Recently in Performances
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.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
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.
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.)
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