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.
02 Jan 2005
Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at De Munt, Brussels
© Johan Jacobs De Munt's Christmas production plays into high summer and it is magnificent to behold. Scottish director David McVicar is somewhat of a cult director in Antwerp and Brussels. In Antwerp he directed a fine Idomeneo and an...
© Johan Jacobs
De Munt's Christmas production plays into high summer and it is magnificent to behold. Scottish director David McVicar is somewhat of a cult director in Antwerp and Brussels. In Antwerp he directed a fine Idomeneo and an unforgettable Contes d'Hoffmann (later reworked for Salzburg), fully respecting the original intentions while in Brussels he did a spectacular and updated Agrippina and a dark and brooding Don Giovanni. Though he is now one of the happy few directors wanted all over the world he nevertheless often returns to this country. McVicar has one overriding obsession: he wants to tell a good story and he wants to tell it clearly. He doesn't like humbug and clearly speaks out when he sees it. Of Robert Wilson's Aida (also premièred in De Munt and later given at Covent Garden) he says: " "they are constructing something on the scene while a sound track of Aida is running" ; a pronouncement that more or less corroborates with the opinion of the Aida (Norma Fantini) who called it "Aida in Tokyo".
Well, McVicar delivered the goodies. This was Midsummer Night's Dream as Shakespeare probably would have loved to see it and never saw it as the technical means and the money at his disposal were infinitely smaller. In an interview after the performance I read that the play is performed on a giant attic of a big English country house and that came somewhat as a surprise to me. The lightning (Paule Constable) and the scenery were so ingenious (Rae Smith) that I took it for a wood, be it one without too many leaves. And with the rising costs of garbage collection nowadays, one often finds seats and all kinds of props in our few woods. The whole looked rich and sumptuous and gave a wonderful idea of a fairy tale: somewhat like Disney with style. So did the costumes of the many performers (Smith too) and it was a joy to see fairies instead of giant bees or spiders or the nowadays popular cliché of clowns.
McVicar likes his singers to think with him and to have the same attitude towards telling a clear story though he had some stiff demands to made upon the cast (he likes to meddle with casting). Puck (David Greeves) didn't only have to sing and to act but to perform some difficult acrobatics high in the sky as well. Oberon can lengthen and shorten his height in the best fairy tale tradition and I admired Michael Chance who quietly and assuredly continued singing while his legs were lengthening with some 14 feet.
The big cast was lead by bass-baritone Laurent Naouri as Bottom. He doesn't like his wife to use her influence and I wish she would. It needn't end in a Sutherland-Bonynge or Freni-Ghiaurov blackmail but Naouri is a very fine singer whom I'd like to hear more in his native repertory where he could take over José van Dam's sceptre. He failed in his Met audition several years ago and I think the Met would do well to give him a second chance instead of only engaging Madame Naouri-Dessay. As he studied at the Guildhall in London his voice freely rang out in the verses culled from the original play. Laura Claycomb was the sensuous Tytania though I think the part is somewhat low for her high coloratura soprano. Countertenor Michael Chance as Oberon didn't endear me to his kind of voice as his sounds were weak and unfocused. All other artist performed worthily. Special mention must be made of the youth choir of De Munt. Strengthened by a few other choirs they sang and acted their heart out and either McVicar worked wonders with them or otherwise they are all headed for a big career on the scene due to their innate talent. Ivor Bolton was the careful conductor of the splendid sounding orchestra.
And so we come to the main drawback in my eyes and especially my ears. Frankly, I don't think that Britten's score deserves such a splendid and costly production. By 1959 the composer was probably tired of criticism that he was old-fashioned, that only movie composers employed tonality and he tried to prove his detractors he too was a modern composer. 45 years later this only results in a far too heavy orchestration always dominated by the woodwinds, all kinds of drums, bells and timpani resulting in a lot of dissonance. The original play was reduced to one third but the original words were used in the libretto. Due to all the noise Shakespeare is in for a heavy drubbing. This reviewer who is a former teacher of English was not able to understand more than a few sentences from the female performers. The men as always could be understood somewhat better as they had a lot of sprechgesang but still spectators without the ability to read either the Dutch or French surtitles wouldn't know what the fuzz on the scene was all about. Britten never was a prolific tune-smith ("Young man, don't you think I would have written some fine melodies if I had had Verdi's talents" he remarked in 69 when I was complaining of lack of melody in his works). Only at the beginning and end of each act that Britten allows himself some lyric utterances but for the rest it is often a trip through the desert.
[Click here for additional information on this production.]