Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

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.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

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.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

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.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

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.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

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.

Tosca in Marseille

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.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

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.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

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.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

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.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

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.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal 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: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

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?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

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.

Double bill at Guildhall

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.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

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.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

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]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

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.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

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.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Scene from Orfeo ed Euridice (Photo Credit: Robert Kusel)
14 Mar 2006

HIGH RISK “ORFEO” FROM CHICAGO LYRIC

Producer Robert Carsen, together with his set designer Tobias Hoheisel, is taking a big risk with their new production of Glück’s 1762 version for alto of “Orfeo ed Euridice” at Chicago Lyric Opera.

By stripping down the story to its bare bones, eschewing ballets, later additions and mock Grecian tunics, he takes us to the core of the work within seconds of the curtain rising. But then he has to keep us there: and with just a few sweeps of grey stones, a heaped grave (concealing both entrance and exit to the Underworld) and a lit cyclorama sky for much of the production — enlightened by superb lighting and occasional dramatic torches — that is a tall order. However, he has a trump card in the form of his acting singers. With complete faith in the abilities of David Daniels (Orfeo), Isabel Bayrakdarian (Euridice), and Ofelia Sala (Amor) to plumb depths of pathos with dignity and truth, and to hold the eye unwaveringly, he challenges the Chicago audience to go with him in this very singular and arresting vision of the ancient myth.

Not that the audience has much option — the entire opera lasts some ninety minutes only, but is given without intermission with just brief interludes between the acts. This has been something of a novelty for many in the audience, but they have responded with good manners and fulsome praise — and with virtually full houses both nights this writer attended, obviously the word was out that this was a production not to be missed. And, of course, all got out to their various transports somewhat earlier than normal — a bonus on freezing Lake Michigan nights.

Such intensity of drama and singing, with essentially just two major characters and a deux et machine to motivate the action, requires top class performers and the voice of American countertenor David Daniels in all its voluptuous beauty was the essential ingredient that balanced Carsen’s austere vision and the music’s serene elegance. He is on stage continuously, with but occasional vocal respite — and without doubt this must become one of his great roles. Total physical commitment, total integrity, and a fine vocal line that spun heartache and despair in a way that inspired awe at its consistent beauty and superb intonation. This was a fuller, more intensely lived performance than his earlier concert version at Covent Garden in 2002 and he was complemented by his colleagues throughout.

Bayrakdarian, when she appeared at last from the depths of Hades, in this case literally out from the grave, was a perfect match both vocally and dramatically. She is an elegant figure on stage who more than convinced with her mix of innocent anguish, confusion and despair. Her timbre and tone seemed perfect for this brief, but essential role as she had to quickly establish all the emotions required within minutes. At times in the climactic third act both characters were twisting, turning, almost engaging, then being torn apart again by Orfeo’s panic-driven attempts to abide by his instructions. Ofelia Sala’s Amor was a bright, sparkling, if essentially static, contrast to the more dramatic voices alongside her and her scenes with the despairing lover were memorable as she ably depicted the capricious, boyish Amor who sanguinely orders the night’s action. She is obviously a singer of wide dramatic capability; as her Tytania in the Liceu, Barcelona’s “Midsummer Nights Dream”, (also with Daniels and now on DVD) attests.

With this 1762 version of the opera, Glück was making an early attempt to put the brakes on the traditional indulgent opera forms of his predecessors, and both Carsen and Daniels follow through in every way. They create, and maintain, a steady, if ratcheting-up, dramatic growth. There is no showboating of the famous arias, each of these emerges naturally, on the breath, from within the music and the story and worked well when the audience was prepared to sit quietly and let this seamlessness just happen. One night they did, another they didn’t and burst into spontaneous applause — somewhat to the detriment of the magic.

Baroque expert Harry Bicket’s control of orchestra and chorus was neatly effective, if perhaps a mite less successful in period feel than his previous “Partenope” by Handel here — but nevertheless the Lyric orchestra offered some nice attack and articulation whilst not loitering too much in the plusher sections of the score. Alternating with “Rosenkavalier” at the end of a long season must have been particularly testing for them — how often do we audience give a thought to these hard-working musicians whose professionalism and multi-faceted skills are too easily taken for granted? Together with the excellently schooled Chorus — who had more than a usual amount of acting to get their teeth into in lieu of the more traditional ballet — this orchestra did the production proud, and helped create one of the most innovative, musically superb, and challenging “Orfeo’s” that has been seen in a long time. If only it could make the transition to DVD, and perhaps in a more sympathetic, smaller venue. Are you listening, Liceu? Munich? Glyndebourne? The production continues until March 26th.

© S.C. Loder 2006

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):