Recently in Performances
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.
“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!”
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.
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.