Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

Expressive Monteverdi from Les Talens Lyriques at Wigmore Hall

This was an engaging concert of madrigals and dramatic pieces from (largely) Claudio Monteverdi’s Venetian years, a time during which his quest to find the ‘natural way of imitation’ - musical embodiment of textual form, meaning and affect - took the form not primarily of solo declamation but of varied vocal ensembles of two or more voices with rich instrumental accompaniments.

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):