Recently in Performances
On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.
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.
06 Jul 2005
Mitridate, re di Ponto at Covent Garden
I can only dimly imagine how this singular and arresting production was first greeted at Covent Garden back in 1991. To this newcomer’s eye it is still both amazingly original in its design and concept, and yet also oddly frustrating. Essentially, director Graham Vick and designer Paul Brown and their team created a world, half historic, half fantastic, and one is left with a visual memory replete with starkly simple blood-red sets, kaleidoscopically coloured bizarrely shaped costumes and arrowed shafts of silver light, almost painfully reflecting from armoured breastplates. The time is about 65 BC and the world is one of an old Asia Minor versus a rising Rome, with an ageing King Mitridate fighting off both martial and sexual invasions of his territories. The heavy, stylised, costumes — extravagant to the point of caricature — are in themselves a theatrical tool that both enable and yet also constrain the drama of this young Mozart’s early work. If the singers were disadvantaged physically by what they were wearing, they didn’t seem to show it — although to be fair none had to move at anything more than a dignified pace. It was the supporting actors/dancers, Kabuki-like, who supplied the human activity — including a memorable “a capella” rhythmic foot-stamping war-interlude. All other dramatic extremes — be it fevered love declaration, jealous rage or elegant death — was conducted in an almost balletic minimalism of physical effort.
Bruce Ford (Photo: Clive Barda)
SKIRTS TO DIE FOR
Mozart's "Mitridate, re di Ponto" — July 9th, Covent Garden.
I can only dimly imagine how this singular and arresting production was first greeted at Covent Garden back in 1991. To this newcomer's eye it is still both amazingly original in its design and concept, and yet also oddly frustrating. Essentially, director Graham Vick and designer Paul Brown and their team created a world, half historic, half fantastic, and one is left with a visual memory replete with starkly simple blood-red sets, kaleidoscopically coloured bizarrely shaped costumes and arrowed shafts of silver light, almost painfully reflecting from armoured breastplates. The time is about 65 BC and the world is one of an old Asia Minor versus a rising Rome, with an ageing King Mitridate fighting off both martial and sexual invasions of his territories. The heavy, stylised, costumes — extravagant to the point of caricature — are in themselves a theatrical tool that both enable and yet also constrain the drama of this young Mozart's early work. If the singers were disadvantaged physically by what they were wearing, they didn't seem to show it — although to be fair none had to move at anything more than a dignified pace. It was the supporting actors/dancers, Kabuki-like, who supplied the human activity — including a memorable "a capella" rhythmic foot-stamping war-interlude. All other dramatic extremes — be it fevered love declaration, jealous rage or elegant death — was conducted in an almost balletic minimalism of physical effort.
This suited some singers more than others: it was obvious that Bruce Ford was completely at home in this role that he was reprising here in London. He made a fine and oddly sympathetic tyrant bringing both inner energy and elegant singing to his mainly fairly short arias. It's generally agreed now that Mozart, only 14 years of age, wrote this opera almost entirely to suit his individual singers — possibly even more so than was usually the case at the time - and his King Mitridate then was an ageing tenor called Signor d'Ettore who pestered the young composer continually through rehearsals with his amendments and adjustments. Consequently, Ford's arias tend to be high impact but short, with fewer "da capos", or rather, "dal segnos" compared to his colleagues'. The demanding octave leaps and scales were particularly impressive although I thought I detected a slight straining by the end of Act 3 in his highest register. Perhaps a case of one high C too many that night as it's a most demanding tessitura for any high tenor.
Contrary to some oft- reported opinion, Mozart didn't, unlike with d'Ettore, have a particularly hard time dealing with his high-flying castrato singers this time - despite having to deal with the problem of a late-arriving primo uomo. Some things never change.
The king's two warring sons, Sifare (the "good" guy) and Farnace, (the conniving "baddy" son) were sung here by the British soprano Sally Matthews and the American star countertenor David Daniels, the latter best known for his Handel but singing in, I believe, his first staged Mozart opera and making a rare appearance as a countertenor on the Royal Opera stage. Today's incumbent at Covent Garden, Mr. Pappano, is not noted for his appreciation of baroque opera, and so those of us who do love it are sadly disenfranchised under his current artistic control and countertenors of Mr. Daniels stature are much missed at this venue.
Both singers were almost unrecognisable under layers of white make-up, bald-caps, long flowing tresses and over-wrought powdered wigs of terrifying dimension. However, compared to other "Mitridate" performances I have heard, here there was a very clear and very distinct vocal difference in both timbre and colour that worked extremely effectively to delineate these two pivotal characters. Matthew's ringing agile soprano, with a slight and appropriate edge to it, gave Daniels the chance to bring out his warm and mellifluous alto to contrast in a most dramatic paradox. Matthews was consistently excellent throughout, and her Mozart experience certainly showed: her resigned "Lungi da te, mio bene" was a beautifully executed example and deserved its warm reception. Daniels seemed a little less than his normal fluent self in the early scenes (as a normally very agile actor-singer was he subconsciously constrained by the heavy martial costume?) and although always wonderfully musical and correct, his Act 1 "Venga pur, manacci e frema" could have displayed a little more bite I thought. However, he quickly warmed in both voice and persona until, in his final aria of regret and reconciliation with his dying father "Gia dagli occhi il velo e tolto" he let Covent Garden hear the full glory of his uniquely beautiful voice, and rightly received the ovation of the night in return.
A singer quite new to me, Aleksandra Kurzak, Polish born but working recently mainly in Germany, most successfully took on the testing role of leading lady, Aspasia, beloved by all three of the Royal house but in very different ways. She has a wonderful easy high top and truly sparkled in her Act 1 and Act 2 arias, although I felt she flagged a little in the final scenes. Her upcoming Queen of the Night at Chicago Lyric will be a much-anticipated event I would imagine. She seemed a natural actress and her dark expressive eyes and mobile face made up for a necessary lack of physical action, imprisoned as she was in huge pannier'd hooped skirts throughout. How the singers coped in the busy backstage area, not to mention in the canteen, is beyond me — talk about "exclusion zones will apply"!
Susan Gritton sang the sadly-wronged but dutifully faithful Ismene with her typical exquisite control and elegance, so obviously at home in the late baroque idiom. She, like Matthews, kept up an admirable consistency in both technique and control and although her arias couldn't make the same impact as some of the other singers' she was impeccable and musical throughout. The cast was completed by two promising young singers in the supporting roles of Arbate (Katie van Kooten) and Marzio (Colin Lee). Van Kooten had most to do, and did it well both vocally and dramatically. Lee had less to play with, and had to cope with an almost comic character of a late-arriving Roman general, but he has a clear strong voice and there will be more to come from him I hope in this sort of arena.
Richard Hickox was very much in command of the ROH orchestra who were, if not exactly inspired, certainly workmanlike and effective. Individual horn and oboe solos were neatly and idiomatically played but to be frank, my musical attention was scarcely aroused either way by the orchestra last night.
The almost-full Garden was warm in its final applause and each singer was kindly received, with the volume competition going, by a neck, to the American countertenor. I've heard that the ROH is selling remaining tickets at a discount — believe me this is a bargain and one that should be taken up whilst you can.
© Sue Loder 2005