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.
28 Jan 2007
ROSSINI: Il Viaggio a Reims
Rossini’s last Italian opera, staged in 1825 as a part of Charles X’s coronation festivities, is a bizarre creation — a sassy little farce capped with a coronation cantata in the best traditions of staged court entertainment, from 16th-century Italian intermedi through their Baroque and Classic operatic progeny.
This production, a combined effort of the Kirov Opera and Théâtre du
Châtelet, was premiered in 2005, and has made its way to the Kennedy Center in Washington DC
as a part of the Kirov’s residency here, now in its fifth year.
Minimal staging (sets by Pierre-Alain Bertola) strips the “Golden Lily Hotel” to its scaffolding,
revealing the opera for what it truly is — a collection of sparkling vignettes with hardly a
semblance of a plot; a glorious divertimento; a concert in costumes — but what fabulous
costumes! Among costume designer Mireille Dessigy’s creations, not to be missed are the
Contessa de Folleville’s outrageous hats and Corinna’s ancient regime version of fuzzy slippers.
The Russian general’s garb complete with a sailor’s tunic and a white horse (yes, an actual —
and impressively well-behaved — animal) is hilarious. As for Corinna’s entrance costume,
capped with a fantastic feather turban and illuminated from within by flashing electric lights, it is
beyond description, and would surely land some Hollywood star enterprising enough to steal it a
place on the “worst dressed, yet most memorable” red carpet list. The “English golf dandy” outfit
of Chevalier Belfiore, on the other hand, was funny but not particularly convincing.
The Kirov’s performance started well before the opera began, with the orchestra players (with
their instruments) and singers (with their luggage) making their way to the “hotel” from the
auditorium, greeting the audience in two languages (none of them Italian), and then negotiating
stage space with the “cleaning crew,” mops and vacuums in hand. The conductor — maestro
Gergiev himself — did not carry a suitcase, was relieved of his coat by one of the choristers, but
would keep his hat on throughout the evening. Both the conductor and the orchestra (dressed in
white and reduced almost to a chamber group for the occasion) were positioned on stage, with a
harpsichordist placed on the proscenium and dressed up in full ancient regime regalia, complete
with high heels and a powdered wig. Similarly dressed was a harpist wheeled onto the stage on a
special platform whenever her services were required to accompany Corinna the poetess (the
lovely Irma Gigolashvili); and a fabulous flutist (unfortunately not identified in the program) who
performed her second act solo flawlessly, all the while engaged in a clever pantomimed “duet”
with Lord Sydney (Eduard Tsanga).
Throughout, the production (directed by Alain Maratrat) was filled with stage business — always
energetic, often clever, and occasionally detrimental to sound production: for instance, practically
nothing performed on the back section of the scaffolding (behind the orchestra) made it into the
hall. On the other hand, plenty of singing (and some very funny acting) occurred in the orchestra
— among the orchestra seats, that is. This clearly delighted the audience but presented a
significant challenge to ensemble performance — a challenge that the young troupe, to their
credit, met and triumphed over, even in the lightning-fast stretti. Overall, the vocal performance
of the young cast, including some tremendously difficult passagework, was almost uniformly
superior: Anastasia Kalagina as Madame Cortese impressed with the precision of her coloratura;
Larisa Yudina as the Contessa proved herself a comic talent, yet was ever ready with those
breathtaking E-flats. Dmitry Voropaev as Belfiore, Daniil Shtoda as Count di Libenskoff,
Vladislav Uspensky as Baron di Trombonoc, and particularly Nikolay Kamensky as basso buffo
Don Profondo were all excellent. Anna Kiknadze as Melibea was less impressive, but she did
occasionally enjoy her moments of glory (unfortunately, the final polonaise was not one of those
moments). Only Alexey Safiulin as Don Alvaro was truly disappointing: he did well in the
ensembles, but the solos — including the gorgeous “fake flamenco” song Rossini had smuggled
into the grand finale — were almost entirely lost. The chorus — members of the Mariinsky
Academy of Young Singers — acted lustily and sang well; the orchestra sound was clean, crisp,
and tastefully “classic” — in fact, barely recognizable as coming from an orchestra better known
for the sweeping romantic sound of its Tchaikovsky and Wagner productions.
Grand drama devotees might find Il Viaggio a Reims annoyingly fluffy. Opera purists could
object to the coloratura occasionally getting lost in the stage business or covered with the
audience’s laughter. Yet, to those who think of opera as primarily a theatrical spectacle, the
Kirov production proves deliciously watchable. It is just what King Charles X of France had
ordered from his favorite composer — a splendid and frivolous piece of entertainment for a very