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The Importance of Being Earnest , Gerald Barry’s fifth opera, was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Barbican, and was first performed in concert, Thomas Adès conducting the London premiere.
‘Beauty is the one form of spirituality that we experience through the senses.’ In Thomas Mann’s, Death in Venice, Plato’s axiom stirs the hopes of the aging, intellectually stale poet, Gustav von Aschenbach, that he may rekindle his creativity.
What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?
There is a sense in which it all began in London, Puccini having been seized in 1900 with the idea of an opera on this subject after watching David Belasco’s play here.
The tenor that the audience most wanted to hear, Plácido Domingo, opened the vocal program with “Junto al puente de la peña” (Next to the rock bridge) from La Canción del Olvido (The song of Oblivion) by José Serrano. He sounded rested and his voice soared majestically over the orchestra.
Tucked away somewhere in the San Francisco Opera warehouse was an old John Cox production of Così fan tutte from Monte Carlo. Well, not that old by current standards at San Francisco Opera.
Rossini's Maometto Secondo is a major coup for Garsington Opera at Wormsley, confirming its status as the leading specialist Rossini house in Britain. Maometto Secondo is a masterpiece, yet rarely performed because it's formidably difficult to sing. It's a saga with some of the most intense music Rossini ever wrote, expressing a drama so powerful that one can understand why early audiences needed "happy endings" to water down its impact
I suppose it was inevitable that, in this Britten Centenary year, the 66th Aldeburgh Festival would open with Peter Grimes.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Garsington Opera at Wormsley isn’t Mozart as you’d expect but it’s true to the spirit of Mozart who loved witty, madcap japes.
What a pity! On a glorious — well, by recent English standards — summer’s day, there can be few more beautiful English countryside settings
than Glyndebourne, with the added bonus, as alas much of the audience appears
to understand it, of an opera house attached.
Described by one critic as “cosmically gifted”, during her tragically short career, American mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson amazed and delighted audiences with the spellbinding beauty of her singing and the astonishing honesty of her performances.
Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity.
“I wrote it almost without noticing.” So Verdi declared when reminded of his eighth — and perhaps least frequently performed, opera, Alzira. One might say that, since he composed the work, no-one else has much noticed either.
Just when you thought the protagonist was Hoffmann! Who, rather what stole the show?
When is verismo verily veristic? Or what is a virginal girl dressed in communion white doing in the two murderous acts of the Los Angeles Opera’s current production of Tosca? And why does she sing the shepherd's song?
Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.
Wagner’s Lohengrin is not an unfamiliar visitor to the UK thanks,
in the main, to Elijah Moshinsky’s perennial production at Covent Garden.
Philip Glass's The Perfect American at the ENO in London is a visual treat, but the libretto is mind-numbingly anodyne.
Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a
record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation.
Few people who love opera in general and bel canto in particular have never heard the comment made by Lilli Lehmann, veteran of the inaugural Ring at Bayreuth in 1876, that singing all three of Wagner’s Brünnhildes—in Die Walküre, Siegfried, and
Götterdämmerung, respectively, all of which she sang to great acclaim—pales in comparison with singing the title rôle in Bellini’s Norma.
07 Aug 2005
The director of this production, Robert Herzl, composed an impressively thoughtful and serious essay for the DVD booklet. He considers the historical context of both the opera-story and the opera's premiere, taking into consideration Verdi's staging demands as well as the composer's willingness to compromise for the greater benefit of the production.
Eventually, this statement appears:
In my view, those who plan to put a work on the stage should first of all take a look at it from the viewpoint of the age in which it was written, in order to be able to present it in a manner that meets the aesthetic requirements of our own time.
Herzl goes on to explain how that principle guided the creation of this production at this "open-air event" (basically, a quarry) at the Festival St. Margarethen festival.
Viewers of the lamentable result will have to reconcile Herzl's essay with his show. Your reviewer cannot do so.
Working in conjunction with Manfred Waba (stage design and special effects), Herzl has devised an Aida with over-the-top stage action which frequently swamps the story and dwarfs the characters. Examples: At the end of her confrontation with Aida, Amneris hops into a chariot, grabs a shield and sword, and goes flying off the stage, like a Valkyrie. For the victory procession, Radames (probably a double, as the singer's face is masked) laboriously rides an elephant down a hillside onto the stage area. In the final scene, each of the three principals is placed in vertically aligned openings carved high into the quarry wall, with visible restraining ropes to keep the singers from accidentally falling forward and down to a doom more certain that suffocation in such a "tomb" (why Amneris is placed in the same location goes unexplained).
One might also wish for an explanation as to how a Nordic blonde youth ended up in Egypt for the requisite farce of a dance sequence. And what would Verdi have thought of the lovingly filmed fireworks show at intermission? Perhaps best not to know.
Even when such outlandish malarkey isn't provoking either groans or guffaws (or both), Herzl has failed to get satisfactory performances from his singers, with the Aida of Eszter Sumegi being a notable exception. Cornelia Helfricht's Amneris needs a good slap, as she struts arrogantly round the stage, frequently displaying a tendency to throws cups and articles of clothing to the ground in a hissy fit. The voice is no fresher than her matronly appearance would suggest.
As for Kostadin Andreev's Radames, here is a plump, not especially masculine Egyptian war hero given to pouting and "dramatic" arm waving. Andreev doesn't have a satisfactory voice to compensate for his unfortunate acting, with most of the voice no more than a mezzo forte bleat, although he can reach the high notes.
Eszter Sumegi retains her dignity for most of the evening. The tight vibrato will evoke varying responses in listeners, but she has it in fair control, and most miraculously, manages to create and hold onto a believable character. The best scene of the evening takes place on a bare stage, as Amonasro (a decent Igor Morosow) confronts his daughter. Here Herzl shows what he can do when quarry-sized antics don't come first.
At the start and after intermission, the orchestra is glimpsed, but their exact location in relation to the stage remains a mystery, as the quarry setting allows for no pit. The sound throughout, unsurprisingly, comes from a generic source, and all the singers sport small microphones, tastefully taped to the center of their foreheads. The cast resembles an alien race of a Star Trek episode where the budget only allowed for a brow ridge to indicate their extra-terrestrial origins.
Almost any other Aida on DVD earns preference over this one, but if a viewer wants more of the intimacy of the opera captured, the Zefferelli-produced Busetto production deserves mention. For high-powered singing and stage excess, perhaps the La Scala production with a quarry-sized Pavarotti would fit the bill.
Just anything, anything, other than this Festival St. Margarethen production. The fireworks are nice though.
Los Angeles Harbor College