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.
19 Feb 2005
Renée Fleming in Boston
Renée Fleming sang the Boston leg of her current recital tour last night at Symphony Hall accompanied by the distinguished German pianist Hartmut Höll. Not only was Ms Fleming in free, shimmering and beautifully controlled voice, but last night’s program of Purcell, Handel, Berg and Schumann was some of her most disciplined work in a very long time.
Renée Fleming sang the Boston leg of her current recital tour last night at Symphony Hall accompanied by the distinguished German pianist Hartmut Höll. Not only was Ms Fleming in free, shimmering and beautifully controlled voice, but last night's program of Purcell, Handel, Berg and Schumann was some of her most disciplined work in a very long time.
I am not a great fan of vocal recitals at Symphony, not only because of the hall's size, but because a recitalist inevitably looks isolated on the huge platform and the Hall's unattractive stage lighting creates neither mood nor intimacy. Jordan Hall is far more suitable except as to capacity for so popular an artist. Fleming, however, possesses a big enough voice and personality to fill Symphony's huge expanses, and enough star power to fill its seats last night. Currently very blond, she passed on her customary Ferré gown in favor of Oscar de la Renta in very pale champagne beige with sequins, adding a fourteen foot long semi-sheer white chiffon stole in the second half for well managed dramatic effect. Audience response was rapturous.
The program began with Purcell's "The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation," a kind of mini-mad scene for Mary and the sort of angular, dramatic and vocally demanding piece recitalists often favor as warm-up material. An extended recitative is followed by two cantilena sections. It's a strange and fascinating piece that didn't pull into focus until Ms Fleming settled down to show her legato phrasing near the end. Thereafter, everything was very much under control. The Purcell selections were "Sweeter than Roses" from Pausanias, "I take no pleasure in the sun's bright beams," "I attempt from love's sickness to fly" from The Indian Queen and "O, let me weep" from The Fairy Queen. The Purcell brought out the first well executed coloratura of the evening and what would also be a theme in the Handel to come — intimate, beautifully sustained laments that held the audience in hushed attention. The swooping portamenti and other liberties that have been controversial in some of Ms Flemings work were left back in the "Expostulation's" recitative — throughout the evening there was a clean line and great attention to dynamic shading.
The Handel began with a fleet, vivacious "Oh! Had I Jubal's lyre" from Joshua, and proceeded through a finely spun "O sleep, why dost thou leave me?" (extended applause) and "To fleeting pleasures make your court" from Samson which was played in character as a seductive, kittenish Dalila. Another lament, "Calm thou my soul/Convey me to some peaceful shore" from Alexander Balus was followed by "Endless pleasure" from Semele, also performed in character as a deliciously self-absorbed coquette.
There was a complete change of mood after intermission. Surrounded by diaphanous chiffon, Fleming let out her opalescent tone generously in Alban Berg's "Sieben frühe Lieder." She preceded the set with a request that the audience please hold applause until after each of the lieder sets. They did so in the gorgeously sung Berg but their discipline broke down a bit toward the end of the Schumann set that consisted of eight songs: Ständchen, Mondnacht, Er ist's!, Hauptmann's Weib, Hochländisches Wiegenlied and Du bist wie eine Blume (both to texts by Robert Burns as translated into German), Aufträge and Stille Tränen. The Schumann was sung simply, directly and with warmth.
There were four encores: a thrilling, full bore performance of Strauss's Cecilia (Fleming said she hates to do a recital without Strauss somewhere in the evening); Puccini's "O mio babbino caro;" a surprisingly restrained version of Ms Fleming's art nouveau arrangement of "Somewhere over the rainbow" that had been purged of about 50% of its usual departures from the vocal line (the crowd loved it); and a lovely, shimmering performance of Maietta's Lied from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt notable for its perfect legato and for the elegance of Hartmut Höll's playing of the extended postlude.
Höll's accompaniment was a revelation. Widely celebrated for his lengthy collaborations with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and mezzo Mitsuko Shirai in German Lieder, among many other distinctions, he brought style, elegance and support (rather than competition with the soloist) to the program, scaling his volume perfectly to Ms Fleming's, letting his beautifully colored and shaded tone ring out fully only in the Berg in which she herself let fly in an appropriate late Romantic manner. Theirs was a most rewarding collaboration.
Technical Coordinator for Theater Arts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology