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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

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A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

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At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

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English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.



Renaud and Armide (Nicolas Poussin)
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.

Above: Nicolas Poussin: Renaud and Armide (1626-1628)


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 illustrious predecessor.

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 audience.

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.

Olga Haldey

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