20 Mar 2007
Teseo — Handel by the Sea
Nice Opera, on the French Cote d’Azur, seemed a most suitable place for this early work by Handel.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.
Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.
Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.
On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.
Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.
You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.
If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.
Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.
I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.
For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.
Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.
David Little composed his one-man opera, Soldier Songs, ten years ago and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas of New Haven, Connecticut, premiered it in 2011. At San Diego Opera, the fifty-five minute musical presentation and the “Talk Back” that followed it were part of the Shiley dētour Series which is held in the company’s smaller venue, the historic Balboa Theatre.
On Saturday evening November 12, 2016, Pacific Opera Project presented Gioachino Rossini’s comic opera The Barber of Seville in an updated version that placed the action in Hollywood. It was sung in the original Italian but the translation seen as supertitles was specially written to match the characters’ Hollywood identities.
A Butterfly for the ages in a Butterfly marred by casting ineptness and lugubrious conducting.
Nice Opera, on the French Cote d’Azur, seemed a most suitable place for this early work by Handel.
The opera house itself is a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean and, with the pale blue shallows merging into the proverbial “wine dark sea” of legend beyond, it didn’t take much of a leap of the imagination to envisage these waters carrying the ships of Theseus, Aegeus and Medea to their immortality. Helping this conceit along was the fact that this particular production designed by Gilbert Blin and conducted from the violin by Gilbert Bezzina pulled absolutely no punches in terms of the oft-maligned term “authentic”. If the great man himself had time-travelled from 1714 to 2007 and walked into the theatre as the curtain rose, he surely would have nodded approvingly at everything he saw beyond the footlights and, mostly, heard from the pit.
Make no mistake; this was very serious opera seria. From the painted clouds to the bewigged and silken-gowned protagonists, from the hand-shaken thunder machine to the monsters rolled on from the sides, this was as near to an authentic experience of baroque opera as might be achieved today. Its quaint charm - not to mention the gorgeous stuffs of the costumes - beguiled the eye at every turn. So much so in fact, that it was all too easy to almost ignore occasional vocal lapses that elsewhere in a starker, more real-politik, setting might have been more prominent.
These lapses were highlighted by the fact that in terms of even Handel’s soundscapes, Teseo is unusual. There is no bass or tenor role, and the characters are sung by sopranos (both male and female), mezzo-sopranos and, today, counter-tenors. When the mixed chorus including lower voices occasionally makes a vocal entrance it thus has a surprisingly sonorous effect. The mainly French speaking cast of principles are not widely known beyond western Europe: soprano Brigitte Hool as the heroine Agilea, who loves Teseo, the returning warrior to the court of King Egeo, was by far the most accomplished and appealing of voices on display with a nice line in delicate ornamentation, good diction and a charming stage personality. In contrast, the wicked-witch character of Medea, that epitome of woman-wronged and vengeful, sung by mezzo soprano Aurelia Legay, was anything but delicate – except in volume which was sadly lacking in the early Acts. By the fourth and fifth she seemed to have found her full voice, but a little late. Egeo, not a large role, was sung by the very experienced French counter-tenor Pascal Bertin who showed a real baroque feel for this music, if not exactly setting the stage alight with his vocalism. The “sub-plot” pair of lovers, so often used by Handel to fill out the stories and the score, were sung by soprano Valerie Gabail (Clitia) and young French counter-tenor Damien Guillon (Arcane). The latter was certainly the most exciting discovery of the performance with a firm vocal production, consistent through the range, and with true alto warmth with no hootiness or recourse to root voice. A young man to watch in this field. Of the principles, that leaves the title role, and here there was disappointment. Having heard male soprano Jacek Laszczowski sing this role in England last year, it was perturbing to hear his obvious vocal problems throughout this production. They seemed to centre on his inability to produce his male soprano effectively in the lower reaches of the recitatives and ariosi. The sounds produced then were not pleasant – in contrast to some of his arias where when he sang at the top of the staff and beyond and his voice produced both beautiful pianissimos and clarion fortes. Let us hope that this is a temporary situation.
Apart from the singers and costumes, much of the authentic feel of this production came from the musical support of the “Ensemble baroque de Nice” – one of the major baroque groups in southern France – ably if somewhat pedantically led from the violin by their Director, Gilbert Bezzina. One could not argue with his reading of the score, but his tempi sometimes dragged down an already-top-heavy (if only by the huge wigs) staging even more than was perhaps inevitable.
Sue Loder © 2007