Recently in Performances
It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by
the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
03 Jun 2007
Arizona Opera's Susannah — A Naive Story Dilutes an Impressive Production
Arizona Opera ended its 2006/07 season with a tightly-knit, well-tuned presentation of Carlisle Floyd's Susannah, his best known opera that has enjoyed numerous productions since its New York City Opera debut in 1956.
The work is based on the Biblical account of Susannah and her Elders from the Book of Daniel, as it appears in certain Bibles. From that account we learn the Elders, who steadfastly lust after Susannah, spy on her while she is bathing and soon realize that the young beauty will never give in to their lascivious advances, so they accuse her of fornicating with a young man. This charge is eventually proven false, and Susannah is saved from death. Floyd, using a librettist's poetic license, simplified the storyline by relocating the bathing Susannah to an isolated community called New Hope Valley in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee. There, she is observed by her own church Elders who are repelled by her audacity to bath in a small stream which is supposed to be used for baptism.
Obviously Floyd felt very comfortable with this regional setting which is reminiscent of his own upbringing as a minister's son and uses what he thought was a natural reaction by folks who live in such a stark rural setting to Susannah's spontaneous and frivolous behavior. Even in the 1950s, in the United States, with the McCarthy witchhunters combing the country looking for those with perhaps the slightest connection to the Communist Party, Floyd's characters might have appeared a tad too quick to condemn what was perceived as Susannah's immoral conduct and now, over 50 years later, with all the dramatic and diverse social changes that have occurred in American life, the pivotal situation of the plot does seem too pat.
Any opera company that wants to mount Floyd's opera has to get beyond this flaw so that it can present the work's many dramatic and musical moments in a coherent and forceful light. And Arizona Opera did just that.
Perhaps the outstanding contribution to the production was Paula Williams's direction. The director used Peter Dean Beck's spacious and accurate setting of rural life in Tennessee to great advantage. She moved the chorus about the stage with ease, whether they represented the townspeople at an evening gathering of song and square dancing or had them as church goers pleading to the Lord to save them from the wages of sin. She gave the audience the feeling that it was watching the entire New Hope Valley community acting as one against the sinner Susannah. The director also helped to transmit the same dramatic intent to the featured and principal players, allowing them to build their portrayals with vocal stamina and security.
Starting with the smaller roles, the mezzo, Korby Myrick gave her Mrs. McLean the appropriate disapproval of Susannah's public bathing. Glenn Alamilla's tenor rang out as Susannah's ambivalent suitor, never failing to express his fear of the unknown. Moving up to Robert Breault as Sam Polk, Susannah's brother, he filled his character with the right amounts of love and affection mixed with his anxiety for Susannah's future. He resolved his conflict by shooting the Reverend Olin Blitch, Susannah's seducer in the last scene. And most times, Gustav Andreassen as the Reverend Blitch forcefully conveyed his staunch alliance with the Lord. The bass was most impressive in his sorrowful and guilt-ridden monologue on having violated Susannah.
The role of Susannah was the only part that was double cast. Fortunately for Arizona Opera, it found two sopranos who could provide this difficult and challenging part with the right emotional impact when needed. Rhoslyn Jones, a physically stronger Susannah than Diane Alexander was a tad uneven vocally, but her forceful sound portrayed her commitment to the role. Alexander projected a softer emotional approach, but was more consistent in showing how Susannah's misery unfolded. It was a credit to both singers and to Williams how well the rest of the cast never missed a dramatic beat no matter what Susannah was on stage.
Conductor Joel Revzen kept his orchestra committed to Floyd's overriding musical idiom: that of using many parlando melodies underscored by Appalachian ballads, gospel tunes and square dance music. At times, he drove the orchestra too hard, allowing the musical climaxes that expressed Susannah's rage or Blitch's stabs at redemption-to take two examples- to eclipse the singers' vocal prowess that gave unerring testimony to their talents. This tendency, which made it difficult to catch all the nuances in the colloquial text the composer reveled in, kept the audience's eyes glued to the titles, causing it to graze by some of the opera's most intense dramatic moments. But overall, it didn't detract from the performance which was one of the company's most fruitful and fulfilling productions in recent memory.
Nick del Vecchio
[Reprinted from Living at the Opera with permission of the author.]