Recently in Performances
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.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
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!