Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
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.