Recently in Performances
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
28 Dec 2006
BARBATO: O Cientista (The Scientist)
Rio de Janeiro, as the capital of the Empire and later the Republic of Brazil, had an extensive history of opera during the 19th century, well-documented by newspapers and magazines of the day, which included the conducting debut of Arturo Toscanini in a local performance of Aida in 1888, described in the memoirs of Brazilian composer and entrepreneur Artur Napoleão.
The edifices hosting these performances
have succumbed to the ravages of time long since, though documents and
scores relating to operatic life in Rio from this period are still to
be found in local libraries.
The early years of the Republic (established by a military revolt
which sent the Imperial family into exile, as a reaction against the
abolition of slavery in 1888) saw an intense effort to modernize the
capital. The population had been growing considerably as a result of
the exodus of the freed slaves from the coffee plantations of the
state of Rio, who went to the capital in search of better economic
opportunities. They were joined by immigrants from abroad,
particularly from Portugal and Italy.
The first decade of the 20th century saw a number of large scale
efforts for modernization in Rio. These included improvements to the
infrastructure of the port (which would have 3.5 kilometers of docks),
the construction of broad avenues, particularly the Avenida Central
(now known as Avenida Rio Branco), and the consequent demolition of
large numbers of tenements in the center of the city. The opening of
Avenida Central would make possible the construction of an imposing
complex of public buildings in the area now known as Cinelandia,
including the National School for the Fine Arts (now the National
Museum for the Fine Arts), the National Library, and the Theatro
Municipal, modeled after the Paris Opéra, and built sparing no
expense, with the finest materials imported from Europe.
Rio's tropical location, and the extensive wetlands by the bay, had
negative implications for public health, with regular outbreaks of
yellow fever (transmitted by mosquitoes), bubonic plague (transmitted
by rates), smallpox, and tuberculosis. President Rodrigues Alves
(president, 1903-1906) entrusted to Dr. Oswaldo Cruz, who had studied
at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, the task of dealing with these
problems. He began with campaigns to kill mosquitoes and exterminate
rats. In 1904, with Rio facing an epidemic of smallpox, Cruz proposed
obligatory vaccination, and it was approved by the government. Unlike
his previous campaigns, this one met widespread and often violent
resistance by a frightened population, known as the Vaccine Revolt,
and finally obligatory vaccination was suspended. Today, his work is
revered in Rio, with an avenue in the South Zone, and a suburb in the
North Zone, and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation for public health all
bearing his name.
Silvio Barbato's opera The Scientist is not so much a music drama as
a tableau vivant presenting representative scenes from the life of
this great Brazilian. Act I, Scene I reveals Cruz meditating alone on
his mission as doctor. Later he is joined by his wife Emilia and
friend Salles Guerra, and they sing (in French) of his departure for
Paris. Scene II presents Lapa, a center of bohemian life and
prostitution at the time. Scene III shows a religious procession
asking for relief from the plague.
Act II is notably less static and more dramatic. In Scene I, the
President, Rodrigues Alves, sings of the necessity of vaccination,
with mocking responses from a sort of Greek chorus, seated on stage.
In Scene II we see the effects of the revolt on the Cruz family. Scene
III presents a group of capoeiristas (capoeira is a Brazilian martial
art) in the favela of Providencia. The opera closes in Scene IV with
Cruz, alone once more, walking upstage into the ocean.
One might think that a country famed worldwide for the quality of its
televised dramas might likewise produce stageworthy sung dramas for
the opera house. The static quality of the libretto, choosing to
represent a life, rather than an episode in the life, is the chief
problem. Barbato's music mixes a restrained modernism (most effective
in the solo-chorus exchanges between President Rodrigues Alves and his
critics) with pastiches of Brazilian popular genres (it must be noted
that even if they were less artistically ambitious, they were warmly
welcomed by the audience, especially the capoeira). The least
effective moment for the work was the tedious on-stage solo saxophone
in Act I, Scene II, in which the orchestra is not heard for what seems
like an eternity (and worse, before it re-enters, the sax is joined on
the scene by an accordion). The excellent chorus of the Theatro
Municipal is generally heard offstage, muffling its impact, and
causing problems with its coordination with the orchestra.
Of the singers, those making the most impact were bass Sebastião
Teixeira as Cruz, and the excellent baritone Lício Bruno as Rodrigues
Alves (he had turned in a stellar Papageno earlier in the season). The
scenery and lighting were modern and effective (including
projections), and with the blue fabric waves of the ocean in the
closing scene making a memorable impression.