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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“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!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

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.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“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.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.



Psyche Entering Cupid's Garden by John William Waterhouse
21 Jun 2007

Lully’s Psyché at Boston Early Music Festival

There’s not much point in presenting Lully’s Psyché (in its North American premiere no less) unless you’re going to give it something vaguely like the grandeur Louis XIV could command in 1678.

Jean-Baptiste Lully: Psyché
Boston Early Music Festival, 15 June 2007

Above: Psyche Entering Cupid's Garden by John William Waterhouse


In a down-home way, Boston’s biennial Early Music Festival achieved this to a remarkable extent: instrumentalists and singers from the front ranks of antique performing practice led by BEMF’s longtime opera conductors, Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs, the staging glamorous but basic, with elaborate dance interludes that were always a significant part of (often the principal excuse for) opera in France, costumes worthy of a costume ball at Versailles, and elaborate stage machinery — there’s a whole lot of flying going on, and entrances are made from above as often as from the wings.

Opera is not a word Lully or his collaborators used for such pieces, and indeed at that point no one in France was quite sure what “opera” meant. Tragédie lyrique, a sung and acted drama, was the thing. Lully’s dignified and magical creations soon circulated about Western Europe. Much of the singing is declamation of stately rather than lyrical melody, a grand manner passed on via Rameau to Gluck, Berlioz and Poulenc. (Wagner made effective use of it too.) This can be unsettling to the average operagoer, accustomed to the song-like manner of Italian opera; but the appreciative audience at the jewel-box Cutler Majestic Theater, accustomed to the stylistic vagaries of older music, ate it up. What gave more pause is another enduring eccentricity of French style: the equal rights accorded to ballet. There are dances throughout Psyché, and the piece concludes with a good half hour of it. This was very prettily achieved in the court manner, but the Boston audience wearied about halfway through the long finale. This is not to fault Lucy Graham, the choreographer, who found exceptional variety in the fixed gestures and poses of court dance, and introduced several whimsical interludes, including a ten-minute “commedia dell’ arte” mimed by the traditional Italian figures. (The enormous and obviously devoted production team included a “Vocal and Gesture Coach.”)

The story is the late classical myth of Psyche (“Soul”), the mortal so beautiful that a jealous Venus vows to destroy her. Venus’s son (L’Amour in the French version), charged with the girl’s destruction, falls for her himself and carries her off to a magical palace where, however, she is forbidden to see what he looks like. Of course, she cheats (cf. Lohengrin and Bluebeard) — in Psyché, it’s because Venus tricks her into doing so — and he leaves her. To get him back, Psyche must descend to the Underworld to fetch Venus a box of beauty from its queen, Proserpine. Of course, she peeks into the box and is lost — but this time the gods relent, Jupiter promotes her to goddess, and all ends happily with the Soul mated to Divine Love. (The subtext, as program essays made plan, concerned the love affair of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan.)L'Amour et Psyché by François-Edouard Picot (1817)

Among the singers, as was only proper, the finest had the largest parts: Carolyn Sampson, the pretty Psyché, who sang and acted her long role with conviction and sweet, untiring tone, and Karina Gauvin, as Venus, the opera’s heavy, a role she acquitted with great verve. The episodic narrative included many charming episodes, wittily staged — for instance a marital spat between Gauvin and Colin Balzer, whose lyrical tenor seemed far too attractive for Vulcan, the hardworking smith-god: “You always side with lovers and against husbands,” he sang to her, and the joke was as good in 2007 as in 1678. Lully wrote the Furies — usually visualized as shrieking women — for three low male voices, and the production accordingly presented three men in black, seventeenth-century drag to berate the heroine for intruding upon the dead. L’Amour was acted and, for a line or two, sung, by a winged child actor in order to conform to Cupid’s traditional iconography, but for the wedding night the god magically adopted the form of a full-grown tenor the better to sing duets with. Of the mostly able singers in the many smaller roles, countertenor José Lemos as Silenus had a ravishing sound one would be eager to encounter again.

John Yohalem

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