Recently in Performances
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by
the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
Time was when many felt compelled to ‘make allowances’ for ‘smaller’ companies. Now, more often than not, the contrary seems to be the case, instead apologising for their elder and/or larger siblings: ‘But of course, it is far more difficult for House X, given the conservatism of its moneyed audience,’ as if House X might not actually attract a different, more intellectually curious audience by programming more interesting works.
25 Mar 2007
Eugene Onegin — English Touring Opera
London is fortunate to have played host to several productions of Tchaikovsky’s best-known opera in the last three years alone, most recently British Youth Opera’s heartbreakingly fresh account last September – so it was a risky decision on ETO’s part to stage yet another.
Director James Conway chose to focus on the opera’s themes of lost opportunity and the contrast between dreams and shattering reality. Joanna Parker’s very simple reflective set gave a wistful, faded beauty to the stage, while the ‘snow’ for the duel scene was formed of a devastated mass of pages torn from Tatiana’s romantic novels. As Tatiana, Amanda Echalaz provided, rightfully, the opera’s emotional core. She knew how the cripplingly shy provincial Tatiana should walk and move; she knew how to update the character by seven years and several steps up the social ladder without losing her original identity. In recent years, Echalaz’s ETO appearances alone have earned her an exciting reputation; from a slightly one-dimensional performer with a hugely promising dramatic voice, she has developed into a versatile artist with impressive depth of interpretation.
Roland Wood, in the title role, gave a more sympathetic interpretation than most; it was clear that his stiffness and propriety were rooted in self-awareness. His tenderness towards Tatiana was obvious from the start; for once I found myself ‘knowing’ Onegin as well as I always feel I ‘know’ Tatiana.
Michael Bracegirdle’s Lensky didn’t seem at ease on stage, and his singing was monochrome and somewhat forced; as Olga, Marie Elliott was also a little stiff without the necessary weight in her lower register. Gremin’s aria should be the centrepiece of the final act, but Geoffrey Moses failed to bring it to life.
At the start there seemed to be a difference of opinion between the musical and dramatic moods; Michael Rosewell’s tempi were brisk from the outset, while the opening scene was dramatically almost over-restrained. This turned out to be a perfect piece of dramaturgical planning; emotion and passion burst into vivid life at the start of the Letter Scene. The chorus, a good size by ETO’s standards, sang and danced stylishly so it was a great shame that they were the chief victims of a catalogue of unnecessary musical cuts.
Ruth Elleson © 2007