Recently in Performances
Baritone Gareth John is rapidly accumulating a war-chest of honours. Winner of the 2013 Kathleen Ferrier Award, he recently won the Royal Academy of Music Patrons’ Award and was presented the Silver Medal by the Worshipful Company of Musicians.
This second revival of Jonathan Miller’s La bohème was the first time I had caught the production.
It’s Verdi’s bicentenary year and Rolando Villazón has two new CDs to plug — titled somewhat confusingly, ‘Villazón: Verdi’ and ‘Villazón’s Verdi’, the latter a ‘personal selection’ of favourite numbers performed by stars of the past and present.
Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra climbed out of the War Memorial pit, braved the wind whipped bay and held spellbound an audience at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Auditorium at UC Berkeley.
Utterly mad but absolutely right — Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos started the Glyndebourne 2013 season with an explosion. Strauss could hardly have made his intentions more clear. Ariadne auf Naxos is not “about” Greek myth so much as a satire on art and the way art is made.
“Man is an abyss. It makes one dizzy to look into it.” So utters Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, repeating what was also a recurring motif in the playwright’s own letters.
National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.
Once upon a time, Frankfurt Opera had the baddest ass reputation in Germany as “the” cutting edge producer of must-see opera.
Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.
Just in case we were not aware that the evening’s programme was ‘themed’, the Britten Sinfonia designed a visual accompaniment to their musical exploration of night, sleep and dreams.
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Composed between 1718 and 1720, Handel’s Esther is sometimes described as the ‘first English Oratorio’, but is in fact a hybrid form, mixing elements of oratorio, masque, pastoral and opera.
Hector Berlioz's légende dramatique, La Damnation de Faust, exists somewhere between cantata and opera. Berlioz's flexible attitude to dramatic form made the piece unworkable on the stages of early 19th century Paris and his music is so vivid that you wonder whether the piece needs staging at all.
St. John’s Smith Square was the site of Elizabeth Connell’s final London concert, intended as a farewell to London on her moving to Australia. It was rendered ultimately final by her unexpected death.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
Back for its fourth revival, David McVicar’s 2003 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte has much charm, beauty and artistry.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro has a libretto by Lorenzo daPonte based on the French play La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (The Crazy Day or the Marriage of Figaro) by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799).
For its world class Easter Festival, Baden-Baden mounted a Die Zauberflöte that owed more to the grey penitential doldrums of Lent than to the unbridled jubilance of re-birth.
20 Dec 2004
Kata Kabanova at the Met
Janacek’s Kata Kabanova began this year’s run at the Met on Friday night with a very new cast including two important and highly successful debuts.
This is Janacek late in his career, writing on a Russian subject by the playwright Ostrovsky. His admiration for Russian culture and literature may also have led him to follow Anton Chekhov’s example — Kata moves swiftly with the sense that any extraneous word or note has been rigorously pruned away — it is an opera that speaks directly and powerfully to its audience. Last night’s audience — the Met was at least 90% full — reacted with enthusiasm that bordered on delirium when the final curtain rose again for beloved Finnish soprano Karita Mattila’s pride-of-place first solo bow.
Janacek's Kata Kabanova began this year's run at the Met on Friday night with a very new cast including two important and highly successful debuts.
This is Janacek late in his career, writing on a Russian subject by the playwright Ostrovsky. His admiration for Russian culture and literature may also have led him to follow Anton Chekhov's example — Kata moves swiftly with the sense that any extraneous word or note has been rigorously pruned away — it is an opera that speaks directly and powerfully to its audience. Last night's audience — the Met was at least 90% full — reacted with enthusiasm that bordered on delirium when the final curtain rose again for beloved Finnish soprano Karita Mattila's pride-of-place first solo bow.
Ms. Mattila is not perfect. Let's get out of the way the fact that the lower voice is rather dry and not the most interesting register she possesses. Beyond that, her Kata moved from strength to strength as she created a wholly convincing character and sang the role with blazing conviction, beauty of tone and a glorious upper register. Particularly in act 3 her talents as an actress were astonishing — her physicality in expressing Kata's self revulsion, then the poignancy and aching need for some kind of physical contact from the feckless Boris, then the radiant calm with which she sang that birds would fly over her grave and bring their young with them. Then she turned and instead of an actressy leap into the Volga, she simply dropped off the riverbank and let herself be absorbed in the ever-flowing river's history. The woman next to me gasped; when it was all over the crowd went crazy.
Judith Forst provided a scary Kabanicha, ramrod straight, seethingly intolerant, demanding, manipulative, ultimately unbearable and so wonderfully tempting to hate. Along the revival's director Paula Williams and the rock-solid bass Vladimir Ognovenko as Dikoj, Forst has reimagined the bizarre little scene for Kababicha and Dikoj in act 2. Formerly played as a scene where the drunk and slobbering Dikoj disgusts her, she is now visibly aroused and the scene ends with Dikoj on his knees clutching her hips and buttocks with his face buried in her bodice. The curtain quickly falls on what will certainly be a monstrous and morally hypocritical coupling in contrast to the healthier mating of Varvara (the luminous Magda Kozena) and Vana Kudrias (Ramond Very is a superbly detailed and sympathetic performance) or the tragic one of Kata and Boris.
Tenor Jorma Silvasti displayed warm and shimmering tone as Boris and Chris Merritt presented the spineless, trapped but well-meaning Tichon to the life. In his Met debut, conductor Jiri Belohlavek let a taut, propulsive and very beautiful reading of the score, seconded by the Met orchestra in top form. The cast was strongly applauded but it all paled next to the reception for Ms. Mattila. This was a star performance totally at service to the role and the work, sung and acted by a star performer at the height of her art.
Technical Coordinator for Theater Arts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology