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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

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

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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.



Eve Queler
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.

Benjamin Binder

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