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

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

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):