Recently in Performances
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
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.