Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“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!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

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.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“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.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

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.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

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.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

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.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.



Donnie Ray Albert as Simone and Tatiana Pavlovskaya as Bianca in Alexander Zemlinsky's Eine florentinische Tragödie (A Florentine Tragedy) Photo by: Robert Millard
13 Mar 2007

LA Opera “Recovered Voices”

Just about halfway though his first season as music director of Los Angeles Opera, James Conlon has already made himself an endearing and appreciated figure.

Above: Donnie Ray Albert as Simone and Tatiana Pavlovskaya as Bianca in Alexander Zemlinsky's Eine florentinische Tragödie (A Florentine Tragedy)
Photo by: Robert Millard


He likes to speak to early-comers to the Dorothy Chandler as part of the “lecture” events, and his work with the orchestra so far, and their response to him, indicates a solid relationship being established.

He has also brought with him a passion for the music of a particular set of the composers who were exiled, banned, or killed by the Nazi regime. He expressed his happiness at having Brecht and Weill’s Mahagonny as part of this season, and he also helped find the support (primarily from Marilyn Ziering and the Ziering Family Foundation) for two concert evenings called “Recovered Voices.” At the second performance, March 10th, he appeared before both halves of the program to speak with enthusiasm and erudition about the composers and their works. The evening, it seems, is a preview of repertoire that Conlon intends to bring to the regular LAO season schedule. In fact, next season he makes a start, with a double-bill evening of Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg and Ullman’s Der Zerbrochene Krug.

The first half consisted of a sort of suite that Conlon devised from the music of six composers. The conductor asked the audience to hold its applause until the end of the final segment, and they dutifully did so. First came the dark swirl of textures in Franz Schreker’s prelude to Die Gezeichneten. Somewhat ironically, this opera recently appeared on DVD in a performance conducted by Kent Nagano, Conlon’s predecessor at LAO.

Stacy Tappan, a soprano who has specialized in high-lying roles so far (she sang the Dew Fairy in LAO’s recent Hansel und Gretel), appeared first on the bare stage, with a screen for projections behind her. Maiko Nezu designed the tasteful images that evoked the moods if not always the settings of the various selections. Ms. Tappan sang a charming aria from Walter Braunfels’ Die Vogel, left and then reappeared with a pianist (uncredited in the program) for a number from Ernest Krenek’s Jonny spielt auf. A huge hit in its day, even in this short excerpt one could hear why the opera has become a curiosity today - the jazz elements not very well incorporated into a timidly modernistic fabric.

Donnie Ray Albert (the father in that same Hansel und Gretel) sang “The Emperor’s farewell” from Viktor Ullamn’s The Emperor of Atlantis. Out of context, the aria still managed to create a mood of wistful resignation, an amazing achievement for a man writing in a concentration camp, and too soon to die there.

Tenor Roderick Dixon took on an aria from Erwin Schulhoff’s Flammen, a discursive affair that gave a more prominent role to orchestral texture rather than to the vocal line.

All of this music boasted to one degree or another a power and sweep to the orchestration, but rather less in the way of memorable thematic material. That cannot be said of the final segment, from Erich Korngold’s Die tote Stadt. Unlike the other operas represented, Korngold’s has managed to keep a precarious hold on a place on the fringes of the standard repertory. It helps that the opera features two smashing arias. First Tatiana Pavlovskaya sang “Marietta’s lied,” with Mr. Dixon joining her. Although her top grew a little wild, Ms. Pavlovskaya had the warm sensuality needed for Korngold’s exquisite tune. Then the fine baritone Martin Gantner, currently singing Wolfram in the new Tannhäuser at LAO, sang a poignant “Pierrot’s Tanzlied.”

After intermission came a one-act opera from Alexander Zemlinsky, with only minimal direction for the singers and a few chairs as props, while the projections became a bit more literal in an attempt to convey the essence of Oscar Wilde’s A Florentine Tragedy. Speaking before the audience, Conlon detailed Zemlinsky’s unhappy love affair with Gustav Mahler’s future wife Alma, and suggested that Zemlinsky at least took that pain as a form of creative inspiration. Basically a psychological battle of wills between a gruff merchant and a young nobleman over the merchant’s wife, the piece ends with the sort of “twist” which smacks a bit too much of a Freudian-era Twilight Zone episode. Never short on drama and formal invention, the score would probably be better known if it had more memorable melodies. And that was true of most of the evening’s fare. Albert, Pavlovskaya, and Anthony Dean Griffey as the nobleman had to work against the minimal staging and the story’s claustrophobic nature, and all managed to deserve the audience’s respect for their efforts.

Much of this repertory was written in the first third of the last century, and in an opera world eager for fresh material, it seems unlikely that an undiscovered masterpiece lies among the works of these composers. The works must stand on their own, regardless of the tragic fate of their composers. Conlon’s passion, however, makes him a brilliant advocate, and Los Angeles Opera audiences will at least know that a steady diet of Traviata and Bohème will be interspersed with the dark, sometimes acerbic work of these composers over the coming seasons.

Chris Mullins

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):