Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
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.