Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Commentary

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2020 Ring Cycle

Lyric Opera of Chicago has announced both schedules and cast-lists for is Spring 2020 performances of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Given the series of individual productions already staged by the company since Fall 2016, that pave the way for the complete cycle, lyric Opera of Chicago’s complete production should affirm the artistic might of the great composer.

Irish mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy on Salzburg, Sellars and Singing

For Peter Sellars, Mozart’s Idomeneo is a ‘visionary’ work, a utopian opera centred on a classic struggle between a father and a son written by an angry 25-year-old composer who wanted to show the musical establishment what a new generation could do.

London Bel Canto Festival 2019: an interview with Ken Querns-Langley

“Physiognomy, psychology and technique.” These are the three things that determine the way a singer’s sound is produced, so Ken Querns-Langley explains when we meet in the genteel surroundings of the National Liberal Club, where the training programmes, open masterclasses and performances which will form part the third London Bel Canto Festival will be held from 5th-24th August.

The Royal Opera Tours to Japan in September 2019

The Royal Opera is delighted to be returning to Japan in September 2019 as part of an exciting year of UK-Japan exchanges, titled UK in Japan 2019-20, following the Company’s hugely successful tour in autumn 2015.

Longborough Festival Opera announces collaboration with The Academy of Ancient Music in 2020

Longborough Festival Opera will collaborate with the Academy of Ancient Music (AAM) for its production of Monteverdi The Return of Ulysses in 2020. Robert Howarth will conduct Monteverdi’s beautiful, compassionate drama, with Tom Randle in the title role.

Glyndebourne’s first production of Dialogues des Carmélites to open Glyndebourne Festival 2020

Glyndebourne’s first production of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites will open Glyndebourne Festival 2020, it was announced today. The opera house unveiled its 2020 plans at an event in its recently built Production Hub, hosted by Glyndebourne’s new senior leadership team, Artistic Director Stephen Langridge and Managing Director Sarah Hopwood, who jointly replace the former position of General Director.

Garsington Opera Announces 2020 season and 2019 Paris Performance

Garsington Opera is delighted to announce the 2020 season that will open on 28 May, featuring three new productions - Verdi’s Un giorno di regno, Mozart’s Mitridate, re di Ponto, Dvořák’s Rusalka and a revival of John Cox’s legendary production of Beethoven’s Fidelio.

Un ballo in maschera at Investec Opera Holland Park: in conversation with Alison Langer

“Sop. Page, attendant on the King.” So, reads a typical character description of the loyal page Oscar, whose actions, in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, unintentionally lead to his monarch’s death. He reveals the costume that King Gustavo is wearing at the masked ball, thus enabling the monarch’s secretary, Anckarstroem, to shoot him. The dying King falls into the faithful Oscar’s arms.

Martin Duncan directs the first UK staging of Offenbach's Fantasio at Garsington

A mournful Princess forced by her father into an arranged marriage. A Prince who laments that no-one loves him for himself, and so exchanges places with his aide-de-camp. A melancholy dreamer who dons a deceased jester’s motley and finds himself imprisoned for impertinence.

Thomas Larcher's The Hunting Gun at the Aldeburgh Festival: in conversation with Peter Schöne

‘Aloneness’ does not immediately seem a likely or fruitful subject for an opera. But, loneliness and isolation - an individual’s inner sphere, which no other human can truly know or enter - are at the core of Yasushi Inoue’s creative expression.

The London Handel Festival and The Royal Opera announce a co-production of Handel’s Susanna starring members of The Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme

The London Handel Festival and The Royal Opera today [14 May 2019] announced a co-production of Handel’s oratorio Susanna as part of the 2020 London Handel Festival. The new production, performed in English in the Linbury Theatre [5 - 14 March 2020], will star members and Link Artists from The Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme. Handel’s Susanna was written for Covent Garden and had its premiere on the site in 1749, but has not been performed at Covent Garden since.

Royal Opera House announces 17 new productions for its 2019/20 Season

The Royal Opera House today launches its 2019/20 Season, unveiling an exciting range of new commissions, world premieres and much-loved revivals, supported by a diverse range of ticketed and free daytime events, activities and festivals for people of all ages. In the first full Season since the completion of the Royal Opera House’s three-year Open Up renovation, The Royal Opera Company unveils a host of innovative new work, with 13 new productions, including two world premieres, in the Season ahead.

In interview with Polly Graham, Artistic Director of Longborough Festival Opera

What links Wagner’s Das Rheingold, Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Cavalli’s La Calisto? It sounds like the sort of question Paul Gambaccini might pose to contestants on BBC Radio 4’s music quiz, Counterpoint.

Carlo Diacono: L’Alpino

“Diacono himself does not know what musical talent he possesses” – Mascagni

Daniel Kramer to step down as English National Opera’s Artistic Director

Daniel Kramer is to step down as ENO’s Artistic Director at the end of July 2019 in order to focus on directing more opera and theatre full time.

Wexford Festival Opera's award-winning Il bravo to be streamed on ARTE.tv

From 7 pm (CEST), this Sunday 21 April, ARTE, the European public service broadcaster, will stream one of last year’s Wexford Festival Opera productions, Saverio Mercadante’s Il bravo, which was recently named ‘Best Opera Production’ at The Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards. Il bravo will be freely available worldwide on ARTE’s digital on-demand culture channel, Arte Concert, as part of ARTE’s 2019 Opera Season, a special online service for lovers of classical music. The opera will subtitled in English, German and French.

Bampton Classical Opera 2019: Stephen Storace - Bride & Gloom (Gli sposi malcontenti)

Newly-wed Casimiro and Eginia hardly seem to be enjoying a state of marital bliss. Why does Eginia sleep on her own, and why is her ex, Artidoro, still hanging around? He now seems to have an eye for the undoubted charms of Casimiro’s sister, Enrichetta - but she’s also attracted the lustful interest of dull and dusty Dr Valente, a man likely to turn nasty if thwarted …

Transylvanian-born mezzo-soprano Eszter Balogh wins the 2019 Handel Singing Competition

Following the final on Saturday 6 April, the Handel Singing Competition announced mezzo-soprano Eszter Balogh as the 2019 winner. Alongside Eszter, the finalists were Patrick Terry (countertenor), David de Winter (tenor) and William Thomas (bass) and the final took place at St George’s, Hanover Square in London in front of a live audience.

English National Opera announces 2019/20 Season

ENO’s 2019/20 season features seven new productions and three revivals, the greatest number of new productions for five years.

Boston Lyric Opera's East Coast Premiere of The Handmaid’s Tale

Anne Bogart directs East Coast premiere of Ruders & Bentley’s take on Margaret Atwood’s novel.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Commentary

Il Crociato in Egitto (Photo: Michele Crosera)
20 May 2007

Rising to the occasion – Michael Maniaci saves the day at La Fenice

It is every young opera singer’s dream.

ABOVE: Il Crociato in Egitto at La Fenice
Photo: Michele Crosera

 

The phone call at midnight, the frantic request to drop everything and “just come–we have a problem, we need you to cover all performances and it’s curtain up in just two weeks……”

Yet that usually happens when the house in question knows that the young singer already has the role in his or her repertoire, and it will just be a matter of polishing up the vocal muscle memory, and learning the stage-moves. No real problem – and exactly the sort of opportunity which is the life blood of opera. The king is dead (or at least hors de combat), long live the king. But a few months ago young American male soprano Michael Maniaci had all this, and a lot more, to cope with and it took him to the very limits of his mental and physical powers in a way that he will never forget.

It was the very end of December, and he was about to set off for Canada to record his first CD of Handel arias with the ATMA Classique label in Montreal. He was looking forward to his Met debut as Nireno in Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” singing alongside Ruth Ann Swenson and David Daniels in March and his diary was pretty much in order. Then came the phone call – was he free for a last minute departure for Venice and the acclaimed Fenice, to learn and perform the role of Armando in Meyerbeer’s “Crociato in Egitto”? It was a difficult call; for a start, he’d never sung the role. In fact, he’d never heard the opera, or even ever sung any Meyerbeer at all. But, encouraged by the Fenice’s inference that the two scenes they sent him by email constituted the bulk of the role, he decided to take the plunge and, with grateful thanks to the understanding folk at the record label, postponed the recording and headed for the airport. When he landed he went straight to the opera house, and that is when the dream started to look more like a nightmare and an artistic “Death in Venice” began to seem a distinct possibility.

M_Maniaci.pngTired and jet-lagged, he sat himself down at the back of the famous auditorium, and watched the rehearsals with both 1st and 2nd casts well underway. It was with shock that he suddenly realised that his role, the title role of the Crusader, was the largest sing in the production and with just two weeks to go before final orchestra dress rehearsal, he was looking at 350 pages of music for a role he’d never heard or studied, and in a style he had never sung in. Panic seemed a reasonable option – and a fast exit back to the airport. However, the director Pierre Luigi Pizzi then asked him to take the stage and sing the opening scene for him (the one that he had been sent) and Maniaci realised that this might be crunch time – and so he took the stage, sang the music and, when he’d finished, Pizzi, without ceremony, walked to the stage, shook his hand, and said simply “thank you for coming”. It was the stamp of approval and a huge vote of confidence, and Michael Maniaci decided there and then to head for his canal side apartment rather than the airport. Little did he know that worse was to come.

The Fenice had, rightly enough, provided him with accommodation that would in other times have seemed idyllic but, as he shut the door, sat down, and reviewed his position he quite frankly admits now that he was near to a mental breakdown as the enormity of his task became fully apparent. He had a huge role, a huge score, to read, memorise and master to not only his own high standards, but to that of La Fenice. He had just fourteen days to be stage-perfect and as he walked out onto the veranda overlooking the canal, he says that for a moment he seemed to see his own body, metaphorically floating face down in the murky waters of a very, very, bad decision. It was probably the lowest point of the entire experience but when you are ambitious, talented and hungry you find reserves of strength that you never knew you had. Luckily for Maniaci, he found those reserves and took the only possible course for a young singer in that position: he buckled down, shut out the world and started to learn the music…..

In his own words, it was “ten days of hell”, alone in the apartment with only occasional coaching help from an over-stretched company pianist, trying to absorb new music, new words, and yet still somehow trying to get some sleep when the brain simply wouldn’t hear of it. Yet, after those ten days, he was able to return to the opera house and inform them that he had learnt the role and was ready to learn the staging. Understandably, there was some disbelief among musicians and staff. Watching his colleague in the first cast rehearse was helpful, and he was able to jot down notes of the staging – he still hadn’t been given any time on stage – and he went home each night to walk through the action in his apartment. Suddenly, he got a text message to say he was to take the stage at the next day’s technical rehearsal – at last! The conductor, Emmanuelle Villaume, started the proceedings with Maniaci’s colleague, but then stopped after the second scene and invited the American to come on stage and sing the big Act One trio with Patrizia Ciofi and Laura Poverelli. He had neither rehearsed it with them, nor with the orchestra. When they finished, the orchestra cheered and stamped their feet in approval and he was then invited to do the rest of the rehearsal and staging with the cast and orchestra. But better was to come – that night, the 9th of January, he was informed he had been chosen to join the A cast and sing the premiere in less than six days time. Next morning it was his first full run in costume with orchestra. Two days later it was public general dress rehearsal, and the production opened on the 14th.

This most demanding role that he had ever sung would be given seven times in twelve days, and recorded for CD and DVD for good measure. Most seasoned singers, even knowing a role, would find this a punishing schedule and Maniaci now thinks that it was only his youth (he is just thirty) and the heady mix of adrenaline and horror that got him and his voice through the whole production. That and the excellent support given to him by Maestri Villaume, Pizzi and his singing colleagues, particularly Patrizia Ciofi and Fernando Portari, who all offered both kindness and assistance in a situation which perhaps only they truly appreciated.

Interestingly, the management at La Fenice never disclosed to the paying public or the critics what Michael Maniaci had been asked to do, and had achieved. But that achievement did not go unnoticed by some. This from Francis Muzzu of Opera Now: “Concert (performances) so far have cast the Velluti role of Armando with a mezzo-soprano, but La Fenice took the fascinating option of using Michael Maniaci, a male soprano (not countertenor) whose technique and artistry vindicated the choice triumphantly …… Maniaci has impeccable phrasing, excellent coloratura, a confident top and an effective stage presence. Matching him was Patrizia Ciofi’s Palmide whose soprano grows in strength without any loss of flexibility or sweetness - their Act One duet …… was exquisite.”

I asked Michael Maniaci what, looking back, his final thoughts were. “It was the greatest musical, intellectual and dramatic challenge I have ever faced. Was it the strongest singing that I have ever done? Perhaps not. But have I ever been prouder of any accomplishment? Absolutely not.”

(Michael Maniaci can be seen next in the title role of Berlioz’s arrangement of Gluck’s “Orphée” at Glimmerglass Opera, USA July/August 2007.
Opera North, (UK stage debut) as Atis in Kaiser’s “Croesus” directed by Tim Albury, conducted by Harry Bicket, performances through October/November 2007.)

© Sue Loder 2007

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):