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Bellini I puritani : gripping musical theatre

Vividly gripping drama is perhaps not phrase which you might expect to be used to refer to Bellini's I Puritani, but that was the phrase which came into my mind after seen Annilese

Strong music values in 1940's setting for Handel's opera examining madness

As part of their Madness season, presenting three very contrasting music theatre treatments of madness (Handel's Orlando, Bellini's I Puritani and Sondheim's Sweeney Todd) Welsh National Opera (WNO) presented Handel's Orlando at the Wales Millennium Centre on Saturday 3 October 2015.

Bostridge, Isserlis, Drake, Wigmore Hall

Benjamin Britten met Mstislav Rostropovich in 1960, in London, where the cellist was performing Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. They were introduced by Shostakovich who had invited Britten to share his box at the Royal Festival Hall, for this concert given by the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra. Britten’s biographer, Humphrey Carpenter reports that a few days before Britten had listened to Rostropovich on the radio and remarked that he ‘“thought this the most extraordinary ‘cello playing I’d ever heard”’.

Falstaff at Forest Lawn

Sir John Falstaff appears in three plays by William Shakespeare: the two Henry IV plays and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Music and Drama Interwoven in Chicago Lyric’s new Le nozze di Figaro

The opening performance of the 2015-2016 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago was the premiere of a new production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro under the direction of Barbara Gaines and featuring the American debut of conductor Henrik Nánási.

La traviata, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia mixes boutique performances of avant-garde opera in a small house with more traditional productions of warhorse operas performed in the Academy of Music, America’s oldest working opera house.

Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera

Four lonely people, bound by love and fate, with inexpressible feelings that boil over in the pressure cooker of war. Àlex Ollé’s conception of Il Trovatore for Dutch National Opera hits the bull’s eye.

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.



04 Apr 2005

Albert Herring/Eugene Onegin/Genoveva in Boston

I ended last week with three very different operas here in Boston. On Thursday, the Boston Conservatory of Music put on a nicely designed, lovingly directed production of Britten’s Albert Herring. Based loosely on a Guy de Maupassant short story Albert sends up English small town blue stockings who stage an annual May Queen pageant, finding themselves unable to find a young woman of acceptable virtue in the immediate area. Their choice falls on a May King in the person of Mamma’s boy Albert Herring who is mortified by the whole experience. Albert proceeds to use the cash part of his prize to go off on a toot, stay out all night to return home a happier, wiser and far more independent young man, to the chagrin of all.

A View of Boston

A Tale of Three Operas

I ended last week with three very different operas here in Boston. On Thursday, the Boston Conservatory of Music put on a nicely designed, lovingly directed production of Britten's Albert Herring. Based loosely on a Guy de Maupassant short story Albert sends up English small town blue stockings who stage an annual May Queen pageant, finding themselves unable to find a young woman of acceptable virtue in the immediate area. Their choice falls on a May King in the person of Mamma's boy Albert Herring who is mortified by the whole experience. Albert proceeds to use the cash part of his prize to go off on a toot, stay out all night to return home a happier, wiser and far more independent young man, to the chagrin of all.

The sets were inspired by Victorian photographs, the costumes were satisfyingly full of high Victorian frou-frou, Lady Billows even had a most appropriate Victorian figure. David Powell who sang Albert possesses a high, clear, sizeable lyric tenor and admirably clear diction. The orchestra did well by the score under Bruce Hangen's buoyant direction.

On Friday, the second Boston Lyric Opera performance of Eugene Onegin was a study on the depths of romantic passion. Stephen Lord ignited a deeply felt, exciting performance. In the pit, horns and trumpets had a very good night and everyone on stage and in the pit appeared to be "on."

Designer Bruno Schwengl and director James Robinson created a lovely romantic world backed by a stand of tall white birch with furniture and props as required. The look had almost certainly been influenced buy the current MET production (Mme. Larina's party featured an oval of chairs within which the guests gossiped and danced, and very little else, for example) but had much to say on its own. Robinson made a point of linking Tatyana and Lensky as equal victims of Onegin's alienated inability to feel or give in a relationship. She had always with her the romantic novel and he had always his little notebook; during the cotillion when the chorus was focused on the off-stage dancers, only Tatyana and Lensky were left in the oval of chairs, each nursing hurt inflicted by Onegin. A wonderful touch was to have the servant girls hang out a laundry of white bed sheets to dry on the way to picking berries and for Tatyana to hide among them in panic at Onegin's approach. After shooting Lensky dead in the duel, Onegin bowed formally to the two seconds, carefully picked up and brushed off his coat and hat and strode coldly from the scene as if nothing disturbing had happened.

Schwengl's costumes were richly detailed, flattering and sharply distinguished as to class and character. As with the emotions of the principals, white and black predominated, white in acts one and two, funereal black in act three. Not all of the action was "realistic." Some was poetic and indicative of the psychological situation of the characters at any one time. When Tatyana enters in the final scene she comments that she feels again like a young girl waiting in panic for Onegin and breaks the face of a table clock as if time no longer exists.

The cast was a strong one. Maria Kanyova's slender, angular body and features suited a still gawky teenager perfectly. Her wide-ranging voice, secure top and slightly Slavic sound sounded fin in the music and she tore into the phrases with passion or a lovely delicacy as required. She has remarkable dynamic control. Garrett Sorenson's Lensky was probably the favorite of the audience. The upper middle and top of his voice have a brilliant spin and freedom that create a satisfying buzz in the ears and he phrases beautifully. The lower middle and bottom are not yet fully developed and need work, but his potential would seem to be enormous as there is no sense that the voice has been overused or abused in any way, and the basic sound is very beautiful. Completing the main trio, Mel Ulrich has the vocal color and affect for the anti-hero. A bit more power in the biggest moments would be welcome but he didn't force or distort the line at any time and the voice is all of a piece from top to bottom.

Dorothy Byrne and Josepha Gayer worked well together as Larina and Filipyevna. Both have strong lower ranges and their opening scene registered sistinctly against the off-stage duet of the two girls, something that does not always happen. John Cheek's Gremin had warmth and dignity but his voice has dried significantly and a persistent unsteadiness undermined the first part of the aria that is essentially his whole part. Because the lowest notes are still solid and full, he concluded successfully. Elizabeth Batton's vibrant mezzo and volatile personality worked well for Olga. Frank Kelley either decided to sing Triquet with a clinical depiction of a very old man's voice or is losing breath and solidity of tone. Either way, legato suffered and there were many intrusive breaths in the middle of lines.

On Saturday night a real novelty--Robert Schumann's Genoveva, produced in concert by Emmanuel Music in an effort to show that the opera is viable musically and dramatically and deserves revival. A similar effort for Schubert's Alfonso und Estrella a couple of years ago only pointed up the static nature of that pretty but unexciting work, but Genoveva is something else again. Schumann unquestionably knew how to shape a scene and, at the same time that Wagner premiered Tannhauser in Dresden, was experimenting with monologs that developed from or segued into scenes, rather than producing a string of closed form arias. The prelude to the final act prefigures the feeling if not the harmonies or chromaticism of the third act of Tristan.

In structure, Genoveva seems to have looked to existing works for some guidelines. Once the gender of the rescuer and the rescued is reversed, act four is structured exactly like the second act of Fidelio. Genoveva is led to a desolate place to be secretly executed by two minions of the villianous Golo; a hunting horn fanfare alerts them to the arrival of her husband, who frees her; the set then changes to the first scene of the opera where a local official (baritone) and a jubilant chorus greet the couple and praise their heroic qualities.

James Maddelena's baritone has become darker and more powerful over his long career and sounded wonderful as Count Siegfried. As his wife Genoveva, Sara Pelletier created a most attractive character with her shimmering lyric soprano and lyrical phrasing. Frederick Urrey handled Golo's high tenor lines with ease after a bit of a warm-up period and Krista River made the most of the sorceress Margaretha in whom the program notes see a prefiguration of Klingsor. The role would probably benefit from a more dramatic voice than Ms River's smoothly lyric one but in a moderately-sized venue she was able to score all the necessary points. David Kravits gave strong support in tow roles. Veteran conductor Craig Smith got warmth and passion out of his cast, chorus and orchestra. The audience's reaction to the opera built steadily all evening, ending in genuine enthusiasm. Genoveva is viable indeed.

William Fregosi

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