Recently in Performances
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
24 Nov 2004
OONY Presents La Fanciulla del West
Superb, if mixed, Fanciulla at OONY Last night's La Fanciulla del West at Carnegie Hall was the classic case of the whole being much better than the sum of its parts. It was a thrilling performance of Puccini's score and...
Superb, if mixed, Fanciulla at OONY
Last night's La Fanciulla del West at Carnegie Hall was the classic case of the whole being much better than the sum of its parts. It was a thrilling performance of Puccini's score and a huge, fully deserved, personal triumph for Aprile Millo.
Of the three roles Ms. Millo has done for OONY recently, this was surely the most successful, better even than her storied Adriana Lecouvreur and easily obliterating memories of her pale La Gioconda. For one thing, the role sits perfectly for her voice,allowing its beauty and sensuousness to emerge almost effortlessly. The high notes are still possible for her, even if the tone now spreads just noticeably,and they are both substantial and secure. Her major current technical limitation -- not being able to do anything in the top register piano let alone pianissimo, was no handicap in this score. She dominated the proceedings vocally and created a believable character, with no trace of the pretentious grande dame mannerisms that had trivialized her Gioconda. Her Minnie was down to earth, courageous, and emotionally vulnerable -- and Ms. Millo seemed to enjoy portraying her immensely. Audience reaction was tumultuous and it was all richly deserved, not inflated or fake enthusiasm for a cult figure. Last night Aprile Millo was a major Italian Soprano in great shape and in full communication with her audience.
I don't mean to suggest that it was a case of Aprile and the seven dwarfs, but nothing else except the spirited, tonally gleaming work of the New York City Gay Men's Chorus and William Ferguson's strongly sung and acted Nick the Bartender came anywhere near her level. The orchestra played very well, with all sorts of inner detail cleanly articulated, but conductor Eve Queler let it roar out at volume levels that covered singers mercilessly. Ms. Queler has a penchant for finding promising, interesting young singers and giving them wonderful exposure in these concert performances. Last night, however, the entire first scene until Minnie's entrance (except for the brief Jake Wallace scene) that features a dozen such singers, was experienced as pantomime. Time after time during the evening, the orchestra was allowed -- encouraged? -- to obliterate anything in its path. As a performance of the Fanciulla symphony it wasn't bad, but Puccini did write this as an OPERA and far too many moments, even for the three principal singers, were inaudible.
There was another disappointment. Tenor Carl Tanner, who has been impressive elsewhere, was miscast here. Like Minnie, Dick Johnson has some spectacular ascents into the upper register and Mr. Tanner didn't fail. But Johnson -- also like Minnie -- really lives in his middle voice and needs strength at the bottom as well. Mr. Tanner's voice doesn't blossom down there and its focus is warm and soft rather than clear and brilliant. Given the orchestral volume, he was mostly either inaudible or not really present vocally from his first entrance until half way through the final duet of act one. Act two was much the same. In act three, he seemed to find enough volume for basic audibility but the heart of the role does not lie well for him, particularly under the orchestral circumstances he faced last night.
Marco Chingari, a handsome man with a fine-grained baritone of nice, warm timbre, made a sympathetic if moderately-scaled Sheriff Rance. Stephen Gaertner's Sonora emerged an attractive presence, Daniel Mobbs sang Jake Wallace beautifully, Mary Ann Stewart actually made something of Wowkle, and Mr. Ferguson's Nick showed promise of a fine lyric tenor leading man in the making. Evaluation of the rest of the large cast must await a performance in which they can actually be heard with some consistency.
Ira Siff faced some serious challenges in directing a semi-staged Fanciulla. There's a massive amount of realistic action and he was also facing a leading lady who has gained a considerable amount of weight in the past year and who elected to sit during most of act two. This last created serious difficulties for Mr. Tanner when attempting to play any scenes opposite her and Mr. Siff may simply have given up. Act two featured a lot of wandering around the stage until the climactic poker game for Johnson's life. Here, where Ms. Millo could justifiably have sat across a table from Rance, Mr. Siff had the singers standing on either side of the podium singing straight out at the audience with not a card in sight. Fortunately, Ms. Millo made the moment electric visually and vocally all by herself.
But I cannot stress enough that SHE was enough. The performance last night will be remembered as a huge success, a success that rests firmly on her fully capable shoulders.
Technical Coordinator for Theater Arts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology