Recently in Performances
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
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.