Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Stained Glass at Theatro Municipal of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Photo: Thomaz and Deborah Moore)
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.

O Cientista (The Scientist)

Composed and conducted by Silvio Barbato; libretto by Bernardo Vilhena; direction by Eduardo Alvares; scenography, projections and lighting by Eduardo Alvares; costumes by Marcelo Olinto; chorus master, Maurílio dos Santos Costa; Chorus and Symphonic Orchestra of the Theatro Municipal. Sebastião Teixeira (Oswaldo Cruz); Claudio Riccitelli (Emilia); Marcos Liesenberg (Salles Guerra – Act 1, Carlos Chagas – Act 2); Lucia Bueno (A Woman); Lício Bruno (Rodrigues Alves).
Performed Dec. 8, 10, 13, 15, and 17, 2006.

 

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.

Tom Moore

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):