Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
19 Sep 2006
Old Music In a New Home — WNO stages a brand new production of Monteverdi’s “Ulysses”
In his introduction to the Welsh National Opera’s celebratory 60th anniversary season programme Carlo Rizzi, their Music Director, declares that “we are bringing the best of Wales to the rest of the world — and the best of the world to Wales”.
And with this brand new production of
Monteverdi’s “Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria” (The
Return of Ulysses) in collaboration with the Royal Danish Opera, staged in
WNO’s stunning new theatre at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff, both
sentiments are upheld. “In these stones horizons sing” is
blazoned in huge letters across the gleaming metal carapace of the new
building; words that Monteverdi himself might have set to music. It is an
exciting and challenging greeting to any visitor, and WNO did not
The genius of Monteverdi’s free-flowing music drama is powerfully
displayed and faithfully reincarnated by two of today’s most brilliant
exponents of baroque opera, director David Alden and conductor Rinaldo
Alessandrini. Alden’s trademark wit and visual quirkiness is certainly
present, yet his solid-seeming but softly-glowing sets always support, not
detract, from the epic story that unfolds of the wandering hero and his loyal
but beleaguered wife. Alden knows exactly when to interpolate the occasional
visual joke, or dramatic flourish, yet when the music demands he steps back
and gives it and the singers time and space. “Ulysses” is
essentially an ensemble opera, and Alden is quoted as saying that his joy in
working on it comes partly from the opportunity it gives him to work with,
and be integrated with, not only the singers but the musicians as well. If
there’s a caveat to his work here it is that he seems unable to resist
the almost-obligatory rather sleazy bit of simulated sex from time to time;
as with any stage business or comedy, there’s a fine line between joke
and boorishness and at times he oversteps it.
However, the integration he speaks of is there for all to see and hear,
for equally assured and committed to the brilliance of the old master’s
musical invention is Rinaldo Alessandrini in the pit (and on harpsichord
continuo) with the WNO’s own fleet-footed orchestra augmented for this
production by some six or seven period instrument performers, including the
now-essential theorbos. They, together with the baroque cello and harp
support much of the vocal story telling and it was obvious that an
intensely-felt rapport between director, musicians and singers had developed
over many days rehearsal. What is left of the original score of 1640 is of
course but bare bones - it is up to today’s directors and singers to
extrapolate, interpret, and ornament. Last night’s music was
spring-heeled and alert, subtle and elegantly attuned to the ever-changing
moods of the characters and the mainly youthful band of singers also showed
extraordinary command of the vocal idiom.
Although an ensemble opera, there are some characters whose place and
import are crucial and here the production was graced with two extremely
gifted and dramatically assured singers. The very experienced tenor Paul
Nilon took on the title role of the wandering hero, twenty years away from
his noble and loyal queen, Penelope, sung here by the richly voiced mezzo
soprano Sara Fulgoni. Nilon showed his usual attention to text and detail and
his great experience of the idiom, although he is far from being an early
music only specialist. His quite soft-grained tenor is so characterful and
expressive one sometimes forgets that he is singing, not speaking, yet when
needed in moments of high drama such as the hero’s fateful shipwreck or
final battle with his would-be usurpers, Nilon musters both thrilling power
and heroic tone to great effect. Matching him in dramatic tone, Fulgoni gives
us another sort of heroism: that of Penelope’s almost obsessive
fidelity to her long-lost husband. Her mix of physical cool regality and warm
dark passion simmering below was masterly.
The supporting 16 characters who weave their way in and out of the story,
each displaying an aspect of the human (or divine) condition, were sung well
and sometimes excellently so by this quite youthful cast - in fact the
standard of both vocal and stage technique was so high that it was
heart-warming to think that in the oft-maligned garden that is British opera
there are many good young voices pushing up through to the sunlight of
international success. Those that caught the eye on opening night included
Sarah Tynan, soprano, as Melanto, Iestyn Davies, countertenor, as Human
Frailty/Pisandro, and Ed Lyon, tenor, as Telemacho; the latter’s
beautifully sung contemplation on the beauty and tragedy of Helen of Troy
being particularly memorable.
For a first night, the production seemed to go extraordinarily smoothly,
despite some complicated special effects and “sets within sets”
whenever the divine but definitely lubricious gods and goddesses became
involved, and this was perhaps a direct result of WNO’s declared aim to
give its singers and musicians plenty of on-set rehearsal time. Peter
Bellingham, WNO’s Executive Director, told me during the single
interval that this was one of the greatest benefits of their move just 18
months ago from their old cramped premises to this beautiful, spacious new
building, as they now had not only three separate rehearsal spaces for
musicians, singers and chorus but also had access to all the sets and
practical devices throughout the rehearsal periods. This writer can confirm
that the audience is equally well served by an auditorium that frankly takes
the breath away upon entering - it was akin to entering some great warm cave
deep inside a mountain, its walls appearing carved from solid blocks of
purple hued slate, separated by gently curving horizontal strata of gleaming
wood that are the balconies and slips. What isn’t Welsh slate
(strangely silky to the touch) is honey-coloured wood (the seats, floors,
doors) or Welsh wool (traditional tweed upholstery to the seats). The overall
effect is a kind of natural sumptuousness, a Celtic chieftain’s palace
perhaps, far removed from the painted and gilded houses of London, Europe,
and the USA. And even more important, the acoustic has a clarity and
brilliance that, I’m told, singers and musicians appreciate and which
translates to all reaches of the building.
As Welsh National Opera enter their anniversary season, they have here a
new production, and a new house, that they can be proud to show the world.
The stones are truly singing, and their horizons can only become wider.
© Sue Loder 2006
“Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria”, at the
Millennium Centre, Cardiff on 23rd September and then on tour to Oxford,
Llandudno, Birmingham, Bristol and Southampton.