Recently in Performances
It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
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.
07 Dec 2004
Rigoletto at Amsterdam (and an appraisal of tenor Joseph Calleja)
How does it come about that "modern" productions date so quickly while "traditional" ones can go on for ages ? Probably, because ideas that once were fresh and innovative are immediately picked up by everybody in the business, copied (sometimes...
How does it come about that "modern" productions date so quickly while "traditional" ones can go on for ages ? Probably, because ideas that once were fresh and innovative are immediately picked up by everybody in the business, copied (sometimes ad nauseam) and seem stale when they reappear some years later.
For one moment I thought that the great recycler-of-the-one-idea-he-ever-had, Mr. Robert Wilson, had directed the Amsterdam Rigoletto. During the prelude the chorus slowly raised their arms in the well known tai-chi manner while the ugliness of their red unisex penguin costumes reminded me of the horrors during the second act of Aida at De Munt in Brussels (later spewed out at London's Covent Garden). A few whispered words told me that the director actually was the Dutch Monique Wagemakers, best known for her work as director of a regional company, and that the production had first been shown in 1996. Miss Wagemakers succeeded exceedingly well in rehashing all clichés of Das Regietheater. The chorus was not only a company of courtiers but of course were viewers as well from high on at the events in the last act. A normal floor is out of the question when one can use an inclined plane that is a comment on its own on what's happening. And to top it all (pun intended) Rigoletto's house is somewhat reduced to one very high steep and rather small flight of steps. There Gilda may sing her Caro nome and there she is kidnapped. One could almost sense the fear of soprano and chorus when they had to wrap her in and then lower her down after Zitti, ziti. And the poor baritone had to run up quite a few steps before able to launch his Ah ! La Maledizione and as could be expected, the voice had no air left and it was only a tiny curse. In short Miss Wagemakers only succeeded while trying to free us from old clichés in giving us new ones.
Mind you, I realize only too well that an old war-horse as Rigoletto is difficult to renovate; especially after Jonathan Miller's updating to Little Italy in the fifties at the English National Opera some 20 years ago. That was an example of a well thought out production that made the opera seem like new to me and I admit, made it difficult for this reviewer to accept the traditional court of Mantua. Still give me the court any day if the alternative is a box of clichés. The one positive aspect of this Rigoletto was the treatment of the singers. No impossible gestures and the face firm to the public.
Conductor Daniele Callegari is a man who knows his Verdi and I was somewhat surprised he chose the easy option to make an impression now and then: either too slow tempi (the prelude) or too fast ones (Cortiginani vil razza). But most of the time he kept a firm rein on the orchestra and was not above indulging his singers. Anthony Michaels-Moore was Rigoletto. I wonder if he could make the same excellent impression in a theatre a size bigger (say Covent Garden). Michaels-Moore is excellent in early Verdi and I liked his Doge in I due Foscari at De Munt very much. He is no roaring madman as Bastianini was and for a moment I wondered if Rigoletto is not a shade too heavy a role. But he succeeded admirably. The voice is smooth, well-rounded and used very stylishly. He often reminded me of Fischer-Dieskau's famous DG-recording in the way he treated words and phrases. But Michaels-Moore 's voice is not a short tenor manqué but a real baritone with a firm brown core and a strong secure top.
Young Italian soprano Cinzia Forte sang Gilda. She has a nice lirico with a firm coloratura technique; somewhat like Rosanna Carteri or young Moffo. The first act she remained a little too bland, too colourless. Just a nice but not too distinct voice. But this changed in the second act when the voice bloomed and took colour. She will probably go far. Roles like Sparafucile and Maddalena are sometimes not cast from strength but one realizes the importance of good voices in these roles as well when one has suffered the hollow ugly tones of both Mario Luperi and Graciela Araya.
And then there was tenor Joseph Calleja whom I had heard a few years back at De Munt in Don Pasquale. In the meantime his career is going fast, maybe even a little too fast. There is a first recital on Decca where he sings a lot of stuff that is simply unsuitable for the voice like Adriana Lecouvreur. So I wondered how much he had improved on his very fine Ernesto of a few years ago. First of all, the voice has gained in strength and volume without damaging the basic colour. Imagine a little bit of young Björling mixed with parts of young Pavarotti and add a healthy dose of young Tagliavini while the small fluttery vibrato is all Calleja's own. In short, a mellifluous and exciting lyric tenor sound in the very best Italian tradition. The voice is maybe not over big but carries extremely well in a difficult theatre like Amsterdam. The only weakness for the moment lies at the very top of the range and that is somewhat unlike Pavarotti and Björling but more than one tenore di grazia had a short top. Still that has improved too. The high B in La donna è mobile rang out freely, courtesy of Maestro Callegari who allowed his tenor a deep breath before attacking the note. Calleja (please pronounce his name as if he would be Spanish, thus Calle- ch- a) for the moment has not got a high C and he should refrain from taking the high option in Addio, addio which he sang in falsetto. There is one Pavarotti-feature he should better not emulate. He will be only 27 next January and already has got weight problems which make costume designers looking for solutions so as not to accentuate his girth. So, please Mr. Calleja, try to rein in your appetite after a performance and it will be better for your breath too.
Now having heard both Calleja and Villazon at Amsterdam in a few months time (and Florez at De Munt), how do they compare ? Villazon is definitely the better actor though as a singer he has his weaknesses too: not much of a piano and not a shameless top note hunter either as is Florez. Calleja definitely has the more beautiful voice, the most exciting rich timbre of all three. His is a golden sound that reminds us of the very best Italian lyric tenors. Villazon is an exciting performer and an impressive voice with his dark smooth sound sometimes quivering from emotion like the fine verismo tenors before the war. Florez lacks either the exquisite sound of Calleja or the big sound of Villazon but is nevertheless a miracle in his repertoire. Personally and this is personal indeed I'd place Calleja nr. 1, followed by Villazon and Florez on third place. But how lucky we are that after the dreary lean years of the late eighties and nineties we have once more such three fascinating tenor voices.