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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.
16 Feb 2007
Jean-Baptiste Lully, Armide (Opera Lafayette)
The Opera Lafayette of Washington DC has been engaged in a new project this season – the Armide Project, as the group dubbed its ambitious plan, in collaboration with the University of Maryland Opera Studio, to present two great operas set to the same celebrated Philippe Quinault libretto.
On February 4th, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park MD hosted a
concert performance of the original Armide – the 1686 masterpiece by Jean-Baptiste Lully; in
April, the collaborators will offer a fully staged production of the 1777 Armide by Christoph
Willibald Gluck, who resolved to conquer Paris by confronting the most famous creation of his
Lully’s Armide, an enduring hit on the French operatic stage for a century after its premiere, is
not often heard these days – particularly live. So, even unstaged, Opera Lafayette’s production of
this brilliant, complex score was a rare treat to both the early music fans and the generally
curious who packed the sold-out Dekelboum concert hall last Saturday afternoon. The 16-piece
choir and a period instrument ensemble supported an international – and internationally
acclaimed – group of soloists, some with most impressive baroque opera credentials. The casting
evidently aimed at creating an ingenious mirror to Quinault’s well-known storyline, for it was
dominated by Stephanie Houtzeel’s Armide. Tall, with regal posture, clad in blazing red jacket,
the warrior princess ruled her universe with supreme confidence, commanding both respect and
admiration of the troupes with her vocal power, range, and technique. Almost uncomfortable at
times in its intense expressivity, Houtzeel’s performance was a reminder that the line between
high drama and embarrassing melodrama on the 17th-century French stage would probably
appear rather blurred to us.
In her interactions with other characters, Armide – in yet another hommage to Quinault – found
herself conquered, on occasion, by the “implacable” Renaud of Robert Getchell. His ringing
metallic tone, even in all registers, superb sound production, diction, and articulation were most
appropriate for a hero crusader, while a certain lack of subtlety in phrasing and ornamentation
still kept the audience’s sympathy securely with Armide. Among supporting roles, François Loup
who pulled double duty as Hidraoth and Ubalde won praise for his rich, warm tone and elegant
phrasing. William Sharp, Miriam Dubrow, and Tony Boutté did very well in their multiple roles
(although Dubrow sounded a touch hesitant sometimes). Venerable Ann Monoyios appeared a
little tense and had trouble with her projection in the prologue, but by the end of the evening one
could see why this sought-after artist regularly works with the luminaries of period music.
The chorus did an excellent job throughout the performance, while the enthusiastic baton of
Opera Lafayette’s artistic director Ryan Brown also coaxed some fine playing from the
instrumentalists, including two lovely baroque flutes and a diverse continuo group of French
viola da gamba, guitar, theorbo, cello, and harpsichord. The strings – divided according to French
baroque tradition into five, rather than four parts – were less impressive in my opinion: their
articulations (particularly in double-dotted passages) could have been sharper, and the ornaments
more precise. There were also some issues with tempo changes between duple- and triple-time
passages in the prologue. Yet overall, the ensemble’s rendition of the famously complex score
was admirable, and the applause well deserved.
One of the most fascinating features of this concert performance was the part of it that was not, in
fact, “concert”: close to forty minutes of period dancing performed by members of the New York
Baroque Dance Company and choreographed especially for this production by Catherine Turocy.
Unlike the singers, the dancers were costumed: ladies exhibited a contemporary take on high
baroque fashion, complete with hair and shoes, while male helmets and tunics reminded one
more of ancient Rome than the medieval crusades or Louis XIV’s France (no one – in the
audience, at least – seemed to care). As the choreographer herself explained in a pre-concert Q &
A, very few details of original choreography survive from Lully’s day; with the exception of a
single gigue and two or three versions of the famous Act 5 passacaille, we can only guess what
the dancing in Armide would have been like. So, Turocy made a guess – an educated one. The
dancers offered examples of stylized baroque choreography: symmetrical, filled with traditional
poses, movements, and gestures, and colored with appropriate symbolism as the main characters
and ideas of the opera were reflected in its sister medium of ballet. The good spirits, for instance,
were dressed in light-colored costumes and porcelain white masks, while the evil ones wore
black, with brown masks, and carried long black veils that they would place over the head of
their counterparts to symbolize their transformation into them. Along with the unexpectedly
athletic set dances, there were episodes of pantomime, as the “stand-ins” for main characters
played out the story in movement and gesture (for example, in Renaud’s famous Act 2 air de
sommeil). Turocy clearly mined the score for ideas but treated the information creatively: for
instance, in Act 3 divertissement, the followers of Hate are meant to capture Love and
symbolically break its arrows to free Armide from her feelings for Renaud. In the current
production, both captured Amour and (one) arrow were present, but the 17th-century cupid
would hardly have behaved quite so insolently in front of the opera’s illustrious original
The Opera Lafayette’s production of Armide was a long-awaited premiere of the new and what
surely will be a definitive edition of this opera, prepared by Lois Rosow, a renowned Lully
specialist and a professor of musicology at the Ohio State University. Dr Rosow, who was
present at the performance, shared her expertise with the audience during the pre-concert Q&A
that also included Ms. Turocy and Mr. Brown. Thankfully, this expertise will soon be available
to baroque opera lovers worldwide: recorded for the Naxos label, Opera Lafayette’s performance
of Lully’s masterpiece is due to be released in 2008.