Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.

La Vestale, La Monnaie, Bruxelles

In the first half of the 19th century, Spontini’s La Vestale was a hit. Empress Josephine sponsored its premiere, Parisians heard it hundreds of times, Berlioz raved about it and Wagner conducted it.

Shattering Madama Butterfly Stockholm

An intelligent updating and outstanding performance of the title role lead to a shattering climax in Puccini's Japanese opera

Theodora, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées

Handel’s genius is central focus to the new staging of Handel’s oratorio Theodora at Paris' Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

Bostridge Sings Handel

1985 must have been a good year for founding a musical ensemble, or festival or organisation, which would have longevity.



Susanna Phillips, Katharine Goeldner and Susanne Mentzer [Ken Howard © 2007]
13 Aug 2007

Così fan tutte Deconstructed

W. A. Mozart’s Così fan tutte, heard on a stormy night July 11, proved a sorry exercise in deconstruction, something I never expected to endure at Santa Fe Opera.

Above: Susanna Phillips, Katharine Goeldner and Susanne Mentzer
W. A. Mozart, Così fan tutte
Santa Fe Opera, 2007

All photos taken by Ken Howard © 2007 courtesy of Santa Fe Opera


Last heard at Santa Fe in 2003, in a then-innovative and refreshing presentation by James Robinson of the Colorado Opera, the same visual production was back, with an entirely new cast, but given considerable new ‘method’ by Robinson the on-going stage director. It did not wear well.

Politely put, Robinson’s Così was a gag-filled, vulgar romp. Such is not Mozart’s Così, an elegant, ironic comedy – not an ambiguous study of human nature requiring Regietheatre treatment, as is the present day style with this piece. To make Così into slapstick comedy combined with faux psychological exploration of the characters is to miss the point.

Essentially a bittersweet comedy of character types, set to some of Mozart’s most exhilarating and beautiful music, Così indeed has dark edges that serve to heighten amusement over the foibles of human nature. I am bored by producers treating Così as a post-Wagnerian or neo-Freudian exercise of great profundity. Yes, the tormented bad conscience of Fiordiligi, as she wavers between passion for her new lover and duty to her old one, can touch the heart (through the music) – but right away Mozart tells us, ‘don’t take it so seriously – look how the boys are acting!’ Mozart has Don Alfonso (the agent provocateur of the show), mocking the insensitive lovers who have foolishly set out to trap their ladies into unfaithfulness, and got what they deserved. Of course, “women are like that,” as the title tells us, but so are men. That’s the show! What really counts in an evening of Così are the music and the singing, done in tongue-in-cheek 18th Century style. Director Robinson’s endless sight-gags and slapstick, as well as the over-wrought posturing of his characters, just got in the way. How many times can you throw a wedding bouquet around the stage or bang a baritone over the head with a huge Valentine box of chocolates?

Ironically, the Santa Fe Program book, always an interesting document, reserves a page to recall how a Metropolitan Opera production of Così, introduced December 1951 (your writer was privileged to attend the piano dress and five subsequent performances of that production in early 1952 ), was such a vital musical and theatrical success it inspired a young John O. Crosby, founder of the Santa Fe Opera, to establish his festival company in the mountains of Northern New Mexico some fifty years ago.

American actor Alfred Lunt was credited with the production, though Met manager Rudolf Bing and conductor Fritz Stiedry had major input. The Met’s old Così endured for many seasons and had no ‘concept’ beyond Mozart’s. Lunt’s chief contribution was to appear as a servant in full livery to prance about the stage during the overture lighting the footlights, which he did with nimble elegance and humor. From that point on, the Met’s celebrated Così was a straightforward rendering of the Mozart-DaPonte show, as written, based on the tasteful style of the famous Glyndebourne productions first heard in the seminal Mozart revivals of the 1930s. Soprano Eleanor Steber, Fiordiligi in the Met production, imparted to this writer, “Lunt never gave us any individual direction; Blanche (Thebom) had sung it at Glyndebourne so she showed us what to do.” That was a long time ago, but the germinal Glyndebourne influence long endured. The Met got it right in the 1950s, and on up through the 1990s was playing Così from the Mozart-DaPonte book. Nowadays, in sharp contract to Mr Lunt’s elegance, SFO had a dozen young men dressed in underwear lined up across the stage during the overture, waiting for their physical exams to enter “the school for love,” Mozart’s sub-title for Così. No comment needed. There is always hope Santa Fe Opera will return to the fold and present real Mozart. A new production of The Marriage of Figaro is scheduled for Season 2008, and there is talk of Don Giovanni soon thereafter.

A part of my problem with this summer’s Così comes from the prissy, unimaginative conducting of British maestro William Lacey. At times he had the excellent Santa Fe orchestra sounding like perfect chamber music; at other times it was thick in texture and sticky in tempo; only rarely was it theatre music with shape and point. One had to chuckle at one of the moments Lacey was dragging tempos, to see the well experienced Suzanne Mentzer (Despina) literally beat time from the stage with her arm, attempting to move things along.

Susanna Phillips, a gifted young soprano from Alabama, displayed a strong, superlative voice as Fiordiligi, but her great second act scene and aria, “Per pieta,” came near bogging down in Lacey’s slogging accompaniment. The musical style of the evening had all the principals ornamenting Mozart’s vocal lines with lavish decoration – runs, roulades, inserted high notes, none from the score and often counter to mood. It is not outside performance tradition of Mozart’s day to ornament, but the extent of it at SFO was excessive and tasteless.

The singing cast, aside from the interesting if unripe Phillips and the able Mentzer, was mainly unremarkable. A handsome tenor, Norman Reinhardt, was not unskilled as Ferrando, but his lovely Act I aria, “Un aura amoroso,” turned tentative and tight, the voice sounding wan in its upper register with little tonal appeal. The senior American bass, Dale Travis, was a faint Don Alfonso, playing well enough, but sketchy of voice. Katharine Goeldner brought a pungent reliable mezzo to Dorabella, combined with good stage skills. A baritone, Mark Stone, came from England to sing Guglielmo and one wondered why, as the product was not of export quality.

James Robinson, who managed to mangle Bizet’s Carmen almost beyond recognition at Seattle a few seasons ago, needs tutoring in hubris management. He is a well-educated gentleman, but his concept productions (or ‘method’ direction, in the lingo of the deconstructionist world, a corrupt domain ready for abandonment), have long since reached the point of diminishing return. The 1970s nouvelle vague of deconstructing masterworks of art to suit the “vision” of the director has waned in most artistic disciplines, yet operatic direction remains one of the last backwaters of that perverse fad. It got to Santa Fe late; let’s hope it leaves soon. Let me end with a question: Who would you like to trust with your expensive evening at the opera? A genius named Wolfie, or a would-be auteur, uncertain of his next stage move?

J.A.VanSant © 2007

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):