Recently in Performances
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.
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!