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.
24 Apr 2005
Mozart's La Finta Giardiniera at Boston University
Last night I saw the second of four performances of Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera given at the Huntington Theater by the Boston University Opera Institute. Hallmarks of their program are fresh, clear voices brought along in a sane way in appropriate repertory, with stage time given in productions directed, conducted and designed with care. There was a bit of extra drama to this production as Craig Smith, a grand figure in the Boston musical landscape, suffered a heart attack during the final days of rehearsal and David Hoose came to the rescue. The good news is that Smith is doing well. Hoose brought the opera to the stage in fine condition.
Illustration from the title page of a German vocal score to La finta giardiniera, printed around 1829.
Last night I saw the second of four performances of Mozart's La Finta Giardiniera given at the Huntington Theater by the Boston University Opera Institute. Hallmarks of their program are fresh, clear voices brought along in a sane way in appropriate repertory, with stage time given in productions directed, conducted and designed with care. There was a bit of extra drama to this production as Craig Smith, a grand figure in the Boston musical landscape, suffered a heart attack during the final days of rehearsal and David Hoose came to the rescue. The good news is that Smith is doing well. Hoose brought the opera to the stage in fine condition.
I had seen Finta Giardiniera at Glimmerglass almost ten years ago with a cast that reads interestingly now: Giuliana Rambaldi, Sondra Radvanovsky, Marguerite Krull, Karina Gauvin and William Burden. And I didn't get it. The production may well have been at fault, but things that struck me forcefully last night didn't come across at that time. This is very late teenaged Mozart, or he may actually have been twenty at the time of the 1775 premiere. Gluck's librettist for Orfeo provided a text that has at its center the same situation that would explode ninety years later into Tristan und Isolde. A pair of lovers in a tempestuous relationship: he stabs her in a fit of jealousy and flees, believing her dead. She survives and goes out in disguise to find him. She does so as he is on the verge of marrying. Their reunion causes emotional turmoil and other plot complications. The dramatic device here isn't a potion but a night of temporary insanity that ends at dawn with recognition that their love is still there. In a great duet they reconcile. A conventional happy ending with three couples united ends the opera. At this point in Mozart's career, many of the arias are delightful and well composed but conventional in form and the orchestral introductions to some create problems for singers and director by going on at great length with no obvious dramatic function. But some of the numbers — just enough to make the situation achingly real--find the composer trapping into the inner life of the characters in a way that presages the great works to come. The crucial duet of reconciliation, in particular, is deeply human and compassionate — and beautiful music into the bargain
The opera is chock full of previews of things to come, particularly in Cosi Fan Tutte and Don Giovanni. Of principal interest is the entire matter of tone, as LFG mixes seria and buffo characters in a manner that will lead to Leporello interacting with Donnas Elvira and Anna, and Despina calling the shots chez Fiordiligi and Dorabella, albeit a bit more smoothly in both cases. In an uncommonly interesting program note, director Sharon Daniels (who drops a line that will resonate well with many opera lovers: "believing as I do that the composer is the first stage director") discusses second and third thoughts about how to direct and design this opera based on what seemed like conflicting signals from that very composer. At first she found grinding rather than shifting gears, and grand tragic arias that simultaneously poked fun at the over-the-top suffering of the character involved — a device to be found in later Mozart as well. Her eventual solution was to place the action in the Edwardian period, in the artifice of highly colored art nouveau decor and graceful very masculine and very feminine costumes.
Under Hoose's lively presentation of what Smith had prepared, ensemble was strong and the young cast sang strongly, particularly Jessica Tarnish as heroine Sandrina and Darren Anderson as the limpid, bright-voiced tenor hero Count Belfiore. But the cast as a whole deserves mention: petite, accomplished coloratura Stephanie Chigas en travestie as Ramiro, Michael Callas, who understood perfectly that Nardo was to be father to both Leporello and Figaro, Joyce Ting's witty minx of a serpetta, Courtenay Symonds, scoring in both comedy and voice as Arminda, and Oshin Gregorian as the flustered, frustrated Podesta.
Ms. Daniels arrived at a particular series of decisions on the proper mix of low comedy, pathos and high sentiment. That her decisions might or might not have been mine in any particular instance is irrelevant. The production emerged a unified whole. An indication that she had achieved her goal was that intermission conversation centered around plot points and the sincerity of a particular character's emotions at a particular moment in the story.