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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.



22 Oct 2004

Four Reviews of Die Zauberflöte at the Met

Julie Taymor -- and Mozart Too By HEIDI WALESON [Wall Street Journal] October 14, 2004; Page D7 New York The Metropolitan Opera usually showcases singers, not star directors, but the Met's newest production is most definitely the "Julie Taymor 'Zauberflote'"...

Julie Taymor -- and Mozart Too

By HEIDI WALESON [Wall Street Journal]
October 14, 2004; Page D7

New York

The Metropolitan Opera usually showcases singers, not star directors, but the Met's newest production is most definitely the "Julie Taymor 'Zauberflote'" ("Magic Flute"). Ms. Taymor is best known for "The Lion King," which has been running for almost seven years on Broadway, but her startlingly original visual imagination also worked brilliantly with Mozart, illuminating this complex work without overpowering it.

With set designer George Tsypin and lighting designer Donald Holder, Ms. Taymor created a compelling universe for "Flute." Mozart's last opera, with sung and spoken text by Emanuel Schikaneder, mixes grandeur, pathos and whimsy. Unlike many directors, who often slight one for the others, Ms. Taymor succeeded in making all those elements work together. She understood that the grand Enlightenment scheme of the opera is about the journey from darkness into wisdom. In the ideal union of Tamino and Pamina, sense and sensibility temper and strengthen each other. Ms. Taymor's nonrepresentational world, explored through creative combinations of materials (glass, steel and billowing silks) and light made those themes clear while maintaining the humanity of the characters.

The production exploited the Met's sophisticated stage machinery to create the fears and confusions of that journey, for the path to enlightenment is not easy. Four large transparent squares, each with a different geometric opening (a triangle, a square, a large circle and a small one) at the center, first appeared independently, circling on the stage turntable. But as Tamino, Papageno and Pamina stumbled along, they moved to create jagged angles and dizzying kaleidoscopic vistas. "Where am I?" the characters often asked, and in this world of hard edges, strange reflections, darkness and no recognizable landmarks, it was no wonder. No wonder, also, that when they found each other they clung together, only to be torn apart again. Ms. Taymor even captured the terror of the final trials of fire and water with two proscenium-high figures, their helmets filled with flame, that guarded the portal.

[Remainder of article here (subscription to WSJ Online required)]

Die Zauberflöte, Metropolitan Opera, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times]
Published: October 13 2004 03:00 | Last updated: October 13 2004 03:00

Graceful geese swoop through the black sky. The baddest of bears prance about the proscenium with surreal bonhomie. Exerting stylised menace, a collapsible serpent stalks the puny hero. Blissful storks traipse the boards sur les pointes. A flying lobster snaps its claws at a would-be devourer.

The basic set, constantly evolving and revolving, evokes a pyramid locked in a gigantic ice-cube. It's a fantastic show. It's Julie Taymor's Die Zauberflöte. It may not be Mozart's.

With her inspired accomplices (set designer George Tsypin, lighting director Donald Holder, puppet-master Michael Curry, choreographer Mark Dendy), Taymor has left no turn unstoned in her effort to make the old operatic fable look nifty. She invokes all manner of scenic mumbo-jumbo to tell the tale on her own cleverly picturesque terms.

[Remainder of article here (subscription to Financial Times Online required)]

Taymor's 'Flute' is utterly enchanting

By HOWARD KISSEL [New York Daily News]
Monday, October 11th, 2004

Although Mozart's "Magic Flute" is one of the most sublime operas ever composed, in its own time it was most definitely part of Show Business.

That's why it was a brilliant idea to have Julie Taymor (Broadway's "The Lion King") direct and design a sorely needed new production for the Met. It opened Friday night and has a performance tonight.

In contrast with other opera directors, Taymor's soaring imagination is always at the service of the composer. Her production captures the grandeur of the work and is also, hands down, the best show in town.

Unlike other Mozart masterpieces, which were written to be performed at court, "The Magic Flute" was intended for a theater with a box office.

Despite its allusions to the ideals of the Enlightenment and to Masonry (Mozart, his friend Haydn, and Emanuel Schikaneder, who wrote the libretto, were all Masons), "Flute" is at heart a fairy tale. As such, it was a boffo hit in 1790 and has remained so ever since.

In her costume designs (and in the imposing sets of George Tsypin), Taymor conveys both the somberness of the ideas that underpin the plot, as well as its delicious fancifulness.

[Remainder of this article here (no subscription or registration required)]

Amadeus Ex Machina

Chagall and Hockney have already had their way with Mozart's Magic Flute. Now--cue the kite puppets --it's Julie Taymor's turn.

By Peter G. Davis [New York Magazine, October 25, 2004]

Mozart's music may not always take second place when the Metropolitan Opera stages The Magic Flute, but--at least as long as I've been around--the productions have been mostly defined by their sets and costumes. And, true to form, the big buzz over the latest Flute centers on Julie Taymor, Tony-winning director of The Lion King, and her take on this immortal operatic fantasy. No wonder, since her Asian-influenced sense of theater, with its kite puppets, animal imagery, and masks, together with set designer George Tsypin's translucent geometric shapes and sculptures, give the eyes plenty to take in. To judge from the roars of approval on opening night, audiences will be finding new visual marvels to savor in this production for many years to come.

Yes, Taymor's stage is a very busy one, but not so frantic as to obscure what is at heart a fairly traditional approach to the dramatic action. Sarastro and the Queen of the Night, their mythical realms located somewhere between the sun and the moon, are clearly depicted in a pitched battle between good and evil; the young lovers Tamino and Pamina are tested, grow, and become wise through their adventures; everyday folk like Papageno and Papagena remain endearingly unaware of life's mysteries as they eat, drink, and make babies; and illusion is omnipresent as the characters wander through a world where humans of all ethnicities mix in surroundings that remain in a constant state of magical mutability. The stage pictures are dazzling, but the real wonder of Taymor's production is how precisely movement is counterpointed with music to reflect the enormous emotional range of Mozart's score, from slapstick comedy to solemn spirituality.

[Remainder of article here (no subscription required)]

Staging note:

The Stilts Beneath Their Wings
By DANIEL J. WAKIN [New York Times]

Mark Mindek walks into the Metropolitan Opera as a 5-foot-11-inch dancer and walks out onto the stage as a 12-foot dancing bird. He and a fellow dancer, James Graber, play two of the Julie Taymor-created creatures that flirt with Papageno, the girl-crazy bird catcher of Mozart's "Magic Flute," in the second act of Ms. Taymor's new production at the Met, which has performances on Monday and Thursday. How do the dancers manage to reach and lunge while tottering on stilts?

[Remainder of article here (subscription required for archived articles)]

Recommended recordings:

Mozart: Die Zauberflöte

Mozart: Die Zauberflöte

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