Recently in Performances
It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
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.