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Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“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.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

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.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

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.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

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.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

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.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

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).



28 Mar 2006

"Lysistrata, Or the Nude Goddess" at NYC Opera

Having missed the first 10 minutes of Lysistrata, Or the Nude Goddess, I foolishly crept into my seat where I saw what appeared to be four raging Lainie Kazan’s protesting war by Athenian ruins.

Truncating this newly refurbished edition of Aristophane’s play, it turns out, had not ruined my understanding or appreciation of the performance. Luckily this production, which was completely stripped of its traditional Greek chorus and all but three scenes, was not a complicated affair. Lyricist and composer, Mark Adamo had presented us with a Lysistrata 2.0 that cut to the humorous core of the original play while inserting myriads of anachronistic expressions, quips, and one-liners, as well as the occasional jab at Greek mythology into the opera. This was a valiant effort and a remarkable opera that has provided a necessary shock of life into an ever predictable routine.

Following the women (which at times reminded me of some wonderfully deranged Sixties girl group, notably the Spartans), the next item that came to my attention was Lysistrata’s set. This was severely uncomplicated and lacked many of the ornate and over-the-top pieces that often clutter the stage. The simplicity of Lysistrata’s set guaranteed that the talent would not up upstaged by it. The only misguidance was the backdrop displaying Athenian ruins. Clearly, in their golden age, the acropolis had not yet crumbled. Whether intentional or not, this elicited laughter from the reviewer and if anything served as one of the many visual jokes present. A rotating centerpiece served as a utilitarian device as each scene shifted almost effortlessly into the next. Several unit structures and steps proved to be useful places for the cast to perform. At one point, the performers were aligned as if perfect Greek figurines on the stage. This was just as pleasing to the eye as had been all of the blocking: the performers covered the stage at various times in a variety of poses, gestures and movements.

The beauty of Mr. Adamo’s adaptation was that the audience lived for the next song, or off-kilter one liner that resulted in uproarious laughter. In this play, where the plot merely consists of Athenian and Spartan wives conspiring to end war by refusing sex to their husbands and lovers one is not concerned with depth of the characters or storyline. The slapstick and overall fatuous spectacle earned the audience’s attention whereas with many operas one is galvanized purely through song. Though, this did not diminish one from respecting the vocal prowess and sublime craft that this stellar cast exuded.

Musically, the first act caught my attention as it sprouted hyper rhythms and percussion that burst and popped almost magically into the theatre. The room was full of colorful and rich palette of sounds that was not merely sodden with strings or conglomeration of masculine horns. In the exuberance of quick trills and rushes on the temple blocks I was reminded of the music of Frank Zappa. They ushered in a playful mood and atmosphere which brilliantly accompanied the performers. There was a refreshing nature to the music as its cheerful poignancy sometimes almost intermingled with the actors but never upstaged them. There were also cherished moments where the singers and orchestra performed in syncopation. It was a shame that this urgency was not sustained throughout the entire performance though.

Strangely, halfway through Lysistrata, we were confronted with a change of pace. The songs slowed as the author focused our attention to Lysia’s (played by a fiery Emily Pulley) soul searching or the confounded love of Nico and Lysia. In comparison to the first half, the music seemed slurred. Where irreverent humor and quick rhythms once ran amok in unison now was followed by character development and heartfelt songs. The audience, having been engaged in a certain fashion for the first half, possibly wasn’t ready for this change of pace. This loss of momentum was truly the only downer of Lysistrata.

Similarly, like Zappa, Mr. Adamo created a simulacrum of a language that was perverse to the ear. The Spartan women sang with additional w’s and z’s inserted into words, e.g., ‘cwotches’. It sounded slightly deranged and not unlike a bad impersonation that yielded raucous laughter many times over. Like Zappa, I can imagine that Mr. Adamo was aiming purely for entertainment value and neither for intellectual or scatological purposes. The crowd, thankfully, found this comical device funny too.

Despite the slackening of the second act, Lysistrata pulled gallantly through to the approval of the audience. Refreshing and creative, bold and energetic, this was a performance and show to remember. Lysistrata peeled away at that gossamer veil between what some consider high and low art forms. In the end, those engaged could decide whether they wanted to take home with them more than just a night of comedy.

Blair Fraipont

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