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On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
07 Aug 2005
Renata Tebaldi: A Portrait
For those without videos or DVD's by the Italian soprano, this is a must. For all the others, better to read attentively the sleeve notes as there is nothing new to be found on these two DVD's. The Concerto Italiano can be purchased separately with the same firm. The Bell Telephone Hour selections are still available on the several Great Stars of Opera-DVD's brought out by VAI or on the video exclusively devoted to the soprano. And the selections from Tosca (Stuttgart 1961) are culled from a complete performance, also put on DVD by VAI and somewhat misleadingly called "The only available video of Renata Tebaldi in her signature role" on the firm's web; for convenience's sake forgetting the words "at this moment" as VAI once published another complete Tosca (with Poggi, Guelfi and the late soprano's lover at the time, conductor Arturo Basile).
That being said let's concentrate on what is offered here. It is abundantly clear that the very great Tebaldi is to be found in the first items on the first DVD. There the voice still has the unimpaired velvet that would somewhat disappear after her first vocal crisis in February 1963 to be supplanted with a more metallic though still clearly recognizable Tebaldian sound. The pieces from La Boheme with Bjoerling are well-known and VAI is so honest to note that the sound is a synched audio recording made in the studio during the telecast to suit the kinescope image. This is the correct procedure as picture recording was rather primitive in the fifties and often directly recorded sound (which could be more easily preserved) and images (which got blurred or sometimes even got lost for a second) don't quite match if one doesn't take this road. Luckily the synching is done expertly and once more one is struck how natural an actress Tebaldi is; surely when compared with Bjoerling's stiff attitude.
One of the surprises of the lively debates on several opera forums after she died was the remarkable opinion of many veterans who saw both ladies that she was a more believable actress than Callas who seemed to many still to be stuck in the grand guignol-style of the thirties. We don't have Callas as Cio-Cio-San but it's hardly believable she could improve on Tebaldi's magnificent interpretation of the two arias (and in full colour as well. As a bonus you get these scenes somewhat longer in black and white as well but this hardly deserves the "first release" cry). I'm wondering if the full colour "Si, mi chiamano Mimi" is still somewhere in the archives. The sound track for that item (I often saw on Flemish Public TV) is derived from her second complete Boheme as was clear from the audible "Si" by Carlo Bergonzi between the two parts of the aria. A picture of that video found its way to the cover of the London-(not the Decca) issue of the opera on LP.
The telecast of 1961 is less to recommend. The picture is somewhat murky and the soprano has to wear some things which could make an impression on the Family Circle at the Met but are very much overdressed, even ugly in close-up. The excerpts from her Stuttgart Tosca are more worthwhile, though it is not for the strangled sounds of tenor Eugene Tobin or the dry voice of George London. I remember well the excitement almost 45 years ago when the opera (followed or preceded by an Otello with the horrible Hans Beier) was broadcast by Eurovision in Western Europe. Most countries had only one channel (the big ones had two) and commercial television didn't exist. At that time opera singers were still household names and the fact that Tebaldi would sing directly was front page news. She is in good voice though somewhat husbanding her means at the start and one now notices how she cuts short her top notes.
The Concerto Italiano was recorded by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1965; so just in time before the decline from 1968 onwards when her top register became completely unhinged and she refused any engagement in a complete opera performance outside the US as there alone she was sure the fans would turn in a deaf ear to her vocal shortcomings. In this broadcast she is at her best in Rossini's Regata Veneziani which she sings (and acts) with love and a dose of humour and which moreover poses no vocal hurdles as she must go no higher than high A. The long Tosca selection of the second act is less successful: not as to singing per se though the voice is steelier than in her great years but she is far more convincing, far more natural in her two complete theatre Tosca's. The cameras follow her closely and she is clearly overacting, always doing things, throwing looks, moving hands one second longer than is necessary. I fear the TV director is the culprit as there were no subtitles at that time and there was so much fear the audiences wouldn't "capture" the story; but four decades later it almost looks like a parody on Tosca. This time the soprano is more than ably partnered by the young Louis Quilico and he too has to squirm in overdrive.