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.
04 Dec 2004
Berlioz in Boston
Not strictly opera, but so full of the usual suspects . . . My experience of Berlioz's Dramatic Symphony Romeo et Juliette (R&J) came full circle last night at Boston's Symphony Hall. I had first heard the work live in...
Not strictly opera, but so full of the usual suspects . . . My experience of Berlioz's Dramatic Symphony Romeo et Juliette (R&J) came full circle last night at Boston's Symphony Hall. I had first heard the work live in 1968 when Charles Munch conducted the BSO and soloists Rosalind Elias, Jerold Siena and Donald Gramm. Parenthetically, that's 36 years ago, Ms. Elias's career was at least a dozen years old at the time and she's still singing in San Francisco's Vanessa and directing operas. Quite an achievement.
Last night James Levine conducted the orchestra, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Matthew Polenzani and Julien Robbins in a superbly played and sung — and very personal vision — of R&J. In his program note Mr. Levine speaks of how much he loves Berlioz; how gratifying it is to play his music, particularly with America's most French repertory-oriented orchestra; how much Berlioz he will be scheduling with the orchestra in the near term; and how fresh and controversial the composer still is, even in France. While I have heard the work played ravishingly by other conductors, what distinguished this performance was that Levine took seriously the word "Dramatic."
The mezzo and tenor soloists do not portray the characters in R&J; she works with a chamber chorus as narrator and he sings the song of Queen Mab but otherwise does not in any represent Mercutio. The bass does, at the very end, recognizably portray Friar Laurence and the chorus takes the role of the Capulets and Montagues, but it's way to late in the game at that point to make a case for the piece as anything but a symphonic work. The love duets, the death scene and other big moments in the story are all orchestral and it is here that Levine chose to bring his operatic persona to the fore. This purely orchestral music was strongly characterized. The Ball at the Capulets had a festive air but with a strongly menacing undertone, a militant declaration that this was THE party being given by THE family. During the scene in the tomb, the sustained notes by the first clarinet went to the edge of acceptable tone to portray the agonized cries of the dying lovers. Under Levine's direction, string passages in the Introduction and in a couple of other places in the score very firmly pointed the way — in 1839 — to what Wagner would do in the great chromatic string passage that opens the mountain top scene at the end of Siegfried — music that Wagner was to write in the mid-1860s.
The Boston Symphony played magnificently, with some astonishing unanimity and virtuosity of string attack. Brass was rock solid and there was a sustained glow from the stage. The chorus enjoys the directorship of John Oliver and sounded like a French chorus on this occasion. I was delighted to discover a student of mine from a quarter of a century ago, one who used to build and rig scenery for our productions, singing in the bass section. Ms. Hunt Lieberson has always made absolute sense as a French mezzo and her claret-colored voice was in fine condition. Both she and Mr. Polenzani sang with the words well forward, floating ON the tone as is right for the style. His Queen Mab aria is a kind of rapid patter with pinpoint interjections by the chorus — it flew by as light as gossamer with bright, clear tone and complete confidence. Mr. Robbins was a noble, rich-voiced Laurence, his voice placed just a bit too far back in the mouth for ultimate clarity in French music, but in every other way he satisfied.
The audience was extremely enthusiastic.
Technical Coordinator for Theater Arts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology