Recently in Performances
Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
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.]