Recently in Performances
It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by
the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
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