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.
22 Feb 2005
Anne Sofie von Otter at Göteborg
Yesterday [19 February 2005], I went to the concert hall in Göteborg, where Anne Sofie von Otter and Bengt Forsberg held a recital. It was the first time I actually heard them live, and I must confess that I was apprehensive! I have listened to them so much on recordings and taken so much influence from them, especially when it comes to my repertoire — what if I didn’t like them in concert? The concert hall was full — 1200 seats, imagine that for a recital… I have a hard time getting jobs at all because it is so hard to attract audiences to recitals. But, they are world famous and that, of course, attracts a large audience.
Anne Sofie von Otter at Göteborg
Yesterday [19 February 2005], I went to the concert hall in Göteborg, where Anne Sofie von Otter and Bengt Forsberg held a recital. It was the first time I actually heard them live, and I must confess that I was apprehensive! I have listened to them so much on recordings and taken so much influence from them, especially when it comes to my repertoire -- what if I didn't like them in concert? The concert hall was full -- 1200 seats, imagine that for a recital... I have a hard time getting jobs at all because it is so hard to attract audiences to recitals. But, they are world famous and that, of course, attracts a large audience.
At the beginning of the recital, I was embarrassed by people who clapped their hands after every song. I was wondering when/if the performers were going to say something about it, you could tell they were not happy about it. But what they did was wonderful! After three songs, Bengt Forsberg came to the microphone and talked about the next set of songs, "Four Serbian Folksongs" by Tor Aulin. Then Anne Sofie von Otter talked about the lyrics. As they were about to start, Bengt Forsberg jumped up again and said "ooh I just want to say that these pieces go so well together and would you please clap after all four are finished. We love that you do it, but..." He said it in such a friendly way that everyone felt at ease, and it was a great atmosphere during the rest of the concert.
Lars-Erik Larsson: Skyn, blomman och en lärka
Wilhelm Stenhammar: Melodi, I lönnens skymning, Gammal nederländare
Tor Aulin: Four serbian folksongs: Till en ros, Vinter i hjärtat, Vad vill jag, Domen
Ernest Chausson: Paysage (for piano)
Cécile Chaminade: L'anneau d'argent, L'amour captif, Viens, mon bien aimé, Sombrero
Franz Schubert: Frühlingsglaube (D 686), Im Frühling (D 882), An mein herz (D 860), Im Abendrot (D 799)
Gustav Mahler: Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder, Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald, Aus! Aus!
Erwin Schulhoff: Arabesque (op. 29, no. 1), Two pieces from "Hot music for piano"
Kurt Weill: Nannas Lied, Lied der Seeräuber-Jenny, Speak Low, Foolish heart
A wonderful and varied program. The two performers talked in between the pieces and made the atmosphere of the large room friendly and nice! They truly are professionals and they didn't seem to do anything but what they wanted to do.
The encores were fun: First, ABBAs "Thank you for the music", which became hilarious as Bengt Forsberg didn't play very well and von Otter started waving her arms beating the rhythm. In the end, she grabbed the mike and started to sing into it. I was laughing so hard that I cried- and later we got the explanation to what had happened: The lamps reflected on the music, so Bengt Forsberg couldn't see the music. The other encore was also Benny Andersson, from Kristina from Duvemala, "Ljusa kvällar om varen".
For me, this concert became a precious moment. The two performers truly brought out the best from the music, such a varied program, and everything performed in style. Even if they were funny and relaxed, they still performed the music with all the concentration and finesse that you could ask for. I wonder what they are like when they perform in other countries, if they are as relaxed and funny then, or if different cultures call for different behaviour?
This summer I was at the Scubertiade, and heard many good singers. No one talked in between songs though, and I have a hard time thinking that a concert like this could have taken place there. Or am I wrong?