Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Voices of Revolution – Prokofiev, Exile and Return

Seven, they are Seven , op.30; Violin Concerto no.1 in D minor, op.19; Cantata for the Twentieth Anniverary of the October Revolution, op.74. David Butt Philip (tenor), Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Aidan Oliver (voice of Lenin, chorus director), Philharmonia Voices, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (military band), Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, Sunday 20 May 2018.

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Il Trovatore at Castello di Vigoleno (Piacenza), Italy
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.

Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore
Castello di Vigoleno (Piacenza), Italy

 

Yet both stagings had in common a deep respect for — and knowledge of — the original dramatic concept and the underlying music, something increasingly rare nowadays.

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.

Elisabetta CourirActually, 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).

Il Trovatore — Act IIIThe 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.

Stage at Castello di Vigoleno (Piacenza), ItalyWithin 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.

Carlo Vitali

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):