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Billy Budd, portrayed by handsome lyric tenor Liam Bonner, is a charismatic embodiment of innocence.
This was in almost every respect an excellent performance — which therefore exacerbates the problem lying at the heart, or whatever it is that lies in its place, of the work itself.
A handsome new production, beautifully staged in Marseille’s fine old opera house cried out for a cast to make the opera bel canto.
Kasper Holten’s new production of Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera
House risks laying the house’s Director of Opera open to charges of
antiquated mores and misogyny: for he seems to suggest that the women are just
as bad, if not worse, than their seducer — and that a soulful man who seeks
genuine love is likely to find his ‘ideal beloved’ forever out of reach.
Francesco Bartolomeo Conti (1681-1732) isn’t a name that trips off opera-goers’ tongues; similarly neglected is Conti’s last opera L’Issipile, despite the fact that composer (who was also a theorbo player at the Viennese Imperial Court) was the first of several opera composers to set Metastasio’s libretto.
Tenor or baritone? Everyone will have their own individual preference about the voice type best suited to Schubert’s Winterreise — and about the manner in which the songs should be performed (narrated, or acted?).
Harry Christophers and The Sixteen brought Handel's final oratorio, Jephtha, to the Barbican (14 January 2014) preparatory to recording the work.
Forget Shakespeare, this was distinctly an Otello without the ‘h’. It was Italian melodramma to its core, the collaboration of its metteur en scène Davide Livermore, wunderkind conductor Andrea Battistoni and its Desdemona, Maria Agresto.
Maybe there can be no bigger feat than making it through Les Contes d’Hoffmann in the Laurent Pelly version without a hitch or two.
Premiered in Paris in 1872, Jacques Offenbach’s Fantasio received
just ten performances before the opera was withdrawn and its composer found himself on the receiving end of bitter attacks and criticism.
In its ongoing celebration of Verdi’s centennial year, the Los Angeles Opera offered a new production of Falstaff, the composer’s last and most brilliant opera — brilliant in every scintillating, sparkling sense of the word.
Acis and Galatea was one of Handel’s most popular works, frequently revived in his life time and beyond.
It’s been renamed “The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess,” it hails itself as “The American Musical” and further qualifies itself as “The Porgy and Bess for the Twenty-First Century.”
With an absorbing production of Peter Grimes and a freshly spontaneous La bohème, Canadian Opera Company has set the bar very high indeed for its current season.
At this year’s Wexford Festival — the 62nd operatic gathering in this small south-eastern Irish town - the trio of operas on show present many a wretched battle between duty and desire.
Even before it opened, Royal Opera’s Les vêpres siciliennes was the must-see production of the season.
Das Liebesverbot: Grosse komische Oper in two acts.
The company’s new production of the Tchaikovsky masterpiece is cramped and
cheap, leaving the listener longing for a return of the 1997 version
A rambunctious ensemble on the stage and in the pit. A star conductor. Falstaff showed its stuff as one of the repertory’s greatest masterpieces.
Once again, one can only applaud English Touring Opera’s sense of
adventure — and commitment. Its autumn season comprises three Venetian
operas: L’incoronazione di Poppea, Giasone, and
Agrippina, all in translation.
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.