Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

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):