Recently in Redbox
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
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.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Writing in a programme article to accompany this first revival of her 2010 production of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, director Penny Woolcock remarks upon the opera’s ‘plethora of beautiful arias, duets, choral and orchestral music
and catchy tunes that spawn earworms’.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
Siberian born baritone, Dmitri Hvorostovsky returned to Dorothy Chandler Hall on May 22nd with a unique all Russian song recital which included songs composed to Pushkin’s poetry and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti.
As Athanaël, Placido Domingo created a realistic monk who was ostensibly tempted to disregard his vows. The audience knew that had the courtesan Thaïs lived longer, he would have thrown his immortal soul into the wind.
If it is supposed to bring bad luck to even whisper the name of the “Scottish Play” out loud, someone must have screamed Macbeth deafeningly before the performance at Saarbrücken’s State Opera House.
Professional opera returns to the Las Vegas Valley June 6th and 8th with performances of one of the best-known comic operas of all time, Gioachino Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia.
Poulenc’s racy little 1947 confection took stage within Kurt Weill’s peculiar little 1927 singspiel Mahagonny all framed within the current California drought and doomsday predictions of impending global aridity.
Librettist Leonard Foglia based his elegant and literate text on the late Horton Foote’s play, A Coffin in Egypt, and the opera has the original play’s dramatic punch.
As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.
Never thought I’d say it but......
I met with the embattled artistic director of the Opéra et Orchestre National de Montepellier not to talk about his battles. I simply wanted to know the man who had cast and staged a truly extraordinary Mozart/DaPonte trilogy.
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.
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.