Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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?
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.
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.
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.
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]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
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.
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.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
09 May 2006
MONTEMEZZI: L’amore dei tre re
What happened to Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre re? After the opera’s triumphant premiere at La Scala in 1913, Montemezzi was vaulted into the international limelight, and his creation enjoyed regular performances throughout the world until his death in 1952.
Since then, the opera’s popularity has eroded severely, and now it
lingers on the outermost fringes of the canon, emerging from time to time
like an elderly lion to remind us that it, too, once held audiences in thrall
with its roar. One of the surest signs of L’amore’s
near-obsolescence is the simple fact that the Opera Orchestra of New York
decided to conclude its 35th anniversary season at Carnegie Hall with a
performance of the work. Eve Queler’s organization has made its name
over the years by reviving neglected operatic scores, and its concert
presentation of L’amore on 4 May was no exception.
The reason for the opera’s fall from grace cannot have much to do
with its actual merits. By any standard, this is a powerful and well-crafted
work, both musically and dramatically. Sem Benelli’s libretto is a
naked melodrama of raw emotion elevated and concentrated by its archaic
setting in 10th-century Italy. The barbarian king Archibaldo is suspicious of
his son Manfredo’s new bride, Fiora. The suspicion is justified: Fiora
has been secretly trysting with fellow Italian Avito, the man she was
supposed to marry before the barbarians conquered their homeland.
Archibaldo’s blindness prevents him from discovering Fiora in
flagrante delicto, but when she finally admits her transgression to him
and refuses to reveal her lover’s identity, the king strangles her. In
the opera’s final act, Avito kisses Fiora’s corpse, but he dies
from the poison the barbarians have placed on her lips. Manfredo, unable to
master his grief, cannot restrain himself from kissing Fiora as well, and the
opera concludes with Archibaldo holding his dying son in his arms.
Montemezzi’s music fills out this tale of betrayal and passion with
all the high-stakes energy it can bear, yet the score never devolves into
hysterics. Although it clearly lives within the borders of verismo, the opera
owes more than a little to Wagner and Debussy. There is a distinctly
Wagnerian swagger to the end of Act One, for example, as Manfredo takes Fiora
to bed and Archibaldo laments his son’s ignorance. And when Fiora
defiantly confesses her guilt to Archibaldo at the heart of Act Two
(“Allora...Allora...Quello ch’io baciavo”), it is hard not
to think of the similarly electric moment in the second act of
Parsifal when Kundry drops her seductress routine and finally
confronts Parsifal with the truth about her identity. Meanwhile, the
evocative orchestral atmospherics of the opera call Pelléas to mind,
and certainly Benelli’s storyline and dramatis personae refer
back to Maeterlinck’s drama. Nevertheless, the opera is
quintessentially Italian in its approach. All the characters are fully aware
of their motivations, and as they maneuver toward their aims, their emotions
surge directly to the surface, finding expression in line after line of
wide-ranging, ardent melody. Today, with our predilection for late Wagner and
Pelléas, we expect a story like this to receive an elusive,
psychologically layered musical treatment. Perhaps this tacit assumption can
help to explain why Montemezzi’s opera has not managed to retain its
allure over the past half-century. In any case, it certainly deserves
attention on its own terms.
Even if the opera’s overall quality was in doubt, no greater excuse
could be proffered for its revival than to give Samuel Ramey the opportunity
to sing the role of Archibaldo. Ramey’s performance on Thursday night
was strong and self-assured, and yet there was room in his interpretation of
Archibaldo for hints of the self-pity and despair that sap the soul of this
blind and aging king. Ramey’s voice, on the other hand, seems not to
have aged much, at least not on this occasion. His bass sound, rich and
unforced, filled the hall throughout the evening, and the climax of his
first-act aria (“Italia! Italia!...è tutto il mio ricordo!”) was
thrilling. As Fiora, the soprano Fabiana Bravo seemed content at first to
indulge in histrionics rather than tap into the considerable resources of her
instrument. Her weak Callas impersonation, peppered with the usual gasps,
sobs and wails, was applied just as assiduously to her love duet with Avito
in Act One as it was to her dissimulating dialogue with Manfredo at the
beginning of Act Two. As the second act progressed, however, Bravo let her
voice do the work, and it soared. The iron core of her middle range
communicated Fiora’s resolute pride, while the glitter of her high
notes made us understand what attracted these men to her in the first place.
Fernando de la Mora (Avito) was the only principal who sang his role from
memory, and the deeper level of dramatic commitment on his part was evident
and much appreciated. Unfortunately, his quintessential lyric tenor voice,
naturally honeyed and supple, was pushed beyond its limits in many places,
and the result was diffuse and flat. Much the same could be said of baritone
Pavel Baransky in the role of Manfredo.
It’s hard to blame these singers for overexerting themselves,
however, since Maestro Queler never accommodated them by limiting the sound
of her orchestra. Concert presentations of opera always come up against the
problem of balance, but for this performance Queler seems to have ignored the
problem altogether. Still, the orchestra made its way through the score
without too much calamity, and some of the players memorably rose to the
occasion in featured moments (the flute solo in Act One, the viola solos in
Act Three, the offstage trumpets throughout). Let’s hope that this
performance inspires a few opera companies to assemble a fully-staged
production in the near future.