Recently in Performances
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
05 Feb 2006
Body and Soul - A New “Poppea” in London
Monteverdi’s great work, “L’Incoronazione di Poppea” in a “semi-staged” format, has been chosen to showcase the talents of some exciting young singers and musicians in London recently as the first part of an ambitious project aimed at a more holistic approach to singing opera.
Known as “Il Corpo Cantante” or, less felicitous in English, “the Singing Body”, this project is the brainchild of Ashley Stafford who combines his experience as singer, teacher and osteopath to explore and give singers “a clearer insight into the specific ways in which the physical nature of singing relates to the whole body …. and to explore the links between our imaginative feel for music and the body’s way of transforming that desire …..into creative expressive reality.”
Today’s professional opera houses demand an ever-higher synthesis of both vocal and dramatic artistry - and young singers ignore this at their peril. So the project also aims to give young singers with ambitions as soloists a chance to experience and become better aware of the links between the physical, mental and emotional demands of singing at a professional level. This latter goal was much in evidence at the group’s “Poppea” where the demands of the small but elegant space at the Dutch Church, Austin Friars, London were obvious. The singers had to adapt to low stage just feet from the audience, with only a wooden pulpit structure behind them to be climbed to give occasional height when required by the drama. They also had to enter and exit down the sides in full view of the hall’s packed seats. Some of the singers coped better than others with this rather exposed situation. The excellent small ensemble of 8 musicians, led incisively and elegantly from the harpsichord by the experienced Marco Ozbic, musical director and fellow-creator of the project, were centred at the front of the main aisle - close enough to enable study of both their music and bowing technique by some patrons. Noticeable for his eloquent playing was cellist Simon Wallfisch, and first violin Emma Parker also impressed with a sympathetic ear for the idiosyncrasies of this music.
Marco Ozbic also approached the well-known problem of paucity of orchestration left to us by an ageing Monteverdi (or his assistants) in a positive way. The enigma of the sparse instrumental music in “Poppea” is one of the major difficulties that modern interpreters face as, apart from some unspecified ritornelli, nearly all solo vocal parts are accompanied only by continuo. Ozbic thinks this seems at odds with the colourful instrumentation found in Monteverdi’s earlier operas, and so has compromised very successfully by adding instrumental lines in suitable places that helped produce a most lively and dynamic support for the singers and dramatic action.
However, it became obvious very quickly that there was a significant variation in levels of opera performance experience among the singers; some like Helen Court (sop. Poppea) and Andrew Tortise (tenor, Lucano, soldier and Seneca’s friend) showed that experience by an easy confidence on stage coupled with expressive and technically assured singing. Court in particular was impressive in her characterisation of the conniving Poppea - just the right degree of knowing manipulation without undue over-emphasis.
Others, less experienced but seemingly with plenty of stage confidence already coupled with real vocal talent, such as Charlotte Tetley (mezzo-sop, Ottavia), Revital Raviv (sop.Virtu/Drusilla), James Armitage (ct, Arnalta) and Daniel Keating-Roberts (ct, Amor) seemed to relish the dramatic opportunities that Monteverdi offers. Tetley in particular has both a dramatic soprano voice and stage presence to match. Keating-Roberts has an unusually strong and characterful countertenor which, coupled with an eye for comedy, gave indications of a natural talent in the manner of a Visse or Robson.
Of the less experienced performers, Calvin Wells’ performance as Nerone caught the eye. It is rare for a countertenor, even a high one, to sing this role at pitch, as the composer wrote it; there is much above the staff and it imposes some quite tricky technical demands. It is in fact more of a “male soprano” role, but Wells certainly had the vocal resources to match it, and as he grew out of his understandable nerves and into the character of the emperor in the second and third Acts, one began to hear more clearly what a promising talent he is, given that he will absorb more stagecraft with experience.
More polished, if lacking a little in volume and “bite”, was countertenor Andrew Pickett’s noble and affecting Ottone, well drawn and sympathetic. Timothy Dickinson’s warm and rounded bass-baritone dealt with Seneca’s sonorous low passages with ease although like Wells, he was lacking somewhat in actorly technique at this stage of his career. Lucy Page, Thomas Herford, Gregory Hallam and Elizabeth Graham all acquitted themselves well in the smaller roles with Page switching roles very effectively between Fortuna and a page boy.
A full house gave warm applause to an ambitious production that achieved its goals on all levels.
© S.C. Loder 2006.