Recently in Reviews
“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.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
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.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
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.
03 Aug 2005
ROSSINI: Equivoco Stravagante
A DVD performance of an opera may deserve recommendation for a single memorable performance, or because a rare work has finally been recorded, or simply for nostalgia's sake. How many DVDs primarily offer the pleasures of a witty, imaginative staging, done on a minimal budget?
Francesco Esposito (director and designer) has created such a performance for this Kicco Music DVD. Some Rossiniites may have been praying for a chance to see the very early L'Equivoco Stravagante; one hopes to be forgiven for suggesting the clamor elsewhere could not have been so great. The libretto's one amusing feature, alluded to in the title, involves a scam meant to convince an older suitor that his intended bride is actually a male — a castrato. That plot point takes up most of the shorter act two; act one offers a more familiar set of scenes of young lovers struggling against the preemptory rights of age and money. In fact, that first act contains many eerie foreshadowing of Barbieri di Siviglia, including the tenor suitor's disguised entrance into the house of his beloved, aided by that home's servant.
The score cannot compete with that of the later masterpiece, but the music remains fresh and energetic throughout.
Esposito, working with a cast of no great distinction, manages to make the performance come to life, mainly through his clever design. No one would mistake this for a Metropolitan Opera production. Clearly the theater is small and the budget tight. Necessity has engendered much creativity, however. Three large frames, representing different rooms and/or locales, dominate the stage. Within each frame are carefully selected props that truly evoke the required milieu — the kitchen setting in act one, with realistic steam seeping through pot lids, serves as just one example.
Most importantly, Esposito has sought out ways to keep the stage picture as fresh as the energetic action. So that sometimes only one of the frames is used, or two at other times too. In some scenes the chorus appears behind a long row of smaller frames, making for am amusing row of portraits. Through a variety of approaches Esposito keeps the action moving and still manages to set the scene. It is very well done.
Viewers may differ on whether the occasional use of film deserves as much praise. The overture accompanies some mystifying antics involving a Rossini bust come to life. Later, as the buffoonish older suitor imagines with horror the supposed male he has been romancing, we see that character (mezzo-soprano Olga Voznessenskaia) with full beard, entertaining a bevy of nymphs. (this is before the "knife" — here scissors — but surely a bearded youth wouldn't have a voice worth preserving through such extreme measures!)
Similarly, including the audience seating area in the action smacks a bit of desperation for innovation. The general spirit of fun allows for a forgiving spirit, however.
If only that spirit could extend to the reaction to the singers. The older suitor, played by the youthful Luciano Miotto, is decent enough, both as actor and singer. The other two leads leave much to be desired. The tenor, Vito Martino, is the anti-Juan Diego Florez — having neither that great singer's charming appearance or sweet, fluid instrument. One can only imagine how much more rewarding this performance would be with a more effective tenor.
Voznessenskaia, the supposed castrato in love with the tenor and eager to escape the clutches of the "basso comico," possesses a dark, heavy contralto, which belies the supposed youthful femininity of the character in the first act. The second act masquerade might be more believable with such a voice. Suffice it to say, when this contralto and tenor get together, the resulting duet makes for some uncomfortable listening.
The DVD has one large demerit — the titles, at least in English, are even worse than usual. One may become accustomed to the typical DVD's odd spelling or wayward syntax. Here, however, the shoddy translation makes some of the story incomprehensible. Surely someone can do better than "A man without a head in his head" or "Life don't out of me!" On the other hand, sometimes the mangled English becomes quite poetic as the mezzo decries the "frenetic delirium of a pygmy thinker" and the basso worries that he is engaged to a cross-dresser with "a rock beneath the waves." Ouch!
A mixed bag, therefore. On a vocal level, this L'Equivoco Stravagante can't merit a recommendation. As an example of what a truly creative director can do under less than ideal circumstances, the DVD provides much to ponder, and even enjoy. And Francesco Esposito deserves credit for that.
Los Angeles Harbor College