Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
23 Jan 2007
OONY Gives Rare Performance of Rossini's Otello
There are three reasons often cited for the paucity of performances of Rossini’s Otello: the horrible hack job of the Shakespearean drama by librettist Francesco Maria Berio, the difficulties in casting an opera requiring at least three top-rate tenor voices, and comparisons with Verdi’s popular opera of the same title.
Though these arguments hold much weight, they also have little
to do with Rossini’s expressive and thoroughly enjoyable score, as was evident in the Opera
Orchestra of New York’s concert performance of the work on Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall.
Shakespeare’s work was not as well-known in northern Italy at the time of the opera’s
composition, perhaps accounting for the free treatment that the story received. Berio’s retelling
of the classic tale makes such a mess of things that there is little left of the original drama but the
names of the characters. Lord Byron wrote of the opera in 1818: “They have been crucifying
Othello into an opera,” and in my mind he spoke the truth. Indeed, the story never leaves the
shores of Venice, the signal handkerchief becomes a furtive love letter, Desdemona is stabbed
rather than strangled, and Jago’s role in the drama is lessened while the peripheral Rodrigo
Regardless, the work was hugely successful in the nineteenth century, its popularity lasting until
Verdi’s Otello overtook it in the operatic canon. I would posit that the inevitable association of
the two works is the principal reason that Rossini’s now lesser-known interpretation has fallen
into obscurity as much as it has. Comparisons inevitably paint the earlier in a bad light by virtue
of its much-maligned libretto.
Seen as the product of Rossini, the work is well worth its weight in gold. There are some truly
beautiful moments, though it admittedly lags a bit in the middle. The opening, for instance,
features not one, not two, not even three. . . but FOUR solo tenors singing their hearts out in one
of the most exciting moments of tenor multiplicity in the repertoire. The Act Two confrontation
between Otello and Rodrigo is also a moment of high drama, and Desdemona’s Willow Song is
as hauntingly beautiful as is the more widely-known Verdi version.
The night also belonged to the performers that realized the impossible and sublimely beautiful
bel canto score, for the work cannot stand on its own without talented virtuosos. In fact, this
opera has always been at the mercy of willing and able singers; an abundance of virtuosic tenors
in Naples precipitated the composition of myriad vocal fireworks for the tenor voice. The cast
was led by veteran Rossini interpreter Bruce Ford, a last-minute stand-in for Ramon Vargas.
Ford sang a lot of notes on Wednesday night, all with confidence and ease. Equally impressive
was Kenneth Tarver as Roderigo, whose lyricism and light touch complemented the role. His
high-lying aria, Ah, come mai non senti, was one of the best moments of the night. Solid too was
Robert McPherson as the villainous Jago. His voice was that much louder, harsher than his
colleagues’— well-suited for the antagonist. In the men’s camp it would be remiss not also to
mention Gaston Rivero as the Doge (and later as the Gondolier), the fourth component in the
The preponderance of tenors on the stage precludes any solo female voices for the first half hour
of the work. Furthermore, in a seemingly concerted effort to keep the tessitura of the ensemble
in the human voice’s middle range, the role of Desdemona is written for a mezzo. When we
finally meet Desdemona, she remains a peripheral character — there is no entrance aria for her,
nor is there ever a love duet. Ruxandra Donose nevertheless sang the role beautifully, and the
impassioned Willow Song was the crown jewel of the concert.
If there was a drawback to the performance, it would be that the orchestra was not prepared, and
perhaps more to the point, unenthused about the performance. It is eternally difficult to create
cohesiveness in an opera orchestra, especially one that performs together only a few times per
year. Still, the group was sloppier than most: brass instruments fracked, there was at least one
blatant wrong note, and entrances were not together. On the other hand, the members of the
orchestra performed solos beautifully. The virtuosic instrumental passages typical of Rossini
were right on, and harpist Grance Paradise, Desdemona’s partner in the Willow Song, was as
stunning in the aria as the mezzo.
So hats off to Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra of New York, for performing such an
undervalued work. Queler has long been a champion of lesser-known opera, and her choice of
programming here was excellent. Carry on Ms. Queler!