
    la vociaccia says:

    It pretty much doesn’t get better than this. The ease with which she tackles the allegro section is a scandal

    • 9.1
      Camille says:

      Hey La Vocha-cha! Thanks for saving me the trouble and the importation taxes, for I was just in process of bringing this in, when I noticed you had already done this.

      This piece used to be one of my favourite high note HIGHS. Even non-opera lovers I have succeeded in interesting with this showstopper. A wonderful work for the right voice.

      Mucho spasibo.

      • 9.1.1
        la vociaccia says:

        Camille!!! It was my pleasure. I love this piece- I too have dazzled non opera fans with this recording.

    • 9.2
      Bianca Castafiore says:

      Not half bad. Of course, you should have heard *little petite moi* back in old Milano, but let’s not get into the good old days past…

      Cammisia! Did you spend the last week in Manhattan? Nice to see you back in form. Tootles!

    • 9.3
      kashania says:

      I’d never heard of this before. It sounds like it was written for Joan. I actually like the slow section quite a bit. But of course, her staccati in the allegro are incredible.

      • 9.3.1
        la vociaccia says:

        Oh, the slow section is gorgeous. This really was written for her; no room to complain about diction, just that upper middle and top soaring and swooping for a dozen minutes. Honestly, every composer alive at the time should have written her a concerto, just beCAUSE.

          kashania says:

          The voice soars gorgeously — that’s some luxurious singing. I wish more composers would write these kind of fantasia-like pieces for pure vocalising. There are so many singers who are heard best as sheer musicians (as opposed to their usual role as dramatic artists).

    • 9.4
      Cocky Kurwenal says:

      This is Dame Joan in 1966 and is therefore amazing by definition. But personally I do prefer a cleaner, more crystalline coloratura in this piece- I think that the extra weight in Dame Joan’s voice stops the phrases from really soaring the way they can, and all her diva-ish mannerisms are kind of uncalled for.

      And it’s kind of a pity when this piece doesn’t end on a top f, but that’s a minor point and I feel shallow for bringing it up!

      LOVE Dame Joan, in any case.

  • 10
    Will says:

    I agree about Leonie for Eleanor and also put on the divas of the past table Regina Resnick, Martha Modl and Astrid Varnay. And you know, although she never went within 40 years of a modern opera, Maria Callas.

    • 10.1
      Cocky Kurwenal says:

      Haha- I heard an amusing story about Callas recently, though to my shame I can’t remember where. In any case, some time when her stage career was pretty much over, the Royal Opera powers that be, or a conductor, I forget who, approached her about singing Lulu, to which her reply was ‘what’s Lulu?’.

  • 11
    lucy brown says:

    Aw, come on! How can you do a crazy modern mama without putting Lauren Flanigan in the lead? She’d HAVE to play Eleanor Iselin. Jonas Kaufman could play her creepy boy Raymond (but only if he can be kept from drooling). Michael Fabiano could easily exhibit that private core of tainted sanity that characterizes Marco (not to mention that New Jersey Italian thing that’s so reminiscent of Sinatra. Eugenie Rose Chaney is too little a part for Netrebko, and too duplicitous… but to add a little spin, why not have her played by Anthony Roth Costanzo? Come to think of it, it would be nice to see Kate Lindsey play a girl. She could be Jocelyn Jordan. For Senator Iselin, Hvorostovsky certainly has the look…and as Chunjin, the translator turned spy, I’m really torn: either Mariusz Kwiecie? or a bald-headed Cecilia Bartoli.

    • 11.1
      Camille says:

      I LUV Jonas drooooooool! He can drool on me any old time. You are the winner in my book, lucy brown. Forgot about good ole Flanigan. Perfecto.

      And the balding Cece Bird is genius. Just Jenious.

      • 11.1.1
        Baltsamic Vinaigrette says:

        Camille, it is good to see you back here after the week that was in it. I hope that you and yours (and all east coast Parterriani and theirs) are well and coping with whatever needs coping with on a case-by-case basis.

        Confession: I have never watched The Manchurian Candidate. My loss, no doubt. [Who doesn’t adore Murder She Wrote, dahlings?] However I am off to see Michael Haneke’s latest award magnet, Amour, when it opens the French Film Festival at Dublin’s IFI next week. I might transplant this quiz vis-à-vis the Trintignant-Riva-Huppert parts.

          Camille says:

          Balsamico—i must confess: everytime you appear i can see a plate of fresh fraises all smothered in a syrup of only the finest and best of baltsamics.

          Ergo, thou art Yummy-—

          And Erin go Bragh!

  • 12
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    I love both versions of the movie. I guess Raymond’s mother would be a great part for Joyce Di Donato. Maybe Meryl Streep would be able to sing it too. The new opera would be an unqualified success if they just use this music for the finale:

    In case you missed the compelling webcast of BABYLON, they are repeating it on-demand from Munich on November 9-11 at

  • 13
    zinka says:

    I do not know the movie thyat well..but I would pick Joyce di Donato for the Angela role….and if I had my time machine..Regina Resnik..a natural..TRUST ME!!!!!!

    • 13.1
      Quanto Painy Fakor says:

      • 13.1.1
        Quanto Painy Fakor says:

        Streep is simply FABULOUS in this wonderful remake of the movie

          MontyNostry says:

          I can only bear to watch Streep when she’s playing a manipulative bitch. For me, she is the thespian equivalent of Schwarzkopf. Far too much clever technique going on.

          • armerjacquino says:

            Monty- how odd, the way people’s reactions can differ. What I love about Streep is almost the opposite of your criticism: I think that despite her facility with accents etc what she really nails is the art that conceals art. I always believe her.

            Having said which, Jennifer Saunders has always been hilarious doing Streep, and the MAMMA MIA parody she did for Red Nose Day always has me in bits:


            (the really good stuff starts at about 8:26)

          • MontyNostry says:

            Mamma Mia didn’t need parodying. I saw 10 minutes of it at a friend’s house and was cringing with embarrassment -- especially when Christine Baranski -- a fine-looking woman, but undeniably of a certain age -- sashayed down the beach causing young man pretty much to play with themselves under their swimming trunks. And Abba wrote brilliant, irresistible pop songs, but they don’t work as pegs on which to hang a musical -- they just end up sounding insubstantial. And don’t ask me about Meryl playing a little flaky and kooky.

          • bluecabochon says:

            Armer, that MAMMA MIA French & Saunders parody is brilliant -- thanks so much for posting the link to it. 10:32 = ROTFLMAO.

            Christine Baranski was ill-served costume, hair and makeup-wise; I agree with Monty.

          • Camille says:

            Goody. Here is a small tear in the tarmac whereby I may elbow my way in to ask Our Own Brits their opinion-collective or individual-on Streep’s Oscar[tm] award winning performance as Mrs. Thatcher.

            Technique, technique, technique.

          • Cocky Kurwenal says:

            Camille, I thought Streep was amazing as Margaret Thatcher, but I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to acting technique so I’ve never noticed it in any of her roles, and neither have I noticed any art concealing art although I guess that’s the point. Rather like ballet, which I also enjoy but know nothing about, when I see a good actor I just accept it all -- something either has to be badly written or very badly acted, or both (Downton, anybody?) before I’ll start complaining.

            Still, the most exciting thing about The Iron Lady was that the china set they used for her cups of tea is the same as my late grandmother’s, now mine.

            I live with a huge Abba fan who also has 2 cousins in the Mamma Mia film, so get made to watch it at least monthly. I did once sit next to Dominic Cooper in a coffee shop though and was amazed at how short he is.

      • 13.1.2
        Quanto Painy Fakor says:

          Quanto Painy Fakor says:

          • operacat says:

            Angela Lansbury deserved the Oscar for this great performance. . .how ironic that she was in competition with and lost to Patty Duke in THE MIRACLE WORKER. . .another astonishing unforgettable performance.

  • 14
    operacat says:

    Dream Cast:
    Major Bennett Marco — Jay Hunter Morris -- he would look good in a uniform and I would want to have some spoken dialogue just to hear that Texas twang;
    Raymond Shaw — Gerald Finley -- cant imagine anyone else finding the sympathy in this tragic character;
    Eugenie Rose Chaney -- Susan Graham -- While I would probably recommend cutting this character totally, I would love to hear her singing with Jay in LES TROYENS;
    Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin -- Karita Mattila -- this role is not very showy if done right, but has an Emilia Marty/Elena Makropolus edge to her;
    Chujin -- David Dong Qyu Lee -- hopefully casting an authentic Korean (albeit half Canadian) in the countertenor role makes up for the cringeinducing casting of the original film;
    Senator John Yerkes Iselin -- Thomas Hampson or James Maddelena channeling Richard Nixon; and
    Jocelyn Jordan -- Lisette Oripesa, Corinne Winters -- a young lovely soprano.

  • 15
    operacat says:

    Real Casting (starting from the cast of SILENT NIGHT):
    Major Bennett Marco — William Burden;
    Raymond Shaw — Craig Irvin;
    Eugenie Rose Chaney — I would cut this role really;
    Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin -- Patricia Racette though I might try to write it so that Diana Soviero would come out of retirement;
    Chunjin — I would cut this role;
    Senator John Yerkes Iselin -- James Maddelena;
    Jocelyn Jordan -- Corinne Winters or Kelly Kaduce.

    • 15.1
      Quanto Painy Fakor says:

      Except for Racette, that’s about the level of casting they can afford for the premiere.

  • 16
    Avantialouie says:

    1. Major Bennett Marco: Nathan Gunn, opera’s “all-American boy.”

    2. Raymond Shaw: Paul Groves, whose light, lyric tenor would suggest both this character’s vulnerability and the “hypnotic obsession” into which he retreats that turns him into an ice-cold cypher.

    3. Eugenie Rose Chaney: Patricia Racette, who is young enough to play the appropriate love interest, actress enough to play the complex Communist conspirator (if they base the opera on Roger Ebert’s famous explication of this character in the 1962 film version instead of on the Condon novel,) and subtle vocalist enough to suggest a complex character.

    4. Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin: Catherine Malfitano, a superb actress who has played a long line of evil ladies, and who can comfortably inhabit “bitch turf” in her sleep. Her post-retirement voice, now in ruins, would perfectly suggest this character’s almost psychopathic obsession when flung out with devil-take-the-hindmost insistence, damning any and all vocal torpedos and rocketing full speed ahead.

    5. Chunjin: Rodell Rosel, who, on the verge of becoming America’s premier tenor character-actor, would be ideal.

    6. Senator John Yerkes Iselin: James Morris, who has played a long line of easily-duped patsies so filled with the straw of their own self-importance (think of all those Wotans, for example,) they never see that they are actually puppets on a string.

    7. Jocelyn Jordan: Cristina Gallardo-Domas, who has innocent vulnerability down to total perfection.

  • 17
    The_Kid says:

    definitely patti lupone as the manipulative mum!

  • 18
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Here is Putz (he says “Poots”) the composer of the new Manchurian opera:

  • 19
    Baritenor says:

    God, I love this movie. Been a while since I’ve seen it but ooooh this contest makes me want to rewatch it. This post contains SPOILERS about both versions of the film, btw.

    This is a “real” casting entry, and I’m going to try, for argument’s sake, to stick to singers the Minnesota opera could considerably hire/afford. I might go a bit overboard, but I’ll try.

    Major Bennett Marco: A solid, loyal man caught in unusual circumstances, doubting his own sanity…is there any part that more cries out to be a lyric baritone? Up-and-Comers Morgan Smith or Brian Mulligan would be terrific, or if a bigger name is wanted, Nathan Gunn. He could even be shirtless in the nightmare scene.

    Raymond Shaw: I’m thinking that a kind of Siegfried parody is called for…outside, he’s the perfect Heldentenor but inside he’s completely lost. Brandon Jovanovich would be perfect, having both the blasting power and the All-American good looks to do justice to the multifaceted war hero.

    Eugenie Rose Chaney: A woman of mystery…hope the opera keeps the reveal that she is an FBI agent, which was the one improvement made in the Denzel Washington film. I like the idea of Rose as a Mezzo, an open and warm presence among all the calculation. Kate Lindsey would work very well in this role.

    Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin: A real Ortrud type or a really nasty Tosca (I just had the most disturbing mental image…and I’m past it now)…a dramatic soprano that could possibly be done by a mezzo with a great upper extension. I think Christine Goerke has the right combination of elegance and cruelty to do the part justice. To go in a different direction, I wouldn’t object to Pat Racette, but mostly because I know she’d tear the stage apart. Other candides could include Emily Magee, Susan Bullock or (if you go the Mezzo route) Michelle DeYoung.

    Senator John Yerkes Iselin: A Bombastic Red-Baiter controlled from behind the scenes? This has Bombastic Bass-Baritone written all over it. If they could get him for a supporting role, this could be built up into a devil of a part for Thomas Hampson, but as a supporting role, it would be a gift for Richard Paul Fink.

    Jocelyn Jordan: I’m thinking Lyric Soprano. Standard Issue Operatic Love interest #57, frankly. A number of sopranos could do (it’s a fairly minor role, really), but we all like Layla Claire, so howsabout her?

    Chunjin: Is a fairly minor character in the film (but given prominent billing), more important thematically than musically. You could argue the role could be cut for time, but the fight scene with Marco is what convinces him that the plot is real and he’s not crazy. I think go with a baritone for contrast in his scene with Raymond; Presumedly they would want someone who could pass for Chinese (So…hopefully someone actually asian) and do fight choreography. David Won would fit the bill perfectly.
    I’m gonna add two more names to the list, because I think it would be fascinating (and, frankly, it’s a principal role missing from the above list by oversight):

    Dr. Yen Lo/Mrs. Whittaker: The best scene in the film, in my opinion, is Yen Lo’s practical demonstration of the brainwashing technique, as the brainwashed GIs sit onstage, bored, thinking they’re at a ladies’ flower club even after Shaw is ordered to kill one of his men. I think you need two singers for this, because how can you not put the movie’s cross-cutting between the Chinese Doctor and the American Flower Club President onstage? I think, for maximum effect, make it a duet for Countertenor and Coloratura Soprano. For the later, maybe and Rachel Gillmore, and for Yin Lao, maybe Canadian Countertenor David DQ Lee (who has the benefit of being Asian and who had a very impressive showing at Cardiff a few years ago) Or, alternately, cast Yen Lo with a big Verdi bass like Hao Jing Tian.

    Oh, and I think it’s illegal to have a world premier and not have William Burden in the cast. So he can play the presidential candidate at the end. Or the Colonel. Or anyone, really, I just want to hear him sing.

    • 19.1
      Baritenor says:

      Left a sentance out of my Yen Lo paragraph. The effect is: I’d cast a countertenor and coloratura in these roles for the same reason they are Oberon and Tytania in MIDSUMMER, the otherworldly sound would be a shocking contrast to the rest of the opera. And also countertenors still, after years of listening to them (and liking them) strike me as creepy sometimes.