Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
29 Apr 2005
Suor Angelica and Pagliacci at Liège
Not the usual twins but a rather original though no less appealing combination. Both operas were cast from strength and far bigger houses would have been proud of it. Hasmik Papian with her splendid spinto voice was a moving if less than usually placid Angelica. She once more became a princess during the confrontation with her aunt. She poured out wonderful tone during her aria ending it however with the soft ravishing high A the score demands. I know Puccini cut it himself though after some protest but one of these days I’d love to hear Angelica’s second big aria after the intermezzo though it was not to be this time. A lot of interest centred upon Fiorenza Cossotto who at the day of the première celebrated her 70th birthday. Well, you cannot erase 50 years of stage experience and she brought to Zia Principessa all the necessary haughtiness and at one small moment even seemed to relent ( nice touch) but then regained her composure. And the voice? In the low register there are still some sounds reminding me of the impetuous Amneris I first saw in 1969. But higher on there is nothing that resembles that bright silvery sound of yore. Decibels there are and a wobble as well. Still, she was not a travesty as was Rita Gorr a few years back in Antwerp who grunted the role. All other roles were sung convincingly.
Hasmik Papian - Suor Angelica et Fiorenza Cossotto - La Zia Principessa (Photo: Opéra Royal de Wallonie)
Opéra Royal de Wallonie (Liège)
Suor Angelica: Hasmik Papian (Angelica), Fiorenza Cossotto (Zia Principessa), Laura Balidemaj (Badessa), Christine Solhosse (Zelatrice), Cécile Galois (Maestra delle Novizie), Nicole Fournié (Genovieffa), Chantal Glaude (Osmina), Christine Remacle (Dolcina), Magali Mayenne (Infirmiera)
Pagliacci: Vladimir Galouzine (Canio), Alketa Cela (Nedda), Seng Hyoun Ko (Tonio), George Petean (Silvio), Florian Laconi (Beppe)
Orchestre, Choeurs de l'Opéra de Wallonie
Conductor: Giuliano Carella
Not the usual twins but a rather original though no less appealing combination. Both operas were cast from strength and far bigger houses would have been proud of it. Hasmik Papian with her splendid spinto voice was a moving if less than usually placid Angelica. She once more became a princess during the confrontation with her aunt. She poured out wonderful tone during her aria ending it however with the soft ravishing high A the score demands. I know Puccini cut it himself though after some protest but one of these days I'd love to hear Angelica's second big aria after the intermezzo though it was not to be this time. A lot of interest centred upon Fiorenza Cossotto who at the day of the première celebrated her 70th birthday. Well, you cannot erase 50 years of stage experience and she brought to Zia Principessa all the necessary haughtiness and at one small moment even seemed to relent (nice touch) but then regained her composure. And the voice? In the low register there are still some sounds reminding me of the impetuous Amneris I first saw in 1969. But higher on there is nothing that resembles that bright silvery sound of yore. Decibels there are and a wobble as well. Still, she was not a travesty as was Rita Gorr a few years back in Antwerp who grunted the role. All other roles were sung convincingly.
Director Claire Servais had some good ideas. She put everything behind bars (a reality in this kind of cloister) and showed us the nuns' cells stapled upon each other. The big confrontation scene with Angelica behind and Zia Principessa before bars worked extremely well, made even more poignant by the brief appearance outside the cloister of Angelica's living son and the Principessa's hesitation before making up the story of his death At the end of the opera Servais however mixed up Angelica and Cio Cio San. A nun with Angelica's knowledge of poisonous plants wouldn't think of committing suicide with a blunt knife. Servais succeeded in avoiding the sentimentality of the original ending by a simple device: Angelica may think she sees the Madonna and gets her pardon but for the spectator there is only the loneliness of a painful death to watch.
General Manager Jean-Louis Grinda himself directed Pagliacci. I cannot say I liked the idea of turning every villager into a clown until the end of the opera when everybody takes off his or her mask. We've seen those clowns in the Antwerp Hänsel und Gretel and last year's Tannhäuser at De Munt used exactly the same device. On the other hand I liked his concept very much in that Canio enters and propagates the evening's entertainment in his clown's outfit while gradually returning to his normal clothes in which he sings "No, Pagliacco non son". Vladimir Galouzine succeeded into raising the house to a white hot temperature. Some thirteen years ago he made his début here with a clear ringing Renato des Grieux (with the late Yoko Watanabe). The voice has changed into a burnished brown sound with an enormous amount of volume. Sometimes he loses focus and there is no ring any more on the highest notes. He even breathed between "Ridi" and "Pagliacco" in "Vesti la giubba". But he doesn't try sobbing or improving on the score with "infamia, infamia" like Gigli used to do. The torrent of sound, the honesty of acting is simply overwhelming so that one forgets the less pristine sounds. This is probably his best role for the moment, better suited to the voice than Kalaf or Otello.
Another big voiced singer is baritone Seng Hyoun Ko. With Galouzine one forgets his somewhat special histrionics while with Ko one is too much reminded of his chopping up the line, of making noise for noise's effect. He can sing a piano but even then (and much in the tradition of Korean singers) one feels he is just imitating some other singer's records. I would wager quite a lot on Ko studying his role with Gobbi's CD's near him. Still there is no denying the force of nature his voice is. I admit that up to now I didn't know the name of Alketa Cela (though she has sung in Brussels) and so I was in for quite a surprise. The soprano has a big lirico, slightly but sexy husky in the middle voice, very agreeably coloured in the best Mediterranean way. Only at the top she now and then flattens the sound too much. The lady is a beauty too and knows how to impress on a scene. A real find and I hope she will soon be back in the country. Young Romanian baritone George Petean will go far too. He has some decibels less than Ko but the voice is smooth, well rounded and with a brilliant top and he outclasses the Korean in style and musicality. I'd like to hear him in one of his Verdi roles. Our luck still held as Florian Laconi was a Beppe of one's dreams and it was immediately clear that he won't sing long as a comprimario. Indeed he has already sung Faust.
Giuliano Carella is somewhat better known for his many recordings of belcanto operas but he proved himself to be a formidable veristo too, whipping up his orchestra into passion without drowning his singers (difficult of course with Galouzin and Papian). A great evening.