Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.

Mahler Symphony no 8 : Jurowski, LPO, Royal Festival Hall, London

Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.

St Matthew Passion: Armonico Consort and Ian Bostridge

Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.

Pop Art with Abdellah Lasri in Berliner Staatsoper’s marvelous La bohème

Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.

Two rarities from the Early Opera Company at the Wigmore Hall

A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.

Enchanting Tales at L A Opera

On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.

Ermonela Jaho in a stunning Butterfly at Covent Garden

Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

New Sussex Opera: A Village Romeo and Juliet

To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

David Walker (Photo: David Rodgers)
15 Apr 2007

Handel's Flavio at NYCO

Incongruity was the rule of the day in the New York City Opera’s production of Handel’s Flavio, which opened on Wednesday, April 4.

Above: David Walker (Photo: David Rodgers)

 

From David Zinn’s fantastic sets to the gender-bending casting to the non sequitur romp through human emotion with every new scene, the production was a delight to behold, though I fear that the novelty of combining two counter tenors and a pants role trumped all else that was wonderful.

Flavio is characteristic of full-length Handel opera, deftly combining the tragic and comic as Mozart and Rossini would later do. An on-stage death and subsequent lament is followed immediately by a comic scene involving a love triangle, which is in turn followed by a scene in which one of our heroes pleads with his love to kill him. There is always danger that such manic drama will jar the senses a bit too much, but Flavio is one of the more subtle examples in Handel’s oeuvre.

The potpourri was emphasized by Zinn’s colorful sets and costumes. Fanciful greens, pinks, yellows, and blues combined to embolden the incongruities of the work. One of the most prominent sets was a high grassy hedge, on which hung lamps belonging inside. The hedge functioned alternately as garden and throne room, leaving the audience to incorporate grass in the royal chamber and fancy lighting in the great outdoors. The costuming was equally as creative; at one point Theodata, played by Kathryn Allyn, donned the baroque version of a French maid costume.

Make no mistake, however, the night belonged to the performers, especially the high-pitched male heroes of the story. Two lead roles in this opera were written for castrati, with a third pants role to boot. While revered and sexually desired in their day, the operation involved in creating the castrato voice has since understandably fallen out of favor. So we have counter tenors instead. City Opera conveyed to the audience the import of having two men sing their falsetto out in the six-page preparatory essay in the program booklet. The article explicated the history of castrati and the modern rise of the counter tenor, which author Marion Lignana Rosenberg links to the contemporary early music revival. Rosenberg also mentions the gender issues inherent when men sing in traditionally female registers, likening the operatic trend to the popularity of high-pitched male crooners in pop music.

Indeed, although the counter tenor voice is both aesthetically beautiful and fascinating from the perspective of the historian, gender issues were key in the audience’s reception of Flavio. And how could they not be? In this city, in this business, at a critical time in the gay rights movement, it is natural and healthy that an opera with two fabulous men playing the studly heroes and a woman as the third-most-testosterone-filled character comes to the fore. And so it was that the audience’s awareness of these issues was palpable. There was dead silence, the likes of which I’ve hardly experienced, during the first counter tenor aria of the evening (ably sung by Gerald Thompson), and later giggles as Emilia, Guido’s love interest, sang “when it comes to odd lovers” (these among a slew of further examples I could note).

If members of the audience did tear their minds from such novelty, they heard a sound and capable cast. David Walker was returning to the title role, and he handled the mood changes deftly all the while singing a massive range of notes. Gerald Thompson as Guido filled the other counter tenor role. His voice was more developed although his acting left much to be desired. Katherine Rohrer played Vitige, Flavio’s servant who outwits his (or her?) master to get the girl in the end, a power play redolent of later Mozart and Rossini. Ms. Rohrer has a sweet and clear voice and first-rate comedic timing. Kathryn Allyn’s deep mezzo was well served in the role of Theodata, and Marguerite Krull sang beautifully as Emilia, especially in the lament. Indeed, Ms. Krull proved to be the most adept Handel interpreter of the bunch with her florid, effortless cadenzas. Notable too was the period orchestra, lead by William Lacey on the harpsichord. Their ensemble skills and obvious diligent work at authenticity were admirable.

In all, the New York City Opera’s production of Flavio was at once delightfully whimsical and timely. All elements pulled together to create a wonderfully incongruous whole. May we see many more such gender-bending productions in the future!

Sarah Gerk

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):