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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

Handel's first 'Israelite oratorio': Esther at the London Handel Festival

It’s sometimes suggested that it was the simultaneous decline of the popularity of Italian opera seria among Georgian audiences and, in consequence, of the fortunes of Handel’s Royal Academy King’s Theatre, that led the composer to turn his hand to oratorio in English, the genre which would endear him to the hearts of the nation.

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):