Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Budapest Festival Orchestra: a scintillating Bluebeard

Ravi Shankar’s posthumous opera Sukanya drew a full house to the Royal Festival Hall last Friday but the arrival of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their founder Iván Fischer seemed to have less appeal to Londoners - which was disappointing as the absolute commitment of Fischer and his musicians to the Hungarian programme that they presented was equalled in intensity by the blazing richness of the BFO’s playing.

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Rolando Villazón and Marie-Ange Todorovitch
18 Jan 2006

A NICE COUP: VILLAZÓN in his first “WERTHER”

The French city of Nice has this past week been enjoying some wonderful weather and the aptly-named Cote d’Azur has truly lived up to its name.

This was fortunate, as its opera house, built around 1828 in a style reminiscent of a scaled-down Opéra Garnier, has been playing host to many first-time international visitors who have been lured by the mouth-watering prospect of hearing Rolando Villazón, hot young tenor of the moment, in his first “Werther”.

Villazón has already gained some outstanding reviews and praise from the sternest critics around the world for his performances in such works as Rigoletto, Romeo et Juliette, La Traviata and les Contes d’Hoffmann. He is already spoken of as “the next Domingo” — understandable if maybe a mite premature as this stage of his career. He is only 33, and his recent meteoric rise appears to have been sensibly planned and considered. He does indeed relate closely to Domingo, his “artistic father” (his words) who, though he never actually coaches him acts as mentor and friend to the young singer.

Audience reaction in Nice has been ecstatic and loudly vocal — perhaps too much so at the performance this writer attended when one particularly partisan group of Villazón fans in the first balcony had to be remonstrated with by a stern “Respectez la musique!” from another part of the theatre. One imagines Rolando Villazón himself was equally unimpressed. The Nice Opéra audience was obviously deeply impressed and delighted to be hearing this singer, and I wondered how such an elegant and enterprising, but essentially provincial house (with budgets to match) had managed to achieve such a coup. The answer lies in a meeting between Villazón and the producer Paul-Emile Fourny back in 2001 at the Antibes Festival. Fourny happened to remark that he wanted to stage “Werther” as soon as possible in Nice; Villazón replied that he very much wanted to add this role to his repertoire and a deal was made; luckily, I am informed, at a fee that would no longer buy this artist’s time! Of course, the advantage for Villazón is that he has been able to try out an important new role in a smaller house before submitting himself to critical review on the larger stages of the world.

Both the role and this simple but satisfying production suit Villazón perfectly, playing to his strengths and offering him ample scope to display his musical and histrionic abilities. The young Mexican certainly has the ‘physique du role’ — slim, athletic, and an elegant mover on stage, he transmits the kind of emotional vulnerability essential for this tortured young lover who is cruelly denied his dream. Perhaps it is the combination of ringing clarity and the ability to offer every nuance of expression that impressed most. The voice has a thrilling, easy top, and his delicacy and refinement in the role’s many quieter, reflective moments were matched by a most intelligent response to the words. Every line was delivered with complete understanding of, and immersion in, the character. Werther will surely become a most important role for Villazón and with good reason.

Of the other singers, the mezzo Marie-Ange Todorovitch as Charlotte was the most impressive. She has a handsome stage presence and is a sympathetic actress — and once under full control her big, dark voice brought real intensity and power to the emotionally fraught scene in Act 3 where she fully deserved the warm ovations after the “Air des Lettres” and “Air des Larmes”. She also rose magnificently to the demands of the intensely dramatic final scene and was, along with her illustrious partner, intensely moving. Andre Cognet was a forthright Albert and Sophie was sung with quintessential French spirit by Valérie Condoluci. Of the remainder, Jean-Luc Ballestra offered a promising baritone voice and stage presence and Michel Trempont brought his maturity and rich tones to a satisfying portrayal of the Le Bailli.

The conductor was the well-regarded Patrick Fournillier who was obviously firmly in control of the orchestra and in absolute sympathy with his singers. His shaping of the Entr’acte between Acts Three and Four was particularly dramatic and appealing. The choir of children was perfectly schooled and musically correct, yet also natural — not easy to achieve. The production, sets and lighting were of a suitably elegant nature, if not presenting the audience with any great visual challenges or delights. The final scene was slightly reduced in impact by an upstage procession of the children and minor characters — an interesting device but essentially misconceived in this writer’s opinion as all concentration should surely be on the dying lovers, with the outside world kept only to an aural presence.

However, minor distractions apart, this was a most exciting and successful production of Massenet’s great work and one in which the visiting star, supporting singers and musicians rose admirably to the occasion. Nice Opéra are to be congratulated — let us hope we see more such enterprising events presented here.

© Sue Loder 2006

Click here to view a larger image.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):