Recently in Performances
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.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
01 May 2007
In Barcelona, a Wagner debut without scandals for Àlex Rigola, the rising star in the Catalan school of direction
At Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu, a sold-out house marked, for two nights in a row, the
weekend introducing la diada de Sant Jordi, the big fiesta celebrated on April 23 in honor of the city’s patron St George.
The Flying Dutchman is a frequent guest in this Mediterranean seaport
since it premiered here in 1885 as L’Holandès errant; not very surprisingly, since Barcelona is
also an early shrine of the Wagner cult in southern Europe. Sure, it’s a long way from Bayreuth:
patrons start clapping right after the overture and occasional breaches of etiquette take place after
favorite numbers, despite rebuking from connoisseurs. Yet the purest of Wagnerites had more
serious grounds for concern this time. The operatic debut of Àlex Rigola, born 1969, since 2003
artistic manager at the trend-making Teatre Liure, made them fear for the worst, as from that
seminary for avant-garde directors came both the talented innovator Lluís Pasqual and his former
assistant Calíxto Bieito (a notorious champion of deconstruction whom less friendly
commentators call “king of Eurotrash”).
However, those who were afraid of — or possibly hoped for — one more scandal found
themselves mystified. Rigola’s Dutchman is moderately postmodern, with a definite flavor of
cinema imagery from the 1970s-1990s, but without turning that into a shortcut to relevance. As
stipulated by Wagner the librettist, the action is set on the coast of Norway, where Captain
Daland NOW owns a small plant of canned fish. Thus chorus girls abstain from turning their spinning
wheels while waiting for their betrothed to come back from the sea with costly presents. Donning
aprons and plastic caps, they either sit in the firm canteen peeling bananas and digging into
yogurt tubs, or tarry on the verandah, smoking and flirting in front of an ever-impending seascape
much realistically displayed on laser projection. The Dutchman’s ship, no longer a clipper
mounting “blood-red sails and black masts”, towers as a rusty cargo of humongous dimensions.
Updating reaches a climax in Act 3, when happy preps with their navels fully exposed dance to
disco rhythms waving beer cans high in the air and cuddling a cute golden retriever. Nina was the
name of that blonde four-legged diva, embodying her (fortunately) dumb role with unshaken
All in all, the time-machine gimmick worked smoothly enough. Gloomy thrill and rural romance,
hurricanes and country dances mingled in the visuals as they actually do in the amphibious score
produced by the then young Wagner, still hesitating between French opéra-comique and seeds of
his Wort-Ton-Drama to come. First-bill Dutchman Alan Titus, still suffering from a recent
ailment, was not fully up to his signature role, since his beefy bass emerged a bit muddy in the
lower register and feeble in the higher. Skimming the cream from both casts, special honor is due
to Tómas Tómasson, a Dutchman perhaps insufficiently sinister but technically faultless in
managing his baritone-sounding, flexible and alluring instrument, as well as to Susan Anthony.
Her Senta sported girlish innocence and exquisite mezza-voce, though not matched by volume
and resolution in the juiciest dramatic spots. As Daland, Eric Halfvarson impersonated a dapper
sea captain-cum-industrialist, with his noble Sarastro-like utterances unspoiled by the slight
shade of cynicism that the role imposed on him. Both tenors Kurt Streit (Erik) and Norbert Ernst
(the Helmsman) contributed clarion tones and romantic passion to their born losers’ characters
— yet with some bittersweet vibrancy in it. Under the newly appointed principal conductor
Sebastian Weigle, the house ensembles — supplemented by the chamber choir of the Palau de la
Música — offered a forceful, clear-cut rendering throughout the two-and-a-half hour stretch
without any intervals.