Recently in Performances
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.
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.