Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
31 Oct 2004
Mefistofele in Amsterdam
by Jan Neckers Let's start with the main assets of the new Mefistofele in Amsterdam: the singers. Gidon Saks has one of the biggest booming bass voices that ever sounded in an opera house (yes, I heard Ghiaurov but Saks...
by Jan Neckers
Let's start with the main assets of the new Mefistofele in Amsterdam: the singers. Gidon Saks has one of the biggest booming bass voices that ever sounded in an opera house (yes, I heard Ghiaurov but Saks had a few decibels to spare). It's not an especially beautiful or personal sound and it is somewhat weak in the lower regions, more a bass baritone than a real bass; but it is smooth and impressive and very well apt for this title role. Saks gave us such an overwhelming amount of sound that by "Ecco il mondo" the voice slowly started to give way. As his role is somewhat limited afterwards he nevertheless could ride out this matinee (17th of October 2004). With his imposing height, his easy flowing movements on the stage he proved himself to be a superb actor.
Tenor Dario Volonté actually has four voices but let me first state that his is not a small voice as one can read sometimes on other opera fora. First there is the deep dark burnished sound of the lower voice, partially produced with the lowered larynx method of Corelli. This sound sails into a very beautiful lyric middle voice somewhat reminiscent of a good Italian tenore di grazia though some people might think the vibrato perhaps too excessive (though not this reviewer). But, in the passaggio we hear an odd strangulated and somewhat throaty sound that we know so well from his countryman, José Cura. And from that ungainly or sometimes even downright ugly sound suddenly emerges a clear and strong high A or B. Capped by all this is one of the most beautiful pianissimo sounds I ever heard in the theatre. His amazingly beautiful "Lontano, lontano" was clearly modelled upon Ferruccio Tagliavini's classic recording and it could be proof that Mr. Volonté is more of a lyric tenor than his choice of heavy repertoire would lead us to believe. He is not a bad actor but his "physique" is such that he looks far better as an old man than as the young Faust.
The years have taken their toll on Miriam Gauci's voice. Ten years ago she was one of the best liricos around with a beautiful and homogeneous voice somewhat reminding one of Mirella Freni. The voice has grown somewhat bigger but has developed a wobble. Above the staff there is only shrillness and no beauty left. Her Elena was better than her Margerita, though in both roles she made no visible impression due to some cheap rags she had to wear.
I know it is politically correct in circles of Met attendees to deride conductor Carlo Rizzi and I wonder why. Two years ago he gave us an excellent Macbeth in this same theatre (Carol Vaness was the superb Lady) and this time too he chose perfect tempi, driving the opera along without unduly hurrying his singers so that they could breath. The orchestra (a radio orchestra which is doomed to disappear) played along for him as if they wanted to prove that they have the right to life and they easily matched the far more famous Concertgebouworchestra under Chailly in Don Carlos a few months ago (though Volonté is not Villazon).
There remains the fly in the ointment and, as so often in this theatre, it was the director: Graham Vick, one of those theatre people who think that Boito wrote this opera as a vehicle to one of the greatest gifts of God to humanity: the genius of Vick himself. Vick tried to kill the opera by overloading it in the well-known disastrous Zeffirelli-New Met-Opening-Manner. Almost every scene had a new and often laborious set change and, as there were five such changes, this added half an hour to the proceedings, which often broke all musical suspense. At the première, the Dutch press noted that Rizzi showed his opinion by ostentatiously drumming with his fingers during those changes. During rehearsals, there had been several terrible rows with Vick who refused to budge one inch on his original concept, though he was himself often unclear on his intentions due to a lack of preparation. Vick vented his anger for his own fault on the theatre and its personnel, which they didn't take lightly. At the final rehearsal, and contrary to usual theatre policy, nobody was allowed to attend. As a result, the performances had to be moved up half an hour at the very last moment; and, for the première, several employees had to phone, e-mail or sms every known guest of honor and ticket buyer to ask them to spread the good news. Vick added insult to injury by demanding that the magnificent chorus sing one of the greatest choral parts in operatic history behind the scenes.
And still, this production was not a complete failure as there were some devilishly beautiful scenes. The first scene, played during a village feast somewhere in modern Germany, was full of colour and opulence. The revolving scene didn't break down as with Zeffirelli's Anthony and Cleopatra. The Greek scene was a faithful reproduction of the famous reading room at the British Museum, though I don't think some beautiful young ladies and young men would be allowed into the building without the smallest piece of textile at all. But, you know, Greece and Greek statues etc., though these statues usually didn't move or strike sexy poses. On the other hand the Walpurgis night was simply ridiculous as it all took place within a circle of 25 large refrigerators. All in all, every scene was often more impressive than the whole of it. At the première, Vick was almost booed off the scene; probably the ultimate proof in many a director's mind that he/she is a genius. One more proud and well deserved medal in a catalogue of unbroken triumphs.
Mefistofele: Gidon Saks
Faust: Dario Volonté
Margherita/Elena: Miriam Gauci
Marta/Pantalis: Sally Burgess
Wagner/Nerèo: Carlo Bosi
In Heaven Mephistopheles offers God a wager: he says that he can succeed in seducing the learned Faust onto the paths of evil and that he will gain possession of his soul. God accepts.
Mephistopheles travels to Frankfurt disguised as a Franciscan monk. He enters Faust's study and convinces him to sign a contract.
Mephistopheles and Faust are in a garden with Margherita and Martha, her neighbour. Faust converses with Margherita and seduces her. To prevent their being disturbed, he gives Margherita a powerful sleeping-draught for her mother.
Mephistopheles and Faust travel to a witches' sabbath on a mountain top. Faust beholds a vision of Margherita, pale as death with a blood-red rope around her neck. He hears Mephistopheles' curse upon the world.
Margherita is in prison awaiting her execution. She has been accused of having killed her child and poisoned her mother. Faust attempts to convince her to flee with him, but she refuses. She recognises Mephistopheles as the devil and prays for forgiveness. Choirs of angels announce the salvation of her soul.
On the banks of the Peneios in ancient Greece, young girls perform a dance in honour of the full moon. Helen of Troy and her companion Pantalis lament the fate of Troy. Mephistopheles and Faust appear. Faust professes his love for Helen and they withdraw to a cave.
Faust sits in his study in Frankfurt. He has grown old and thinks back upon all he has experienced. He realises that his life has been mere vanity. He dies with the Bible in his hand, without giving in to the last temptations sent by Mephistopheles. Faust is welcomed by the angelic host into Heaven.