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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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
09 Mar 2006
For most of its 40 plus years the Adelaide Festival of Arts has had as its central attraction the Australian premieres of a landmark European opera like Wozzeck, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, The Fiery Angel or landmark contemporary works like Death in Venice, Nixon in China or El Nino presented within a few years of their world premieres.
2006 saw the local premiere of a contemporary work that has, in the few years since its premiere, achieved the same degree of success as the Britten or Adams' works, Jonathan Dove’s three act opera Flight. Originally performed at Glyndebourne in 1998, Flight has been produced in The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, twice in the USA and subsequently revived at Glyndebourne in 2005. The Adelaide performances feature the Glyndebourne production directed by Geoffrey Dolton recreating Richard Jones’ original direction.
The original idea for Flight came from the true-life report of Mehran Nasseri, who lived for eleven months within the Charles de Gaulle Airport, the same story that inspired the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal. Set in an airport terminal, Flight concerns two couples, a stateless and passportless refugee, two flight attendants and an older woman. One couple, Bill and Tina are about to re-kindle their flagging marriage with a second honeymoon and self-help book. The other couple is a diplomat and his pregnant wife who suddenly refuses to leave with him. The older woman, Sandra, is waiting for her latest fiancée to arrive, this one she met at a bar in Cabrera. A storm halts all flights and all are now stranded for the night. The proceedings are watched over and commented on by the Flight Controller from her observation tower. While the Refugee begs small change from the passengers, the women get drunk, the habitually promiscuous flight attendants have quickies in the elevator and later the male attendant seduces the equally promiscuous Bill.
Much has been said of the easy accessibility of Dove's score. Experiencing the opera in performance reveals a blending the dramatic possibilities of opera seria with popular music styles. Dove, for instance, describes the very ordinary departure lounge chatter like the holiday plans of the very ordinary Bill and Tina in jaunty Rhumba rhythms not unlike the Leonard Bernstein of Wonderful Town. The similarities between Flight and a top-drawer musical composer like Bernstein or Stephen Sondheim are apt.
In a recent interview the conductor of the Adelaide performances, Brad Cohen referred to Dove's compositional style at the time as “evolving” and that “it just seems right.” Dove’s sound world does have an instinctive feel and sounds like a melting pot of musical styles assembled with the same seeming ease Sondheim blended the fairy tale music of Tchaikovsky and Ravel with his own orchestral palette in Into the Woods or a good film composer transfers symphonic thought into visual support. Later he can refer to encroaching storms in a style not unlike the build up to the storm in Britten’s Peter Grimes. None of this is pastiche, however, just a couple of hours of constantly and refreshingly varied music. In purely orchestral passages the depictions of jets taking off and landing do in orchestral terms for aircraft what Honegger’s Pacific 231 did for steam trains. Dove, in fact, has recently drawn an orchestral suite from Flight called “Airport Scenes” which might well take its place along side Honegger's famous opus.
In the Festival theatre, the variety of the music was given full head by Cohen and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.
Not surprisingly for an Englishman Dove's word setting descends from Britten, particularly Britten's break with the older English preference for one note per syllable so that the high voices especially have exuberant melismas that take ‘flight’ as often as any of the aircraft in the opera. The opera's only really dramatic character, the Refugee, is written for a counter-tenor and in often dramatic arioso form making him sound foreign to the other characters and the overall jollity of their music. David Walker’s voice is full and resonant, highly dramatic, and at far remove from the usual ‘early music’ sounding counter-tenor. Mary Hegarty who sang the Flight Controller at the opera’s Belgian premiere seems perfectly at ease, her high soprano, reaching up to high F and, not just the staccato pips of a Queen of the Night, but sustained phrases.
Nuala Willis, who created the Older Woman in 1998, reprises her role here. Willis's voice is a plaintive contralto that gives the comic but sad character’s realization that her holiday romancing days are over an air of melancholy. This sad character is a descendant of the love-lorn contraltos in Gilbert and Sullivan opera easily transposed into the twentieth century where she can contribute to a Gilbertian about marital relationships
“I stuck to my ex-husband like religion…I should have stuck to religion.
We always called each other names…Bastard! Moron! Rotten Sod!”
Just as the Older Woman may have stepped out of a Gilbert and Sullivan, Bill and Tina (the Brad and Janet of the opera world) and the flight attendants are stalwarts of British farce with their ‘carry on abroad’ antics or frenzied pantomime sex scenes. The libretto by April de Angelis merges farce and drama, particularly towards the end where the Diplomat’s wife gives birth on stage and the Refugee’s true plight is revealed. Like the music the libretto draws parallels with those of musicals and popular theatre in suggesting an embittered modern world even in a light-hearted story. The characters through their close encounters with each other emerge with a new perspective on their lot and voice their own personal revelations rather than draw a homogeneous moral.
With over sixty performances worldwide, a compact disc recording and forthcoming DVD Flight seems likely to join the still thin ranks of contemporary operas that survive alongside the standard repertoire.
Flight by Jonathan Dove
Adelaide Festival of Arts
Performance date 3 March 2006