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

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Joyce DiDonato at HGO
08 Feb 2007

Houston takes fresh approach to Cenerentola

In opera, Rossini, born in 1892- the year after Mozart died, is the successor of the great master and, when performed as perceptively as in the “Cenerentola” that debuted at the Houston Grand Opera on January 27, his rightful heir.

Indeed, this is Rossini of a higher order, no doubt the highlight of the season here and a triumph for Anthony Freud in his first full year as HGO general director.

The unusually engaging production is the work of Comediants, a Barcelona-based collective of actors, musicians and artists who draw inspiration from symbols, myths and rituals. And Joan Font, who founded the troupe in 1971, defines the HGO staging as “a comic book of colored cartoons that captures the happiness in Rossini’s music.

As director he has been assisted by colleagues Joan J. Guillén, set and costume design, Xevi Dorca, choreography, and Albert Faura, lighting.

And it is Faura who is responsible for much of the magic of the production, for it is on his lighting that everything depends. Props are minimal, while a single back wall changes color continually to complement — and underscore — the action before it.

To call this staging “colorful” is an understatement.

Nasty stepsisters Clorinda (Tamara Wilson) and Tisbe (Catherine Cook) appear first in their underwear, augmented by large bolsters around hips which, when they dress for the ball, hold up the wide skirts of their period court dresses. Their wigs are — like their multi-colored costumes - outrageous mimics of the most frivolous late 18th century royal hairstyles — vertical mounds of pink and blond, topped with minuscule feathered hats. The members of the large male chorus - their wigs are appropriately “royal” blue — wear flared pimento- colored jackets with swags of orange and light colors that make a frolic of their cleverly choreographed movements.

A stroke of special genius is the silent “chorus” of six man-size mice on stage throughout the performance. Amusingly choreographed by Dorca, they are often heart breaking in their sympathy for Angelina. They further serve as stage hands.

This creative team faces up fully to the strange set of contradictions that “Cenerentola” is. For it is indeed a comic opera, the classic perhaps of the genre, Four of its seven characters are caricatures, good for laughs in everything they do. But does this make the work first and foremost comic?

Valet Dandini (Earle Petriarcha) has his lighter side, but — wise in the ways of the world — he is the devoted servant of his prince and dedicated to a no-nonsense search for the right woman.

And at the very heart of the work is Alidoro (Nikolai Didenko), the aged tutor who has instilled values good as gold in his student Don Ramiro (Lawrence Brownlee). Like the wandering Wotan in “Siegfried,” he enters in disguise to gain a valid assessment of Don Magnifico’s family. He is horrified at what he sees, and yet — like Sarastro in “The Magic Flute” — he must let matters run their course; he can guide — but not force — the prince toward his goals.

Alidoro — especially when dressed, as he is here, as a man in tune with the planets — is the magus, the Prospero, if one will, who above and beyond the delightful fluff of “Cinderella” affirms that Rossini — like Mozart — was a child of the Enlightenment, aware of injustice and determined to overcome it. He — when sung so superbly as he is by Russian bass Nikolai Didenko — gives the opera an uncanny weight, and his parting summary of what is gold and what is dross in life touches the heart and makes this staging — in addition to the unabashed fun that it is — deeply moving.

In the title role Houston has brought back one of its very own, Joyce DiDonato, a studio alumna who has made Angelina her signature role.

The soprano is loveliness and grace incarnate, beautiful both in voice and appearance. She handles Rossini’s acrobatics without effort and plays the abused young woman with dignity.

“It’s a role that’s been very good to me,” DiDonato said of Angelina in a telephone interview shortly before opening night of the production. “I first sang it while in the Merola studio program at the San Francisco Opera.

 “It’s dear to my heart and fits my voice like the proverbial glove.”

An alumni also of the HGO studio, where she created Meg in Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” in 1998, she has sung Angelina it both at Milan’s La Scala and the Garnier in Paris.

“It not just about patter, and it’s more than fireworks,” the Kansas-born soprano says. “Angelina is a real woman with a real heartbeat and a strong dose of humanity.”

Turning to the affinity that she feels for the role, she focuses on her opening duet with the disguised prince.

“It’s not exactly a love duet,” she says, “but it’s very touching. “In it she expresses everything she has been through.

“It’s a magical moment.”

Last summer at the Santa Fe Opera DiDonato donned trousers to sing Prince Charming in “Cendrillon,” Massenet’s version of the Cinderella story, an enriching experience that leaves her with the feelings of a vocalist who has sung both Tristan and Isolde.

“That opera was a bit of a surprise for me,” she says. “But it was a real treat to discover it. I enjoyed Massenet’s approach to the story, and the score contains some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever sung.”

DiDonato is delighted with what the Comediants have wrought in Houston.

“It’s unique,” she says of the staging. “It’s completely fresh, colorful and clean, yet the story is told in a traditional way.

“This creative team is theater based, but they know their music. Their instincts are astonishing.”

And DiDonato is impressed by the ease with which Comediants bring the light and dark sides of the story together.

“They make is all happen so naturally,” she says.

This same naturalness comes through in the conducting of senior Italian master Edoardo Müller, who understand that Rossini was writing champagne music long before Lawrence Welk turned on the bubble machine.

`He makes the score crisp and clear, transparent and effervescent.

The Houston cast is without a weak link. The singers too — following the example of the stellar production team — have made this a collective collaboration.

And they’re obviously having the time of their lives. On January 27 — opening night — their joy carried over to the audience, whose “bravos” were as spontaneous as enthusiastic.

In June Joyce DiDonato is back in trousers for her role debut as Octavian in Richard Strauss’ “Rosenkavalier” at the San Francisco Opera.

Wes Blomster

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):