Recently in Performances
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.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
06 Feb 2007
SHOSTAKOVICH: Lady Macbeth of Mtensk District (Kirov Opera)
The Kirov Opera and Orchestra concluded their annual residency at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC last week with a Sunday matinee concert performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1932 Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District.
Even unstaged, this powerful and disturbing work filled
with scenes of rape, humiliation, corruption, and murder felt almost too overwhelming to sit
through. Speculations of political pressure aside, it was not difficult to imagine, after being a
member of the audience, why the middle-aged composer would have felt compelled to rewrite
the work, curbing the raw violence of his X-rated early masterpiece down to at least a PG-13
rating (the new version, renamed Katerina Ismailova after the main character and premiered in
1963, was reportedly the composer’s favorite).
Conducted with savage intensity by maestro Gergiev, the Kirov Orchestra proved itself once
again one of the premiere ensembles in the world today, operatic or otherwise. Even the
premium-seat dwellers, well-schooled in the social etiquette that forbids applause until the end of
the piece (or in this case, until the intermission), erupted spontaneously into an ovation after the
breathtaking rendition of the 2nd tableau interlude. The conductor simply refused to hold his
orchestra back to accommodate the singers, and the power of volume alone was truly
earth-shattering – exactly the kind of effect Shostakovich’s uncompromising music demands. To
their credit, both the excellent chorus and most of the soloists withstood the competition
admirably. Unlike the previously reviewed Il Viaggio a Reims, which was a vehicle for the
relative novices at the Mariinsky Academy of Young Singers, this production involved the
premiere forces of the venerable Kirov stage. Larisa Gogolevskaya was spectacular as Katerina
the kupchikha (merchant’s wife), the only character in a cartoonish parade of degenerates for
whom, despite three murders in a space of four acts, the composer allows his listener to feel any
sympathy. Her gut-wrenching rendition of the Act 4 arioso is worth a special mention, as are her
confrontation scenes with her bully of a father-in-law Boris Timofeevich. Unfortunately, Alexei
Tanovitski in the latter role was not perhaps the best partner for Gogolevskaya: despite an
attractive sound and some good acting that won him approval of the audience, his voice lacked
the sheer strength necessary to match (and often overpower) Katerina and, in this particular case,
also to hold his own against the orchestra. Among secondary characters, Liubov Sokolova was a
gorgeously trashy Sonyetka, while an operatic veteran Gennady Bezzubenkov deserved his
applause as both a thoughtful Old Convict, and as a lecherous Priest whose profundo register
drew gasps from the hall.
Indeed, quite a few characters created by the singers made one long to see the opera staged, but
none more so than the two leading tenors of the production, Evgeny Akimov as Katerina’s
husband, Zinovy Borisovich, and Viktor Lutsiuk as her lover, Sergei. At the beginning, it made
little sense to me that Lutsiuk would be given the role of Sergei, who as a mock operatic lover
does a lot of powerful singing throughout the opera, while Akimov, an obviously stronger singer,
would be cast as Zinovy, a weakling who barely gets two scenes in before being dispatched into
the next world (and down into the cellar) by his wife. As the production progressed, however, I
came to appreciate this brilliant piece of operatic casting. Lutsiuk’s Sergei was deliciously
disgusting; his voice, figure, gestures, and facial expressions virtually oozed slime. Meanwhile,
having Akimov, a powerhouse tenor with a ringing metallic timbre, portray an insecure,
impotent, pathetic little man brought forth an equally delicious irony of all style and no
The performance of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District closed a rather unusual tour for the Kirov
this year: the company eschewed heavy Russian drama for two Italian comedies, Rossini’s Il
Viaggio a Reims and Verdi’s Falstaff. While the Shostakovich provided a taste of the former, the
tour as a whole reminds us once again that the Kirov is capable of much more than the Philips
Russian opera recordings, great as they are. Indeed, Gergiev’s troupe seems determined lately to
defy any possibility of being viewed as an example of parochial exotica, and wants to be seen
instead as the first-class European opera theater that it is. Whether or not one loves their Italian
(or their German, for that matter – speaking of the Cardiff production of the Ring Cycle reviewed
recently on this site), the Kirov is no longer just a “Russian theater.” As a new resident of the
Washington DC area, I look forward to whatever the next five years of the company’s residency
here bring. And of course, I will keep you posted!