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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.
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.