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
Trois Valses at Théâtre Royal de Liège
Wow ! Les Trois Valses comme il faut in Liège Laurence Janot (Fanny Grandpré) and Jean-Baptiste Marcenac (Octave de Chalencey) For the year's end the Walloon Opera always offers some lighter fare. A few years ago we saw a very...
Wow ! Les Trois Valses comme il faut in Liège
Laurence Janot (Fanny Grandpré) and Jean-Baptiste Marcenac (Octave de Chalencey)
For the year's end the Walloon Opera always offers some lighter fare. A few years ago we saw a very fine La Périchole and then the way was free for some bad American musicals like last year's Sugar (= Some like it hot). This reviewer who rates Lehar, Kalman, Rodgers and Kern almost as high as any member of the Holy Grail of opera composers was therefore more than happy that Liège offered some Oscar Straus. Not that this Straus (with one "s" as he dropped the second "s" in his surname for fear people would think he was a member of the dynasty) composed a neglected or unforgettable masterpiece with his Les Trois Valses. Originally the operetta was created at Zürich as Drei Walzer in 1935. Composer and librettists had a nice idea for a quick buck. It starts as the story of a dancer and a noble in the France of Napoleon III. To save his military career she leaves him and Paris. In the second act her daughter (a famous chansonnière) and his son meet thirty years later, fall in love but due to a misunderstanding separate. Once more thirty years later granddaughter (famous movie star) and grandson (assurance seller) meet and this time everything works out for the best. Straus arranged music by Johan Strauss-père for the first act, dipped into Strauss-son's compositions for the second act and composed an original score for the last act. By 1935 however classical operetta was already moribund. The continuing success of Lehar's last tragic works has led us to believe that Land des Lächelns, Friederike, Zarewitch, Schön ist die Welt and Giuditta were somewhat typical but they definitely were not. On the contrary, only Lehar's stupendous melodic gifts succeeded in making a success out of them. By that time movies were all around and theatres were looking for spectacular countermoves. Salaries and costs were raising, so were the numbers of spectators needed to pay for all that jazz. More people meant more popular features and therefore music adapted to the lowest common denominator. It was the birth of the spectacular revue operetta whereby theatrical effects were often more important than musical substance (exactly the same happened with the classical American musical). The most important role shifted from the composer to the producer who found the money, engaged a composer and a librettist and added or subtracted songs by other people if he found the music too sophisticated, with too little hit-quality. The best example of is the perennial Im Weissen Rössl (White Horse Inn), nominally by Ralph Benatzky but with most of the hits by other composers.
This was what more or less happened with Drei Walzer. The extremely popular French soubrette Yvonne Printemps saw a performance of the original, had Straus play the score for her and asked the boss of the Bouffes Parisiens for his opinion. The man was flabbergasted. This was a very traditional operetta which would need a good tenor who would drown Madame Printemps. He had a better idea. He retained only a few bits of the music of father and son Strauss, gave all the tenor's music to Printemps as well and made the hero a speaking role he could cast with the young French actor Pierre Fresnay (later on best known for his fine acting in Monsieur Vincent). Straus' score for the third act was strewn over the whole operetta so that musical content is somewhat thin. But a smashing success it was. London and Broadway producers took notice, compared the original with the new French version and went for the last one of course. For more than sixty years this French version has held its own in all French speaking countries while the original has completely disappeared and it is no co-incidence that only the French version was recorded complete.
So what did the Liège production look like ? Its director was Jean-Louis Grinda, general manager of the Walloon Opera. Grinda simply went the same way he had gone with his production of La Périchole. He respected the ideas of the original authors and stuck to 1867, 1900 and 1937 as dates for his three acts. So no unnecessarily updating which would have somewhat clashed with the music. He clearly believed in the story and didn't use it to ridicule it or to give it three layers. Therefore the performance took flight and one could believe in the characters; always difficult in an operetta with such an enormous amount of co-incidence. Though there has to be a comic relief in it, it was not searched in a vulgar or overblown way. The last act was a wonderful smile upon the way movies adapt a story to suit their commercial needs. The two youngsters are supposed to act in a movie about the tragic love of their grandparents and one couldn't help laughing at the movie clichés that were performed while one had seen the simple truths of life in act one. Grinda was of course helped by the spectacular, rich and costly demands of the opérette-revue: every act had three new and fine settings (Dominique Pichou was the designer and the fine costumes were drawn by Danièle Barraud) so that the eye had always something new and fine to look at. Casting such operetta's nowadays is a Herculean task: the two main parts are always played by the two same actors but there are 27 other roles as well. Of course this can only be done by assigning several roles to the same actor but with the aid of a new costume, a hairdo and some change of voice 12 actors took on the task.
French Laurence Janot sang and acted the female lead and she took our breath away when she did quite a lot of fine high class dancing herself in the first act till it dawned upon us that she was a former ballerina. Though she is over forty she succeeded exemplary well in her three roles and she has a nice and warm lyric soprano with probably more decibels than Madame Printemps ever had. Her partner Jean Baptiste Marcenac (speaking role) proved to be as excellent in the many serious as in the comic moments. All other singers performed their roles with enthusiasm and I even noticed the return of former fort tenor André Jobin (son of Raoul) in three bit parts. I was struck by one painful fact. The not so young public is clearly not accustomed any more with the genre. It has been educated far too long (all over the world) with a notion that music theatre is art, not fun and one shouldn't show too much enjoyment. Fifty years ago each musical number would have been applauded and the temperature would have risen far more quickly while now most of the two first acts went in silence. By the last and best act the public had finally understood that one could freely laugh, cheer and applaud.
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