Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
15 Jun 2005
Il Barbiere di “Siviglia” in Antwerp
Very attentive readers will have noticed I put “Siviglia” in quotation marks as it refers in this production to the name of an Italian hairdresser’s salon and not to the Spanish city. Director Joosten who always keeps an attentive eye on surtitles and has them changed when the sung lines are contrary to the happenings on the scene nevertheless let a reference to the Spanish Prado slip in.
Scene from Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Photo: Annemie Augustijns)
Il Barbiere di "Siviglia"
|Anja van Engeland||Berta|
|Benoît de Leersnyder||Fiorello|
|2=. Symfonisch Orkest en Koor van de Vlaamse Opera|
|2=. Conducted by Ivan Törzs|
|2=. Directed by Guy Joosten|
|2=. Sets and Costumes by Johannes Leiacker|
|2=. De Vlaamse Opera - Antwerp|
Very attentive readers will have noticed I put "Siviglia" in quotation marks as it refers in this production to the name of an Italian hairdresser's salon and not to the Spanish city. Director Joosten who always keeps an attentive eye on surtitles and has them changed when the sung lines are contrary to the happenings on the scene nevertheless let a reference to the Spanish Prado slip in.
Anyway that was the only reference to a traditional Barbiere as Rossini's opera was fully updated to somewhere in the south of Italy. We are at the same time in a modern hairdresser's salon but one so open that the view of the windows of the apartments above unobstructed. The important thing is that the set worked well and helped to make the necessary comic points.
As is usual with Joosten he changed traditional perceptions of the protagonists. Figaro was not only the "factotum della citta" but a nice charming gay hairdresser who tries to seduce all and any male performer that comes within a distance of a yard (though I clearly remember a very macho Figaro in Joosten's Nozze di Figaro).
Rosina is a leggy young sexy lady not above using her many charms to get her man though that's where Joosten fails for the first time. Every time the lady appears she wears another wonderful often extravagantly coloured thick wig. At first the gimmick gets some tittering but by the sixth or seventh wig the hair is still as thick but the joke is definitely wearing thin. Joosten fails too (or hasn't sought for a solution) with Rosina's "billet doux" tricks. The letter jokes in 'Dunque io son' probably worked in Rossini's days but are stale nowadays. Joosten didn't have the courage of his convictions, let the lady write little notes instead of trying to work something out and let her SMS (Short Message Service) in this 2005 action play.
During the duet Figaro was extremely busy with some client who hid behind a newspaper. When he dropped the paper and left the salon, the audience discovered that one of Flanders' most popular entertainers had put in a cameo performance for a few seconds. The idea got a hearty and deserved laugh but the laugh would have been as big if the man had revealed himself after, instead of right in the middle of, the duet and the musical line wouldn't have been disrupted.
Almaviva corresponded more or less to the image of the Italian lover though Joosten had a small surprise. A pre-recorded "Se il mio nome" with a calypso rhythm and orchestra was played on a CD-machine.
The emphasis in Don Basilio was on 'Don' (as in Don Corleone) and he was changed into a machine gun handling gangster. Movie references are now a fixture of this director. In his Amsterdam treatment of Elisir d'Amore, Bryn Terfel was dressed and behaved as a mixture of Elvis Presley and Liberace. This time Ambrogio's (Bartolo's servant) main task was exactly repeating Gene Kelly's choreography (umbrella included and not in the libretto) around a lantern post (in the libretto) during the storm music. Don Bartolo was the only one behaving more or less in the traditional way, though he too was mainly busy shaving people instead of treating them.
The general impression was one of overdirecting, of too many jokes, of too clever ideas not always consistently worked out. One example: Seemingly drunken, Almaviva is not dressed as an Italian army officer but just as another of the bunch of carabinieri who is always entering and leaving the salon.
Still, the sum of this production is far more than the many small irritations. It is modern, respects the spirit of the work, gives sense and drive to the old warhorse. I hope the Antwerp opera will offer us a reprise in a few years when that great saviour of opera, 'plain routine', will eject a few of the extravagancies. But even now, I admit I wouldn't want to watch a traditional Barbiere in the seasons ahead; and that's maybe the highest praise I can give Guy Joosten (who will direct the new Roméo at the Met).
Musically there were a few problems. Conductor Michel Tilkin left at the last moment as things didn't work out well with his orchestra. Anyway that's the official reason. Rumour has it that he simply left in disgust at Joosten's treatment (that Calypso serenade?). So the Antwerp music director Ivan Törzs had to jump in.
Now Italian belcanto is not exactly Mr. Törzs speciality but the orchestra is so fine that the Rossinian crescendi didn't suffer and that harmony reigned between pit and scene (I attended the second performance). There were a few times when Törzs lingered too long on recitatives and he almost brought the music at a dead end in "Freddo ed immobile" but he still made the best of a difficult situation and singers didn't need to keep their eyes glued on the conductor.
Originally Gary Magee should have sung Figaro but already at the beginning of the season it was clear that Walloon baritone Lionel Lhote would take over. The baritone has a clear, big booming voice which is improving all the time. His is probably the greatest talent in the country and I would dearly love to hear him in a big Verdi role. A pity we have to suffer once more the inevitable Caproni or Vanaud next season in all the theatres over here when there is such a fine voice and an exuberant actor available.
Mezzo Stephanie Houtzeel has a ripe fruity mezzo that becomes rather shrill above the staff; and her coloratura are not exactly pure either. I fear the lady was somewhat more chosen for her fine looks, long legs and fearless acting than for Rossinian musicality. Tenor Iain Paton has the right voice colour but his voice too is somewhat unwieldy and he had his difficulties too with the intricacies of the score. Already in 1964 Ugo Benelli proved (too soon for the times) that "Cessa di piu resistere" is a necessary but acrobatic show piece for the tenor but Juan Diego Florez has now made it so popular that it is no longer acceptable to cut it as happened here (though it would probably have exposed Paton's lack of coloratura in a cruel way). This was rather conspicuous as Berta's almost unknown aria was restored, though sung rather sharp by Anja van Engeland. Apart from Lhote, the best singing came from the wonderful black resounding bass voice of Alexander Vinogradov. Urban Malmberg was a fine Bartolo.
Though Joosten may ask a lot of movement and antics from his singers, he is cleverly enough not to demand they should sing with their back to the audiences or swinging on a rope etc. They could easily project their voices in the audience.