Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
21 Dec 2004
Carmen at De Vlaamse Opera
The sigh of relief was almost audible during the short love duet after “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée”. Carmen started to strip down, fumbled a little bit with José’s pants and both started their love making. So after all, Bieito’s signature tune was being played. In reality apart from the many lewd gestures, both singers remained firmly and fully clothed. The only full nude was a male dancer during the prelude to the third act and even he was lighted in clair-obscur. Another Bieito-feature, horrible violence, was also somewhat muted. Granted, José gutted Carmen in the finale of the opera in plain sight and in the well-known way Islamists treat those poor people they can lay their hands on and therefore it was a bloody affair but still everybody knows “this is theatre”.
Wonderful Carmen at De Vlaamse Opera (and indeed, Calixto Bieito was the nominal director)
Carmen: Nora Gubisch and Brandon Jovanovich
Photo © Annemie Augustijns
The sigh of relief was almost audible during the short love duet after "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée". Carmen started to strip down, fumbled a little bit with José's pants and both started their love making. So after all, Bieito's signature tune was being played. In reality apart from the many lewd gestures, both singers remained firmly and fully clothed. The only full nude was a male dancer during the prelude to the third act and even he was lighted in clair-obscur. Another Bieito-feature, horrible violence, was also somewhat muted. Granted, José gutted Carmen in the finale of the opera in plain sight and in the well-known way Islamists treat those poor people they can lay their hands on and therefore it was a bloody affair but still everybody knows "this is theatre". No, the literally blood-chilling moment came during the third act when the smugglers arrived with six used Mercedes-cars ( For a moment I thought they were smuggling Mercedes'). Enter Escamillo and the fight between him and José with tenor and baritone jumping on and off all those cars, meanwhile singing their lines and succeeding without breaking their necks and finishing a promising career (for the tenor anyway; the baritone wouldn't be a great loss). It made for a formidable theatrical effect but still one wonders if artists should take such a horrendous personal risk.
Now some Bieito-exegetes would say that the somewhat muted stress on sex (for Bieito anyway; I don't think Volpe would allow it at the Met) and violence is due to the director's youth and inexperience as this production is a reworking of a production of 4 years ago. Well, maybe it is but it has to be judged on its own merits and not on the director's obsessions a few years later. And the final word is: it works and succeeds in revitalizing this tired old warhorse. Yes, I don't like the opera anymore. I have known it for 50 years, have played it over and over again and the overexposure and the many productions have led to boredom which can only be redeemed by a fine theatrical experience or formidable music-making and preferably both. The last Carmen I fondly remember was a traditional Verona-production with Franco Corelli, Grace Bumbry, Piero Cappuccilli etc. but since those times it was downhill. And then a director and a fine cast prove that there is quite a lot of life left in the horse. Bieito updated it somewhat to modern Sevilla and immediately changed the traditional perspective. Micaela is not the star-struck virgin but someone who has her eyes firmly set on José and by their behaviour they prove that their affair is a long running one. Carmen and co are not some nice country girls in colourful clothes but hard working factory girls in drab uniforms. For Bieito Carmen's gypsy background is just something that maybe explains a little bit of temperament but traditional gypsies don't work in a factory and therefore Carmen is far more a working class girl in poor surroundings in an individualistic society. This lady reminded me far more of some of those harsh assertive hard working-class New York girls than of romantic Spain of the 19th century where there weren't many Carmens to be found. This Carmen is a fully self-centred woman, wanting her pleasures and wanting them now and definitely not above provoking José: in short nearer to Merimée's Carmen and to Bizet's as well than Carmen as a victim or the somewhat aristocratic Carmen of Béatrice Uria-Monzon who monopolizes the role in France. In this action packed thriller the greatest compliment came from my wife whom I had not warned beforehand. "It looks like a good movie" she said and that was exactly what De Vlaamse Opera had in mind with the production. Still, there are a few things Bieito should take care off. Action and movement is fine but a few moments (like in the terrible last act) of quiet, of immobility may make a deeper impression than the permanent running hither and thither. And one grows somewhat tired with the constant sexual gestures: less can sometimes be more.
Bieito was more than helped by a wonderful cast. French mezzo Nora Gubisch was a revelation. Apart from perfect pronunciation, she brings with her a big booming and finely coloured voice; somewhat better in the low than in the higher regions where the top starts to thin out. Her Mediterranean looks (short, a little bit plump, hawkish nose) are more typical for most Andalusian women than the classical North-European beauty. She was a wonderful performer who radiated strength and determination.
Brendan Jovanovich was the José who delivers good looks, an ability to smoke a lot of cigarettes without bad results for his singing and the athletic features I have already mentioned. And then there is the voice: not a sound every one likes at first hearing, not a thing of traditional beauty and maybe better not heard in the great Italian roles; too little morbidezza. But the voice is smooth, big and in a small house like Antwerp it makes a tremendous impression while it has a gleaming edge of steel in it. In short this is what the French call "un vrai demi-caractère", the French equivalent of the Italian lirico-spinto and if Mr. Jovanovich continues to sing as impressive he should be the rare bird: a real successor in the great line of Franz, Granal, Vezzani, Poncet. Even now I think he is superior to Ben Heppner. And mind you he knows the difference between strength and just shouting: his high B in La fleur was a beautiful pianissimo.
The Latvian soprano Rosita Kekyte is chosen for "le fysique du role" one is tempted to think: a youthful blonde beauty and then she opens her mouth and out comes a fine Italianate lirico. She is now at the Karlsruhe Opera but with her assets she should go far in the French and Italian repertory.
The (little) fly in the ointment was Polish baritone Wojtek Drabowicz: a throaty baritone with a weak top and a badly focused sound. The Antwerp people often try to prove that they are not provincial but cosmopolitan but I cannot believe there is no young baritone in the country who cannot sing better this short role and gain some valuable experience as well. Xenia Konsek and Corinne Romijn (Frasquita and Mercédès) are well-known and beloved comprimarie who as always combine fine acting and fine singing.
Music director Ivan Törzs started out somewhat tentatively but soon got his hands on the score, helped by the very good orchestra and there never was a single hiatus in relationship between pit and singers (On principle I never attend the premiere but always prefer a fourth or fifth performance and every artist I know says that a production always improves after a few evenings). A special word should go to the chorus which sang and acted its heart out. In the last act they just faced the auditorium, pretending they were watching the procession of picadors, toreadors etc and they did it so lustily and convincingly that they earned a well-deserved ovation.
[Note: For additional production details, click here.]
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