Recently in Performances
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.
“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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
07 Jul 2007
Love and death among battlements
In 2003, at Cagli’s Accademia del Teatro, Elisabetta Courir directed a compelling Così fan tutte, minimalist, sophisticated and low-budget; quite unlike Daniele Abbado, whose Lohengrin for Bologna’s Teatro Comunale integrated “hard” scenery, video projections and historically informed costumes into a dream-like pageant.
Yet both stagings
had in common a deep respect for — and knowledge of — the original
dramatic concept and the underlying music, something increasingly rare
In fact, both young directors have one more common feature, since their
fathers Duilio Courir and Claudio Abbado rank among Italy’s shining stars
— in music criticism and in conducting, respectively. Being born into the
trade at such top levels may rather work as a hindrance, at least when a
budding professional is determined to build his/her own independent career
without relying on family connections. Ms Courir is one such case, having
debuted in opera direction relatively late in 1994 with an appreciated
staging of Vivaldi’s Tamerlano at Verona’s Teatro Filarmonico,
at the age of 30 and after diverse experiences in spoken drama.
Actually, most of her educational curriculum pointed towards opera. The
10-year girl who used to sing in the children’s choir at La Scala grew up
to study music at the Scuola Civica di Milano, alongside humanities, theater
and musicology at the State University in the same town. For a period, she
even took singing lesson from the vocal scholar Rodolfo Celletti, also
attending the masterclasses held at Fiesole (Florence) by Walter Blazer, the
well-known teacher from the Manhattan School of Music. As to direction, she
apprenticed with such masters as Dario Fo and Luca Ronconi — but
particularly Egisto Marcucci, noted for his rigor, discrimination of, and
in-depth research on, texts, whether sung or spoken.
Courir’s latest opera staging, Verdi’s Il trovatore,
generally counts as popular fare; however, her reading thereof appears
unconventional, aristocratic and upstream — starting right from its
location: an outdoor arena at Vigoleno, soaring high on the green hills
between Parma and Piacenza in the Po Valley. The castle and hamlet of
Vigoleno, built in its present form during the 1390s, was a meeting point for
the culturati during the 1920-30s. Gabriele D’Annunzio, Max Ernst, Jean
Cocteau, Artur Rubinstein among Europeans, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks
and Elsa Maxwell from the USA; all were guests here at the duchesse
de Grammont’s, born princess Maria Ruspoli (incidentally: from the same
family who offered lavish hospitality to young Handel in Rome).
The castle itself, with its towers, battlemented walls and gates, provided
a hyperrealistic backdrop to a plot set in no less than two castles in Spain
during roughly the same age: Aljaferia and Castellor. Light years far from
the current trend of European opera direction, where the setting would be
typically a dilapidated industrial plant, a garage, a gay bar, a spacecraft
or whatever else. Tall wooden boards, all crooked and scorched, served as a
camouflage for covered bays were patrols were doing their rounds. A
drawdbridge suspended over a dark gulf was alternatively the springboard
whence Manrico was expected to launch his treacherous high Cs in “Di quella
pira” and the stairway plunging into the dungeon “where the State
prisoners languish”. Less blacksmiths than dyers, the Gypsies hanged out
the garish product of their industry from virtual battlements mirroring the
real ones, or celebrated and sung by torchlight while squatting down in
circles around certain disquieting cauldrons. Tribal and gloomy with a shade
of the Orient — such was the medieval Spain conjured up by Courir and her
team: set designer Guido Fiorato, costume designer Artemio Cabassi and
Fiammetta Baldiserri in charge of lighting.
Within that (basically reliable, yet never archaeologic) framework, bodies
shaped their passions in the mould of unavoidable melodrama. The lecherous
Count attained by bitter qualms of conscience in the end; Leonora a
compassionate Madonna in light-blue train; Manrico a greyish bachelor,
moonstruck by misfortune and clearly a noble born-looser. Azucena towered
throughout in her fiery red gowns, as young and sexy as possible. Rather than
Manrico’s mother, she looked like his paramour, while a manly Ferrando kept
jerking her with ill-conceived desire. Side characters, nuns, warriors,
courtiers and sundry extras navigated smoothly, then suddenly disappeared
behind the boards. Perfect clockwork and grand opera on a grand scale, though
with limited means.
The junior singing company was enough well-matched (a crucial requirement
for Il trovatore), with baritone Claudio Sgura getting the best
applause for both his vocal qualities and sensitive acting. Rachele Stanisci
(Leonora) has her strongpoint in agility, as Laura Brioli (Azucena) in sheer
power; yet a more restrained vibrato during their forte passages would not
spoil. As Manrico, the experienced tenor Renzo Zulian sounded strangely
fatigued and/or unhappy with his upper register, probably due to a
last-minute stand-in for an ailing colleague. Orchestra Filarmonica Toscanini
and Coro del Teatro Municipale di Piacenza, both emerging ensembles, were led
by Massimiliano Stefanelli with unrelenting pulse, despite a troublesome
acoustic environment. Outdoor venues have their pros and cons, particularly
during a windy early Summer as this is proving to be.