For The Rape of Lucretia at Juilliard, February 2015
The New York Times, by Anthony Tommasini, 2/19/2015
"In a program note, the director Mary Birnbaum, says she and her cast drew a clear parallel between “college ‘rape culture’ ” and this harrowing Britten chamber opera, with a libretto by Ronald Duncan, first performed in 1946.
During rehearsals, she had the singers read firsthand accounts of such assaults. The result is a viscerally overwhelming performance of an intimate work, written for eight singers and a 13-piece orchestra. That these college-age singers throw themselves into it with such uninhibited emotion and physicality makes this spare, modern-dress production unsettlingly immediate.
Though “The Rape of Lucretia” has an ingenious score, the opera has been felt to have problems. In a nod to Greek tragedy, the tale is related by two singers called Male and Female Chorus. Also, the libretto is strewn with Christian moralizing that can seem at odds with such a brutal pagan crime story. Ms. Birnbaum brings these disparate elements into dramatic unity.
In an epilogue, the Male and Female Chorus beseech Christ for healing, a shift that often seems to pat. But in this wrenching production, you leap at any strand of consolation, no matter your beliefs."
For The Classical Style at Carnegie Hall, December 2014
The New York Times, by Anthony Tommasini, 12/5/14
"both absurdly funny yet genuinely insightful...a vibrant performance of the piece,directed by Mary Birnbaum."
For Hansel and Gretel at Opera in the Heights, Houston, November, 2014
#2 of Houston's Best Operas of the Year List, Houstonia Magazine
Houston Press, "A Folktale Spun into Operatic Gold, D.L. Groover, 11/15/14
"Perfect for the kids and immensely satisfying for any grownup operaphile, Hansel und Gretel is a stunner, perhaps OH's most perfect realization.
OH has found a director of real quality in Mary Birnbaum, whose eye for the telling gesture, the perfect comic effect, or visual snap brings the fairy tale into our laps. Hansel falls asleep in the aisle; the witch's claw-like hands appear from behind the house before she emerges; during the "Evening Prayer," Mom and Dad, as if in the children's dream, spread out a spangly black cloth, like a starry night, and cloak their children under it; as Mom leaves, she quietly gestures to the heavens, and twinkly stars descend like night lights to watch over her sleeping son and daughter. Humperdinck supplies the softest of lullabies for punctuation.
Opera in the Heights' production has it all: exceptionally vivid singing; a startlingly effective staging that's smart and witty; and an outstanding orchestral performance. Everything works."
For The Classical Style at the Ojai Music Festival, June 2014:
San Francisco Gate, by Joshua Kosman, 6/23/2014
"It's not the sort of material that lends itself easily to the stage. Yet Friday's superb performance in Hertz Hall at UC Berkeley - the headline event in a long weekend's worth of music that constituted the Ojai North festival - was a dazzling display of inventiveness and broad comical delight."
Mercury News, by Richard Scheinin, 6/20/14
"The Classical Style: An Opera (of Sorts)" is an opera for real. Friday at the Ojai North Music Festival, it also proved to be an unexpectedly witty, illuminating and all-around delightful 70 minutes of entertainment. The Classical Style" is gorgeous to hear, and filled with laughs. And the opera is deep."
O.C. Register, by Timonthy Mangan, 6/15/14
"...The result of their work, “The Classical Style: An Opera (of Sorts),” in seven scenes and 75 minutes, definitely flies, and its first audience in Libbey Bowl certainly enjoyed it. It’s a comedy, of course, of the inside baseball variety, tongue firmly in cheek; the more you knew about its subject matter the funnier it was, but the farcical proceedings are lively enough that even the uninitiated are allowed in... The end even manages to touch, as Rosen and Robert Schumann contemplate the miracle of the style and the mysteries of its birth, life and death...Director Mary Birnbaum made it all work with a minimum of props and costumes."
For Eugene Onegin at Juilliard in February 2014
The New York Times, by James S. Oestreich 2/20/14:
"Perhaps needless to say, this is a different kind of “Onegin,” more personal and rawer. One way or the other, the emotional shifts in the opera, as in Pushkin’s novel in verse on which it is based, can only be searing.
But in Tchaikovsky’s hand, they come cushioned, in a way, by gorgeous melodies, lush harmonies and brilliant orchestration, and by charming folkish choruses, which are entirely jettisoned in this version. Here there is no intermediary: The emotional wrenches lie right on the surface, and they tear at the soul.
Credit for this immediacy belongs in large part to the stage director, Mary Birnbaum, and her conception, which keeps the focus squarely on the four principals: Tatyana and her new, ill-fated love, Onegin; Tatyana’s sister, Olga, and her longtime, even worse-fated love, Vladimir Lensky. There are deft staging touches, like the dropping of the scrims that fuzzed up the first scenes when Onegin upbraids Tatyana for the rashness and naïveté of her love letter to him, bringing cherished illusions to an abrupt end."
Opera Magazine by George Loomis 5/2014: