Recently in Performances
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.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
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.
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.
La Fanciulla del West in Full Score