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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.
07 Apr 2007
A bride for sale at the Baltimore Lyric
The latest offering from the Baltimore Lyric Opera was Bedrich Smetana’s sparkling comedy Prodana Nevesta (“Bartered Bride”), a little gem of Czech Romantic nationalism that one does not see live very often these days.
The occasion not only ensured a packed house at the premiere, but also drew attention of the local chapter of the Czech-Slovak Heritage Association. Its members, in national costumes, attended en masse, making for a colorful and slightly surreal theater lobby.
Among the production’s international cast, Dana Buresova’s Marenka appropriately enough turned out to be the true star of Smetana’s charming little village. The Czech soprano laughed, pouted, and schemed her way triumphantly through the evening, and fully deserved her standing ovation at the end of it. The singer’s voice was strong, pure, and even in all registers; it carried easily, and she even thrilled the audience with a couple of impressive – albeit not entirely necessary in Smetana’s score – high Cs. The only thing of which I could not quite approve in this Marenka was her taste in men, for between the two sons of the honorable Tobias Micha (portrayed honorably by Ukrainian-Canadian bass Alexander Savtchenko) I might have chosen the younger one. American tenor Doug Jones offered an engaging and endearing portrait of the stammering village fool Vasek, and in the process revealed not only a lovely lyric tenor voice, but a genuine comic gift. Meanwhile, contrary to my own expectations, I was not that impressed with the heavily advertised talents of the Czech tenor Valentin Prolat as Jenek. Prolat wowed the audience sufficiently in a couple of powerful scenes in which his strong high register was impressively on display; he acted well, and blended very sweetly with Marenka in the duets, but far too often his sound felt somehow “switched off,” making it difficult to be completely satisfied with his performance.
Despite at times sounding a little thin (particularly in the string section), the orchestra was excellent, conducted impeccably by yet another Czech import, Oliver von Dohnányi. Throughout the performance he kept good balance, asserting his presence but letting the singers dominate as they should in a score such as this one. The tour-de-force of an overture (those unfamiliar with the music should imagine the fugue from Zauberflöte mixed with Mendelssohn’s elves at three times the speed) was particularly impressive – vigorous and energetic, yet clean and rhythmically precise.
Rheinhard Heinrich’s décor took a fold-out children’s book as inspiration, creating a set of white-and-brown cardboard dollhouses (with removable front walls allowing one to see their interiors) that were “folded” in and out throughout the performance in full view of the audience. Unfortunately, this clever and efficient design proved much too bulky for the small stage of the Baltimore Lyric, which made for an uncomfortably crowded marketplace with close to forty choristers on stage trying (not always convincingly) to approximate a polka. The Act 2 furiant turned out much better, as the space dilemma was resolved by sidelining the chorus and leaving what was left of center stage to three pairs of professional dancers.
The stage director, James McNamara evidently found The Bartered Bride, a slow-moving number opera, to be a challenge, and his approach was somewhat a stylistic mixture. Most scenes were staged realistically and packed full with stage business, perhaps too aggressively at times (e.g., while distraught Marenka was pouring out her heart into an opening “Where are you from?” aria, oblivious groom-to-be Jenek busied himself with first breaking and then fixing a wooden stool he had first conveniently dragged out of a nearby house). Meanwhile, several key numbers for the principals were presented as cinematic close-ups, with lights dimmed, soloists spotlighted (Jenek’s Act 2 aria was even performed in front of the lowered curtain), and “stage realism” suspended in favor of slightly old-fashioned symbolism, Hollywood-style. Not that the staging solution for each specific scene was necessarily unsuccessful (although I do take exception to the Act 3 sextet – a comic family disagreement made to project supernatural terror), but at times I found myself wishing that the director would just make up his mind.
To the audience, however, one of the most memorable moments in the whole production was undoubtedly the circus scene. Taking cue from the geographical provenance of the Indian and the fake grizzly bear, McNamara decided to turn the entire troupe, introduced by the (deliberately?) out-of-tune trumpet fanfares, into a Wild Wild West show. The Circus Master, sporting a Texas accent and a cowboy hat, resurrected for this occasion the spoken dialog tradition from the first version of Smetana’s score, although I doubt that the text of his opening announcement would have been recognized by the composer. Among other things, everyone in this original-language production were suddenly speaking English, including the chorus that reacted with evident comprehension to the Circus Master’s advertisement, and Vasek who during his comic attempts to woo the dancer Esmeralda somehow managed to lose his Czech if not his stammer. The public was treated to a parade of jugglers, acrobats, clowns on stilts, a grunting Indian, a bearded lady weightlifter, and a badly trained but brightly costumed dog (yes, a real one) that jumped through one large hula hoop, missed the other, but would have its chance at a curtain call nonetheless...
After a fashion, the misadventures of the circus mirrored the fortunes of the larger show of which it was a part. The bride was sold with some panache, a few unfortunate accidents, and some questionable decisions that warranted raised eyebrows from the purists such as myself. Yet, at the end of it all, Baltimore Lyric did manage to put on a good show – and fundamentally, a good show is what opera production is all about.