Recently in Performances
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.
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