Recently in Performances
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.
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of
Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a
18 Feb 2007
Opera North: Breathing new life into “Orfeo”
Friday night in Leeds, in the North of England, at the city’s marvellously restored Grand Theatre, with the pavements outside shining wet and a tidal wave of umbrellas surging past, was an
exciting place to be.
I was lured by England’s only national company outside of London, a new
production by Christopher Alden of Monteverdi’s seminal masterpiece, and a debut in the role
for one of England’s most talented yet under-rated tenors: Paul Nilon. Not one of the three
Opera North is on a roll at the moment; it has a beautiful old theatre as its home, decorated in a
palette of deep red, green and gold, not to mention some fabulous original Victorian tiling now
exposed again in all their glory, and is planning even more work in a Phase Two to bring back to
life the adjoining Assembly Rooms as another rehearsal and performance space. Aligned to
these physical plans is their continuing commitment to challenge preconceptions of opera,
advocating lesser-known works (later this season they are presenting Kaiser’s “Croesus”) and to
breathe new life into the classics. You don’t get very much more classic than the opera that
virtually invented the art-form, and Christopher Alden has most decidedly set out to challenge a
few well-worn notions of this favola in musica.
First of all, the evening’s staging is seamless and without interruption by interval which makes
for a long sit — some one and three quarter hours. Secondly, Alden gives us just one
physical location with no traditional “descent” into Hades, no Styx, no dark and flaming scenes
or flying deities. As the curtain rises we are taken to a large room — possibly a palace or
ducal space — floored, walled and canopied in a kind of giant parquet wood effect in
shades of brown. The costumes are non-specific modern: jeans or dresses with Tudor touches in
the form of the occasional ruff or slashed velvet doublet. A few high niches in the side walls are
the only entrances and exits for a necessarily agile cast of singers — each niche must have
been at least four feet from the boards. Apart from that, just an array of sofas and easy chairs
provided visual detail and a base for the assembly of singers who in turn played the wedding
guests, the chorus, the Furies and, the audience. Audience? Yes, in a way they were just that,
for in this production Alden and Nilon combine their talents to persuade us that this is not Orfeo
as hero, great lover or mystical muse; rather, he is Orfeo the Artist, the Performer, and subject to
all the angst therein. His great aria Possente spirto is delivered in the form of a nervous singer
giving an audition, complete with hastily-erected music stand, shaking hands and despairing
glances at an unmoved Caronte. Equally challenging to the paying audience was the way Alden
played with our expectations of the ill-fated Eurydice: she seems anything but delighted to be
marrying Orfeo, more than happy when dead, and — a typical Alden touch — when
masking-taped to a wall to denote her passage into the Underworld she is transmogrified into the
character of Speranza who encourages Orfeo to convince the infernal gatekeeper Caronte to let
him follow his love. Caronte spends his time sitting in one of the ubiquitous armchairs,
apparently reading the Obituaries column of the Times. A nice touch.
For some in the first night audience (a gratifyingly full house) these ideas pushed them out of
their comfort zone; but even if Alden’s love-affair with masking tape (used not only to fix poor
Eurydice upright to a wall, but also to delineate Pluto’s kingdom and occasionally confine Orfeo)
irritated some, then there could be no argument with the quality of the music making. Quite
simply it was fine, idiomatic, and intensely stylistic throughout without ever making the mistake
of sounding overly “old” or pedantic. Chris Moulds directed a twenty-strong period band, each
element of which accompanied different characters, different “affects”, in different parts of the
story — recorders, cornets, sackbuts and harp adding a rich sonority to the strings and
Of the singers, Paul Nilon of course has to carry much of the opera. This was his first attempt at
the character, which is surprising when one considers his great experience in baroque and
classical roles, but he rose to the challenge and indeed threw down another to singers currently
regarded as masters of the role. Nilon is superb when portraying disturbed or emotionally
tangled psyches — his Grimoaldo in Handel’s “Rodelinda” springs to mind. His Possente
Spirto e formidabil Nume, the great central pivot of the opera, was superbly sung, superbly acted.
If it lacked the icy elegance of an Ainsley or Bostridge, in the context of this production’s most
human of heroes, it convinced entirely. The desperation, the hope, the desire of every performer
to please an audience, in this case the implacable gatekeeper, was in every note and gesture of
this intensely written tour de force for the human voice.
The supporting roles were all consistently well sung and acted — Anna Stephany as
Eurydice/Speranza is fulfilling her promise as a young English singer to watch, her voice full and
coloured, nicely differentiated between the roles. Among the other female voices, Ann Taylor in
the dual roles of La Messagiera and Prosperina had a glorious bloom to her voice, and an
amusing stage presence when required. The minor male roles were equally consistent in quality
of singing — standouts last night being basses Graeme Broadbent (a cavernously voiced
Caronte), and Andrew Foster-Williams (a rather amusingly disinterested and randy Plutone).
There were no obvious vocal weak links and this alone is a testament to the strength in depth that
Opera North can command at present.
This quality was not lost on the local audience or guests: at the end of the performance there were
warm ovations for all concerned, well-deserved cheers for our Yorkshire-born Orfeo — and a
few cheerfully-received boos for the director. Certainly one can pick holes in some of the
director’s conceits in this production: the eliding of Eurydice’s rescue and second death for
instance, but safe to say both Alden and Opera North have upheld their avowed traditions in fine
© Sue Loder 2007