Recently in Performances
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
11 Jun 2007
Italiana restored: Rossini’s afterthougts staged in Vicenza
Vicenza’s Teatro Olimpico, a jewel of Renaissance architecture inaugurated in 1585 and seating around 500, hosted in early June a run of three performances of Rossini’s Italiana in Algeri.
the cognoscenti, a much anticipated experience, since the production was about the alternative
version staged, under Rossini’s direct control, in the local Teatro Eretenio just three months after
the world premiere in nearby Venice on May 22, 1813. Various period observers, including the
French novelist Stendhal, witness to the craze sparked by Rossini’s oriental fantasy, resulting in
many revivals during the mid-late 1810s. Extramusical circumstances may have played a role,
“Between 1530 and 1780 there were almost certainly a million and quite possibly as many as a
million and a quarter white, European Christians enslaved by the Muslims of the Barbary Coast”
[which extends from Morocco through modern Libya], reckons Prof. Robert C. Davis. Only in
Algiers there were six “bagnos” (baths) hosting the human prey caught by Barbary pirates during
their raids in the Mediterranean, and even as late in 1830, when the French took over Algiers,
there were still 120 white slaves in the bagno.
Such historical background may qualify L’Italiana in Algeri, loosely based on a real-life incident
involving a lady from Milan, as a conspicuous act of escapism from all-too-present horrors,
while to modern audiences the shadow of the impalement stake, repeatedly waved in front (well,
somewhere else) of poor Taddeo, only amounts to a bawdy phallic gimmick. Stage directors
rarely miss the chance, and Damiano Michieletto was no exception this time. Besides red tables
and modular cubic frames — variously recombined to conjure up Mustafa’s palace, gardens, a
ship etc. — black wooden poles sprouted everywhere. (True, the imposing presence of Palladio’s
three-dimensional sets is a hindrance to any stage designer, thus making minimalism an
unavoidable choice at the Olimpico).
On the other hand, the acid lighting, the ghoul-like makeup of the eunuchs’ choir, Haly’s fiendish
looks and Mustafa’s rabid behavior conveyed a disquieting atmosphere far from the stock
reading of Rossini’s buffo masterpiece. Only in the finale, with the fugitive Italian slaves
disguised as pizza cooks and green-white-red colors flying around in a reassuring happy end,
some tribute to commonplace was paid. If mildly modernistic and apparently low-budget, the
stage department thus contributed to boost the remarkable musical performance led by Giovanni
Battista Rigon with relentless pulse and unfailing tempo choices. The Orchestra Filarmonia
Veneta “G. F. Malipiero” sounded historically informed in its string section; so did the crisp
woodwinds led by virtuoso oboist and deputy conductor Stefano Romani. Brasses and
percussions (including a rarely-heard chapeau chinois or jingling-Johnny for Janissary local
color) added a brazen touch in the tutti passages, particularly in the finales.
In the singing company, the up-and-coming Albanian mezzo Enkelejda Shkosa (Isabella)
displayed buffo stamina alongside impressive coloratura, though her recent weight gain hardly
contributed to the seductive requirements stipulated by her role. Despite a cold start, Lorenzo
Regazzo was a mercurial and domineering Mustafà throughout. If only he could restrain from
cheap effects in the style of third-rate German Kabarett, leading him to unnecessarily tampering
with the pitch. Both Andrea Zaupa, a young and debonair Taddeo, and Chiara Fracasso as Zulma
deserved unconditional praise for their beautiful instruments, mature vocal technique and acting
skills. The same would apply to Luca dell’Amico’s Haly, were it not for a few campish poses
imposed on him by costume designer Manuel Pedretti. Anna Laura Martorana (Elvira) and
Nicola Amodio (Lindoro) took perhaps too many risks with belcanto passagework, but — given
their young age — they may have the potential for further growth.
The main variants in the score involved Isabella’s role. Her substitute cavatina “Cimentando i
venti e l’onde” is studded with exciting virtuoso intricacies right from the start, yet sounds less
effective if compared to the soaring profile of the usual “Cruda sorte”, where the coloratura
batteries are being gradually uncovered after a row of fiery quasi-spoken ejaculations.
Interestingly, both alternative versions were written for the same singer: the Florentine alto (and
Rossini’s mistress) Marietta Marcolini, then in her early thirties. In the aria “Per lui che adoro”,
the core difference was about the accompanying solo instrument — a cello instead of a flute, the
latter being introduced only after 1815. Actually, the lower texture seems to work better: it’s as
much warm, pensive and sexually teasing as the plot requires.