Recently in Performances
It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
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.
23 Aug 2005
CHRISTINE BREWER — The ‘Anti-Fleming’
As everyone knows, the art of the song recital is in decline. When you and I were young Maggie, Columbia Concerts and Community Concerts regularly sent vocal and other musical artists all around America providing a never fading rainbow of wonderful music, as great classical music performers educated and thrilled us with their art. For example, As a youth I once heard Leonard Warren give a recital in a high school auditorium in Webster Groves, Missouri, price of admission $5. I still have the ticket stub - and the memories. Kathleen Ferrier, Robert Casadesus Jennie Tourel and Guiomar Novaes performed in my town when I was a kid.
Now the rainbow has faded and only a few festivals and occasional venues in the largest cities offer such vocal and instrumental recitals. Happily, one of these is the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, which presented the elegant soprano Christine Brewer in a concert of American art songs August 9, in the 400-seat St Francis Auditorium, part of the Museum of New Mexico in downtown Santa Fe. La Brewer sang to an audience of musical cognoscenti, alas in a half-filled hall. Her co-equal at the piano was Craig Rutenberg, and together they gave a 90-minute program that was the stuff of legend it was so beautifully achieved. In her unaffected naturalness as a singer, it seems apt to call Brewer 'the anti-Fleming.' Both sopranos are gifted artists, but Brewer's artistic integrity and naturalness make her an ideal recitalist compared to the over-contrivance and mannerisms of a Fleming. Bottom line: Brewer is there for the music, nothing else gets in the way.
As is becoming known, Brewer's large, wide-ranging soprano voice is one of the most beautiful before the public today. She is singing Isolde in Edinburgh as I write this, and will be San Francisco's Isolde next season, and no doubt will be heard in other Wagnerian roles over years to come. One of my favorite comments read recently about Brewer is, "she may be in her late 40s, but the voice sounds 35!" This is true; her tone is rich and steady; she is the mistress of color and nuance; her musical instincts are true and dramatically valid; her diction is clear (as St Louis heard in June with her Queen Elizabeth in Britten's Gloriana), and her command of dynamic shading is breathtaking. She has everything that Helen Traubel had, plus the three top soprano notes, and everything Eileen Farrell had plus the ability to sing a haunting piano and spinning pianissimo tone. If this sounds like I am overstating things, go hear for yourself.
The program of art songs, as they used to be called, was well chosen and smartly paced. Works of John Carter and Richard Hundley, along with an operatic sounding mini-cycle by J. C. Menotti dominated the first half. This music seemed not well known to the audience, which received it warmly. Better known were songs of Charles Ives and Harold Arlen, and a set of four songs regularly sung by Kirsten Flagstad on her American recital tours, by Sam Barber, Edwin McArthur, Walter Kramer and Mildred Lund Tyson. Kramer's was an impressionistic song "Now Like a Lantern," from 1919 based on a James Joyce poem; it was fascinating. For her first encore, the intrepid soprano took on the music critics with a song by Celius Dougherty, "Review" that parodied a critique of a vocal recital. This derring-do paid off with its gentle but pointed chiding of cliched review writing; the audience was much amused by the singer's comic abilities. Brewer ended with a surprise, "If I Could Tell You," the long-forgotten theme song of The Voice of Firestone, a song that once swept America every week on radio and television, written by none other than Idabelle Smith Firestone, wife of rubber magnate. The moment Craig Rutenberg played the intro much of the audience stirred in recognition of the sentimental ballad, and after the soprano's radiant performance gave her a standing ovation. Mrs. Firestone never had it so good. [The song can be heard on a number of VHS video tape issues of The Voice of Firestone, performed by a wide variety of singers, none finer than the youthful golden soprano of Eleanor Steber.]
J. A. Van Sant
Santa Fe, New Mexico