Recently in Performances
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
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!