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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).



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.

William Fregosi

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