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

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit - Ensemble Correspondances

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit with Ensemble Correspondances led by Sébastien Daucé, the glorious culmination of the finest London Festival of the Baroque in years on the theme "Treasures of the Grand Siècle". Le Concert Royal de la Nuit was Louis XIV's announcement that he would be "Roi du Soleil", a ruler whose magnificence would transform France, and the world, in a new age of splendour.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

La Fanciulla del West at Staatsoper Stuttgart
12 Aug 2007

Bieito Does La Fanciulla del West at Staatsoper Stuttgart

Staatsoper Stuttgart presented its new production of The Girl of the Golden West, directed by Calixto Bieito. And, well, it began with an added dialogue scene to establish the “concept.”

Giacomo Puccini: La Fanciulla del West
Staatsoper Stuttgart, 23 June – 25 July 2007

 

Okay, here is an Italian opera played to German speakers, and they chose to do this scene in English. We were apparently at stag night on a Universal studios tour of the Wild West sound stage.

A young woman dressed as a dance hall hostess (think Miss Kitty), tells them to take their seats in the bleachers, chats them up, telling them they are going to see a piece by Gee-Ah-Koh-Moh Puke-Chee-Nee, and then finally (with a Texas accent that is lost in print) shouts [I am not making this up!!]:

Would y’all like to see some Indians? (Yeeeeeaaaah)

Would y’all like to see some . . .cowboys? (Yeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaah)

Would y’all like to see. . . . some motherfuckin’ GUNS?!?! (Yeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaah)

Then the music began.

It was all but impossible to tell who was who at first. The Wild West sound stage crew were enacting a mish-mosh “show” for these tourists that had precious little to do with the story or character relationships. Minnie arrived on a trapeze flown in from above, dressed as a blond circus girl in tights and spangly bodice, not unlike Mae West in “Diamond Lil.”

She sang her bible reading scene without bible, from the trapeze, making no sense. Dick Johnson arrived on a horse, and just sat around for a long time, and since there was another guy on a horse next to him, no one paid him any mind.

Rance was an Asian baritone (this becomes important later), in fact there were lots of Asians in the Stuttgart cast. Maybe they work cheap? There were so many distractions, I don't know where to begin: Uncle Sam on stilts with a cane that shot confetti repeatedly, a living Statue of Liberty, minor soloists amplified with hand held mikes like a lounge act, a stunning cowgirl “extra” who turns out to be Wowkle, the sullen Indian squaw, for God’s sake. At one point a miner had an extended solo and I could not find him on the stage. Could not. I heard him, but could not find him in the melee.

During Johnson’s extended solo during the duet, a Union soldier (!) does a handstand and then walks on his hands across the entire apron of the stage. When Minnie sings, a giant crate is delivered center stage, and the miners (or whoever they are) open it, and then one by one they mug and camp and “take” their way down a trapdoor while she and Johnson are singing their duet. Oh, and they shot cap guns a lot. And there were confederate flags hung all over the house. (It’s the California Gold Rush (1849-50)! Hellooooooo!!)

And one miner got hung by the neck but instead of staying dead, they gave him a guitar which he played. There is a “well-hung” joke there somewhere but I haven't figured it out yet.

When the waltz started, first two quite amorous men started dancing, then others, and then some sound stage director (I guess), started making amplified German announcements/directions of what they should do, over the music.

By Act II, we are in the split level dressing trailer of Miss Minnie. First, party girl Wowkle enters with a miner and a huge carnival teddy bear, with which she has sex on the sofa. This turns into a three-way when Miner Man pulls down teddy’s boxers (although not his own), and enters teddy from the rear. When Minnie comes in and throws them out, the duo become paparazzi, annoyingly photographing everything for the rest of the act. Everything. Did I mention for the rest of the act?

Minnie changes into a silver lame dress slit up to her hip, and swaps wigs to complete a redheaded Rita Hayworth look. She has apparently invited Johnson over to dinner which, she proudly shows him, is a green Jello mold. Which she puts in the microwave. Sing sing sing sing – DING! The cooking is finished. It looks none the worse for wear, so she carves it and serves it as though it were a roast. And they eat it with knives and forks like good Europeans.

Then, obviously she has another culinary surprise in store for him, and she brings out an identical red Jello mold which they giggle over like middle schoolers, poking it and pulling bits loose with their fingers. Of course, then all hell breaks loose, and some 50’s Vegas thugs (including Rance) arrive brandishing pistols. Costumes get a little weirder here with lots of “Gangsta Wrap.”

One of Rance’s side kicks sits down and starts enjoying leftover Jello, which annoys the hell out of the Sheriff. So he picks up handfuls of it and stuffs it in the guy’s mouth and holds it shut until he swallows. (I am not making this up.) This may be the very first time in operatic history that Jello was a major prop.

The famous poker scene consists of Minne and Rance staring each other down while Minne throws cards at him and in the air, until she throws the remainder at him as she exclaims “Three aces and a pair.” And then they both break character and laugh laugh laugh laugh laugh, like they had some “in” joke. Then Minnie sobs uncontrollably until we transition to some nether region for Act III.

All the cast save the leads are now wearing colorful Mexican tourist sombreros, and are shrouded in a mist. Uncle Sam on stilts is back as some miner or another on stilts, in a tuxedo. He must be a symbol. Of. . .?????

Johnson is finally captured house right with three red ropes, and dragged on stage. As he sings his gallows aria (nowhere near one), the rest of the cast shoot and kill each other rather noisily in pantomimed slo-mo and drop dead to the floor. The tenor could have had a sparkler in his teeth and no one would have noticed. Stilts Man sprinkles them all with glitter. Fairy Dust? Who knows?

Finally, Rance (here’s the Asian motif) starts to execute Johnson with a Samurai sword, but lo, Minnie appears with her own Samurai sword, dressed like she had just come from a callback audition for the “The Fantastic Four.” They spar and she kills him, with Rance lingering a long time with the damn sword stuck under his armpit. The dead all sing (to audience laughs), then get up.

They all exit, leaving Minnie and Johnson splitting and singing how they are together.

Lights out. Audience boos.

What a mess. I think there actually may be a workable concept in all this, but it is so busy, so unfocused, and so self-indulgent that it does not come close to being representative of this piece. Fanciulla is still a caviar piece, and needs to be attractively produced to win favor with an audience. Being all over the map did not win this work any new fans.

And sadly, the leads were not up to par. The Russian soprano should stop and fix her problems. The baritone was okay, and the Asian tenor was the best of the lot, but lisped much of his Italian like he was Castilian. I have a hard time believing that any one of them would have gotten to the Met Council finals. And the conducting was dry and correct, when it needed to have Puccini Passion.

Anyhow, there is my take on Bieito’s “Fanciulla.” I wouId not be in a hurry to see a production of his again. Or to go to Stuttgart Opera again anytime soon.

James Sohre

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):