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.
19 Mar 2007
Angela Gheorghiu, Los Angeles
A near-capacity audience, expectant and enthusiastic, streamed into the Dorothy Chandler for an old-fashioned evening of operatic glamour, as Angela Gheorghiu, with the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra in support, flew into town for a one night concert.
The soprano delivered on the
glamour big-time, with three gowns, glittering jewelry, and a happy, even flirty manner. She sang
beautifully too, if without the total captivation of her physical presence.
French music comprised the first half of the evening, with Eugene Kohn leading the orchestra in
a bumptious “Rakoczy March” from Berlioz’s Damnation de Faust. The musicians seemed to
need more warming up than the vocalist; the horns in particular struggled, possibly due to their
recent exertions with the LAO’s run of Tannhäuser.
Gheorghiu swept on in flaming red, and the ovation that greeted her spoke to the impression she
made with local audiences in her previous appearances with the company, as Nedda and Mimi.
She launched into the so-called “Jewel song” from Faust, a number that spotlights her easy,
bright top. Next was the program’s one rarity, “Pleurez, pleurez, mes Yeux,” from Massenet’s
El Cid. Though not the composer’s most memorable tune, the piece has enough dramatic
crescendos and darker passages to contrast well with the Gounod aria. After a gown change and
the orchestra’s tepid run-through of the Béatrice et Bénédict overture, Ms. Gheorghiu reappeared
and sang a tender “Adieu, notre petite table.” The first half ended with Ms. Gheoghiu’s
somewhat controversial essay into Carmen, but for a recital, her “Habañera” succeeded
wonderfully. She took a light-hearted approach, playful more than siren-ish, and the aria’s range
seemed to suit her well.
The second half went to Italian composers, with Kohn choosing the Mascagni overture to Le
Maschere, an unsubtle but fun piece. Gheorghiu’s Puccini Manon had a real poignance in “In
quelle trine morbide.” Then she offered one of her specialities, “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta,”
another opportunity to display her lovely top notes. She left for another gown change, and Kohn
led the orchestra, finally sounding like the excellent group that has played for James Conlon
recently, in Verdi’s overture to Les Vêpres Siciliennes. Now clad in glamorous black, with a sort
of spider web motif, Gheorghiu sang Forza’s “Pace, pace, mio dio” and closed the second half
with “Un bel di.”
These last two pointed up the relatively soft volume of Gheorghiu’s middle voice. She can be
heard, even in a larger hall such as the Chandler, but it is not until the vocal line takes her higher
that the voice has real force. Nevertheless, this listener would not trade the warm textures of her
middle voice for a pushed sound.
So a rapturous audience called Ms. Gheorghiu back for several encores. Ironically, it was in the
Lerner-Loewe “I Could have Danced All Night” that Ms Gheorghiu’s softer approach teased the
ears a bit too much, but her irresistible delight in performing the song could not be denied. She
treated the crowd as well to a Romanian song, to “Granada” and Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro,”
and finally to “Non ti scordar di me.” She then grasped the first violinist by the hand, and led the
musicians off the stage.
A delightful evening, but one that might have left some listeners eager for some heavier fare.
Perhaps on her next visit, Ms. Gheorghiu will offer a program of more challenge. And one gown
will do fine.