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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The Albanaian soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Biedermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



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

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