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With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past
Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of
the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to
say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for
the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.
Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the
Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement
violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his
ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.
It’s not easy for critics to hit the right note when they write about musical collaborations between students and professionals. We have to allow for inevitable lack of polish and inexperience while maintaining an overall high standard of judgment.
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.
In an operatic world crowded with sure-fire bread and butter repertoire, Opera San Jose has boldly chosen to lavish a new production on a dark horse, Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.
Evolving in Mahler’s Third: Dudamel and L.A. Philharmonic’s impressive adaption to the Concertgebouw
‘And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’ John Donne’s metaphysical meditation might have made a
fitting sub-title for Richard Jones’s new production of Musorgky’s Boris Godunov at the Royal Opera House — the first
performance in the house of the original 1869 score.
It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered
and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has
happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by
Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
In a world opera schedule packed with safe bread-and-butter warhorses, Hawaii Opera Theatre gambled on a Britten rarity and came up smelling as sweet as a tuberose lei.
Notable first performance of Bellini's opera by ENO, with a striking assumption of the title role from the young American soprano
Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company
co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on
Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War
I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most
appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques
Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.
Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.
When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés
out of our misery?
Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.
24 Oct 2005
Victorien Sardou — A Tale of Two Operas
Victorien Sardou (1831-1908) was a popular French dramatist during the later half of the 19th Century. He, along with Eugène Scribe, combined melodrama and realism to a produce a more serious form of drama that emphasized careful plot construction.
This style is generally referred to as “well-made plays.” He was seated at the Academy in 1878. His initial efforts were poorly received. Through the connections of his wife, Pauline Virginie Dejazet began to perform his plays that enabled her to perform youthful roles even at the age of 65. Sardou then began writing plays for Sarah Bernhardt, which include Fédora (1882) and La Tosca (1887). Sardou’s close connection with Bernhardt has been criticized:
[T]he career of one of the very best endowed theatrical composers of the nineteenth century, the late Victorien Sardou, has been molded and restricted for all time by the talents of a single star performer, Mme. Sarah Bernhardt. Under the influence of Eugene Scribe, Sardou began his career at the Theatre Francais with a wide range of well-made plays, varying in scope from the social satire of Nos Intimes and the farcical intrigue of Les Pattes de Mouche (known to us in English as The Scrap of Paper) to the tremendous historic panorama of Patrie. When Sarah Bernhardt left the Comedie Francaise, Sardou followed in her footsteps, and afterwards devoted most of his energy to preparing a series of melodramas to serve successively as vehicles for her. Now, Sarah Bernhardt is an actress of marked abilities, and limitations likewise marked. In sheer perfection of technique she surpasses all performers of her time. She is the acme of histrionic dexterity; all that she does upon the stage is, in sheer effectiveness, superb. But in her work she has no soul; she lacks the sensitive sweet lure of Duse, the serene and starlit poetry of Modjeska. Three things she does supremely well. She can be seductive, with a cooing voice; she can be vindictive, with a cawing voice; and, voiceless, she can die. Hence the formula of Sardou's melodramas.
His heroines are almost always Sarah Bernhardts,-luring, tremendous, doomed to die. Fedora, Gismonda, La Tosca, Zoraya, are but a single woman who transmigrates from play to play. We find her in different countries and in different times; but she always lures and fascinates a man, storms against insuperable circumstance, coos and caws, and in the outcome dies. One of Sardou's latest efforts, La Sorciere, presents the dry bones of the formula without the flesh and blood of life. Zoraya appears first shimmering in moonlight upon the hills of Spain,-dovelike in voice, serpentining in seductiveness. Next, she is allowed to hypnotise the audience while she is hypnotising the daughter of the governor. She is loved and she is lost. She curses the high tribunal of the Inquisition,-a dove no longer now. And she dies upon cathedral steps, to organ music. The Sorceress is but a lifeless piece of mechanism; and when it was performed in English by Mrs. Patrick Campbell, it failed to lure or to thrill. But Sarah Bernhardt, because as an actress she is Zoraya, contrived to lift it into life. Justly we may say that, in a certain sense, this is Sarah Bernhardt's drama instead of Victorien Sardou's. With her, it is a play; without her, it is nothing but a formula. The young author of Patrie promised better things than this. Had he chosen, he might have climbed to nobler heights. But he chose instead to write, year after year, a vehicle for the Muse of Melodrama, and sold his laurel crown for gate-receipts.
[Clayton Hamilton, The Theory of the Theatre and Other Principles of Dramatic Criticism
, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1910]
His later plays tended to have an historical setting. La Tosca, for example, takes place in Rome while the Battle of Marengo (14 June 1800) is being fought in the Piedmont between Napoleon and the Austrians.
Sardou’s plays were highly sought after as librettos for operas. The two operas chosen here are Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca and Umberto Giordano’s Fedora. They have been chosen not merely to illustrate how two composers approached Sardou’s well-made plays, but to show how one succeeds masterfully while the other achieves at best mixed results.