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Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).



05 Apr 2005

Fanciulla: The Banality of Reality?

Conventional wisdom has it that Puccini’s operatic tale of the wild West, “La Fanciulla del West,” is too melodramatic to be fully credible – a reason it hasn’t joined his “Tosca,” “La Bohème” and “Turandot” in the top-most echelon of audience favorites. And it’s true that there are lots of things in it that seem silly today (like a bunch of weepy, childlike gold miners singing in Italian) or even offensive, like American Indians whose pidgin vocabulary frequently includes “ugh!”

Nuggets of True Romance, With Weepy Gold Miners Singing in Italian

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Time 3 Apr 05]

Conventional wisdom has it that Puccini's operatic tale of the wild West, "La Fanciulla del West," is too melodramatic to be fully credible - a reason it hasn't joined his "Tosca," "La Bohème" and "Turandot" in the top-most echelon of audience favorites. And it's true that there are lots of things in it that seem silly today (like a bunch of weepy, childlike gold miners singing in Italian) or even offensive, like American Indians whose pidgin vocabulary frequently includes "ugh!" . . . .

The real Achilles' heel of "Fanciulla" may not be that it is over the top or dated, but that the romance it depicts is too real, its characters too flawed, and under their patina of local color, even too familiar. Which makes this opera all the more worth seeing and certainly hearing, even if ideally it would get a more sensitive production than this one.

Click here for the complete article.

A Rebuttal

I think there are a number of things that conspire to make La Fanciulla del West hard for some Americans to embrace, including a real lack of knowledge of our own history.

David Belasco was the great realist of his generation in the theater. He once purchased an actual Child's Restaurant, a chain somewhat akin to the old Howard Johnson's or the current Friendly's, dismantled it and had it reassembled on stage in New York because a Child's was the setting for a particular play. Melodrama was, of course, a recognized and appreciated form in the American Theater of the time. But how over the top Minnie and Co. actually are depends on your reading of "the Old West." Clearly some astonishing and unusual things went on out there. I think the Donner Party's cannibalism or the High Meadow Massacre during which Mormons exterminated an entire wagon train coming west indicate that just about anything could happen.

Ms. Midgette jeers at Minnie's "single kiss before chastely bedding down in separate bunks." During the high Victorian, whether in a city or in the high Sierras, a woman's virginity was a closely guarded thing. But listen to the feverish, sensuous music as Minnie and Johnson cling to each other after the kiss, punctuated by several highly suggestive gunshots from offstage, to get an idea of what's really going on. Our Minnie may not be as coldly chaste as Ms. Midgette thinks, and she certainly isn't by act three--her month consorting with Johnson during the second intermission is clearly driving Rance wild with jealousy.

As to the miners, Midgette says they seem silly today, "a bunch of weepy, childlike gold miners singing in Italian." Well,they sing in Italian because it's an Italian opera. Do we jeer because Carmen and the other Spanish characters sing in French? Or Verdi's ancient Egyptians sing in Italian? The miners who stampeded westward during the gold rush were frequently lacking in education, many were incredibly young boys, and they all found themselves in a place where only a few would ever find gold and make a fortune. In a highly sentimental age, their emotional vulnerability and total lack of sophistication is not only understandable but can actually be very moving if depicted properly in an opera that's all about loss, isolation, loneliness, and broken dreams. I frequently remind people that the educational and cultural level we have today cannot be assumed for people from the past. Not so very long ago, a grammar school diploma--the equivalent of what Minnie is trying to give her boys, was the highest most people could hope to get and many never achieved it.

I'm glad she recognized the "wonderfully rich, dense score," that many of us feel is Puccini's finest. And she is spot on about the reality of the characters — Rance, for example, is no cardboard heavy but a deeply conflicted, emotionally desperate man. Her point about the characters being "too real, too flawed" for a modern audience could be right on the button. At Carnegie Hall a large part of the audience walked out after the first act of Donizetti's Marin Falliero because they had been given a libretto and could see there were no conventional love duets and no climactic mad scene for the soprano — merely a deeply human drama with a serious, not happy ending. The population embraces "reality shows" that are ludicrous for their actual lack of anything real or human. In Fanciulla the characters are in our faces, they hurt us and make us think and yearn and feel loss. That's what art's all about.

William Fregosi

La Fanciulla del West in Full Score

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