Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
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.
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.
16 Aug 2007
Haydn’s L’Anima del Filosofo (Orfeo ed Eurydice) — A rare performance at Glimmerglass this summer, as part of their “Orpheus” 2007 Festival Season
On a cold winter’s day in Vienna, just before Christmas 1790, Mr. Haydn dined with Mr. Mozart for the last time.
Within a year the younger man would
be dead, and the older would be in London putting the finishing touches to an
opera that never saw the light of day in full public performance until, in
1951 it was staged in Florence with Maria Callas, Boris Christoff and Tygge
Tyggeson in the leading roles. This is just part of the strange story of an
opera that nearly never was, because although Haydn was fully paid in advance
for his version of the Orfeo and Eurydice legend by the London-based
impresario and violinist Johann Peter Salomon, it became the victim of
politics and critical machinations that finally prevented it from opening at
Haydn was happy enough with the project (being paid in advance must have
helped) and described the libretto, by Carlo Badini, as “entirely different
from that of Glück’s”. What he didn’t say was that said Badini was
also famed for his destructive gossip and very influential critical writings
which could literally make or break a theatre’s reputation at that time. In
this writing of the famous tale, the story starts with Eurydice fleeing the
unwanted attentions of her father’s favoured suitor for her, and becoming
the focus of Orfeo’s love; however, by the end of Act One she is dead from
a snake-bite. The rest of the four acts concern Orfeo’s struggle to
retrieve her from Hades, his famous error, and in this version of the tale,
his eventual destruction by the Bacchae women, enraged by his avowed shunning
of women’s love following his final loss of Eurydice.
There were only 3 main roles in the opera that Haydn wrote — Orfeo,
written for leading tenor of the time Giacomo Davide who was described later
as possessing “a clear and flexible voice, with an extensive
falsetto”, Eurydice, sung by soprano Rosa Lops and the Genio (an
oracle/soothsayer figure) who was apparently to be sung by a not-very-good
castrato of the time, possibly one Signor Dorelli. Confusingly, by the time
the opera came to rehearsal, there was another role included in the MS —
that of Creonte, father of Eurydice. Sadly, despite getting to
dress-rehearsal, local politics prevented the King’s Theatre from opening
on time and Haydn never saw his opera open to the public.
It is no wonder then that this particular operatic version of the famous
myth fell into that huge abyss of “forgotten” works as the
late18th century geared itself up for the immense musical
developments on the horizon. Yet, it is a jewel of its time, with some
stunning music as well as dramatic vigour and this 2007 Glimmerglass concert
performance has been looked forward to for some time by those who remember or
have heard, either Callas in ’51, the 1967 live recording by Dame Joan
Sutherland and Nicolai Gedda at the Edinburgh Festival, or of course the more
recent revival by Cecilia Bartoli.
However, it was rather a disappointment to find that circumstances and
time constraints had yielded some pretty savage cuts here on the shores of
Lake Otsego. Michael Macleod, the new General and Artistic Director,
explained that he had been anxious to do something meaningful on the
traditional Sunday morning slot on Gala Weekend in this his first year at the
helm of the Festival Opera. What better than to maintain the ethic of
Glimmerglass and make more good music with a little known take on the myth,
and better still, a work by one of his great loves, Haydn? Sadly, the time
available between the 11 am start and the afternoon matinee at 3 pm of the
staged L'Orfeo by Monteverdi meant that the concert performance was
truncated with huge swathes of recitative removed. The story was moved on
succinctly but prosaically by an on-stage Narrator, and several arias also
What was left seemed more a showcase for soprano Sarah Coburn, an
opportunity this technically elegant singer took full advantage of. She sang
the arias of Eurydice and the Genio (the latter's big number “Al tuo
seno fortunate” being eerily reminiscent of Mozart's Queen of the
Night’s) with precision (mostly) and vocal poise. Not exciting, but
obviously well-read and produced with only fleeting glances at the score
before her. Equally effective was the baritone of young Corey Crider as
Creonte. Much less successful was the Orfeo of tenor Norman Shankle, who
appeared both nervous and under-prepared, his hands (and eyes) never far from
the printed music, and his production sounding unsure and tentative, at best.
This curate’s egg of a production was held together by some nice idiomatic
playing by the Opera Orchestra, with special mention going to the flutes,
under the shared batons of Antony Walker and Anne Manson.
Mr. MacLeod explained afterwards that the reason for the split duties for
the conductors was part of a process of selection for vacant post of the
Festival’s next Music Director. Whatever the reason, it was a rather novel
experience for the audience as the two conductors had two very different
styles, although it was hard to split them on the resultant sound.
The performance is repeated on the 19th August.
© Sue Loder 2007
For tickets (limited availability): Glimmerglass Opera Box Office
(607) 547-2255 and more information from the website: http://www.glimmerglass.org/Haydn.html