Recently in Performances
It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
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.
30 Mar 2006
Darkling by American Opera Projects
The East Thirteenth Street Theatre is so unprepossessing that it would be easy to miss it altogether. From the street the entrance looks like an ice cream shop more so than a theatre. The crowded foyer has chairs around little tables and a food service counter.
Behind this façade and through sets of double doors is a dark, intimate theatre with seating on three sides of an open performance area. The stage, which is really just the space in the center of the room, is completely surrounded by translucent screens onto which Hardy’s poem is projected. In this dim, almost secret space, American Opera Projects, Inc. is doing great things. Recently at the East Thirteenth Street Theatre AOP presented Darkling, a new opera that is so multi-layered it defies description.
Anna Rabinowitz’s response to coming into possession of some family letters and postcards dating from the Holocaust was to write the long poem Darkling (2001). Rabinowitz used Thomas Hardy’s poem of 1 January 1900 “The Darkling Thrush” to guide her in the writing of her own poem—specifically, Rabinowitz’s Darkling is a loose acrostic based on Hardy’s poem. In addition to the acrostic, the Hardy poem also inspired the somber mood of Darkling, as well as its moments of brightness.
Director Michael Comlish adapted Darkling to the opera stage, creating a new, multi-media work based completely on Rabinowitz’s poem. At an after-performance Q and A panel with the creators of Darkling, Comlish emphasized that every word was Rabinowitz’s including the aria-like sections, the words spoken by the actor-singers, the texts projected onto the walls of the theatre, and the texts performed on the taped “soundscape.” Through these media, nearly all the lines of the poem Darkling were expressed somewhere in the opera. Comlish worked closely with composer Stefan Weisman and a host of designers to realize his vision for this multi-media event.
Weisman looked to the setting of Hardy’s poem by Lee Hoiby, a song that has been popularized by such luminaries as Leontyne Price and Jean Stapleton. The entire work was concluded with a straightforward performance the Hoiby setting, allowing the audience to access both the musical and poetic works that inspired the various creators of Darkling.
The thirteen performers of Darkling had the difficult task of capturing the audience’s imaginations and hearts without the safeguard of a plot, and they succeed in this admirably. Neither the poem nor the opera has clear narrative thread; rather, according to Rabinowitz, the fragmented nature of the opera reflects the fragmented nature of her poem, which in turn points toward the history told by the letters, postcards, photos, and other documents from her family’s experiences in the Holocaust. The opera, like the letters, allows us to glimpse a small piece of history—the histories of particular individuals and of a war.
In 80 minutes of intense visual and aural stimulation, Darkling achieves moments of powerful emotion. At times I felt moved to tears, though I cannot quite explain all the details that contributed to that because so much was happening simultaneously.
A postcard advertising Darkling features a line from Rabinowitz’s poem, asking “who will acknowledge things of darkness as their own?” Indeed, the work places the onus of understanding and acknowledging on the audience. Through lighting, projection, stage effects, and choreography, the creators of Darkling make the audience a part of the performance, demanding one’s attention at all times.
At the Q and A session, one of the creators on the panel mentioned that Darkling makes abstract ideas and music accessible, to which an audience member replied, and I paraphrase, ‘not really.’ I don’t think this gentleman was criticizing the opera—indeed, it seemed that everyone who stayed to hear the panel really enjoyed it—I think that he was pointing out that the unfamiliarity of the form of the work was disconcerting or disorienting. I suspect that this disorientation was planned all along because by not presenting the story in a linear fashion or filling in any pragmatic details, Darkling requires the listener to engage in some contemplation. The listener gets out of the opera what she or he put into engaging with the material.
There is an optimistic message to be found Darkling. Rabinowitz pointed out at the Q and A that in the Hardy poem the darkling thrush of the title chooses to sing despite the bleakness all around. In Darkling, the Jewish couple whose fate we are following survives the Holocaust almost by accident when they come to America. There is gloom all around them in the form of their loveless marriage and poverty in the United States, but I sense that in a way, this very production is possible only because they struggled on.
Clearly, this is only one reading of an intensely complicated work of art. Bravo to AOP for supporting such controversial and ultimately important work, and to the creative minds that fitted it all together in a thought-provoking way.
The Graduate Center – CUNY