Recently in Performances
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.
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.
“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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.