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

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

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.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

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.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

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!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

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.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

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.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

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.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

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.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

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.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

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 Symphony no 8 : Jurowski, LPO, Royal Festival Hall, London

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.

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

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.

St Matthew Passion: Armonico Consort and Ian Bostridge

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.

Pop Art with Abdellah Lasri in Berliner Staatsoper’s marvelous La bohème

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.

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

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 less-than-tragic plight.

Two rarities from the Early Opera Company at the Wigmore Hall

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.

Enchanting Tales at L A Opera

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 in a stunning Butterfly at Covent Garden

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.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

New Sussex Opera: A Village Romeo and Juliet

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.

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

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.

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):