Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.



Pictured: Don Marco (Philip Cokorinos) with Annina (Christina Martos) as she takes the veil in Central City Opera’s The Saint of Bleecker Street. Photo by Mark Kiryluk
27 Aug 2007

Menotti’s “Saint” wears a dim halo

CENTRAL CITY, Colo. — A year ago, when the Central City Opera announced plans to conclude its 2007 75th anniversary season with Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Saint of Bleecker Street,” the composer was aged but alive.

Above: Don Marco (Philip Cokorinos) with Annina (Christina Martos) as she takes the veil in Central City Opera’s The Saint of Bleecker Street.
Photo by Mark Kiryluk


His death at 95 on February 1 made the CCO staging both an act of homage and an object of special interest to opera goers. It was thus the conversation piece of this celebratory season. And although CCO general and artistic director Pelham (“Pat”) Pearce admitted that at first examination of the 1954 score he was “underwhelmed,” the company went overboard to mount a production that seemed designed to revive interest in Menotti and perhaps correct the view offered in a July Opera News obituary by Barry Singer that he was “the most prolific, widely performed and widely disdained” composer in all of opera.

On the heels of her 2005 directorial debut with “Madama Butterfly” the CCO brought veteran soprano Catherine Malfitano back to Colorado to stage “Saint.” Annina, the ill and visionary orphan whose story the opera tells, had played a significant part in the soprano’s career. When she sang the role at Wolf Trap in 1973, Julius Rudel, chief of New York City Opera, was in the audience and engaged her to sing Annina with that company the following season. The production was seen on public television when it was revived in 1978. (Malfitano, by the way, made her professional debut in a CCO “Falstaff” in 1972.) Thus the summer production was an act of faith for Malfitano, who further came up with the concept for handsome sets, effectively realized by Wilson Chin.

Yet even Malfitano’s belief in “Saint” could not triumph over the feeling that the opera is justifiably absent from the repertory today. Indeed, this was clearly a case, in which the staging was superior to the work, upon which the company lavished such affection. “Saint” got off to a magnificent start. Ill and orphaned Annina, sumptuously sung by a convincingly adolescent Christina Martos, was an engaging study in a faith so absolute that it led to stigmata, to the wounds of Christ bleeding in her. On the other hand, her brother Michele, a macho product of New York’s Little Italy as portrayed by Derek Taylor, was ridden by doubt. The two, it is generally agreed, are metaphors for two sides of Menotti’s own tormented soul.

The composer’s verismo and his choral writing are up there with Puccini, and the power of the first act elevated expectations. Things paled, however, and melodrama took over with Michele’s murder of girl friend Desideria, passionately sung by Kirstin Chávez. The sub-plot won the upper hand, as Menotti inched towards liturgy in the remainder of the work. Annina died as she took the veil, something her fugitive brother tried to prevent, and, while the virtual on-stage canonization of the young woman might have wowed the Sunday-school set, it left the unchurched waiting for the curtain to fall.

“Saint” ended up being too much, rather than too little, and doubters were disturbed by the ease with which Menotti was content to let the mighty final chorus obscure the question of what happens to murderer-on-the lamb Michele. Might the composer have done better to delete the murder and develop the incest motif so obviously present in the sibling relationship? And although Menotti is certainly right in questioning the mob that would exploit Annina, this perspective of the plot is obscured by his post-Puccini choruses.

“Saint” is a dark work, in which Menotti, his own librettist, stirs in the complex depths of the soul, but fails to put his findings together convincingly. The resolution - Annina almost sprouts angelic wings on stage - is contrived; the audience is browbeaten by the sheer power of Menotti’s music, but left without answers to the essential questions involved. Indeed, the best - and most moving - music heard at the CCO on the July 21 opening night was Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, played by an octet from the pit orchestra in an outdoor courtyard as a memorial to Menotti.

In the brief work Barber, first a fellow student at Curtis, then Menotti’s long-time companion, wrote music of amazing clarity and cleanliness - quite the opposite of Menotti’s overwrought score that followed on stage. “Saint” brought Menotti his second Pulitzer (the first was awarded for “Amahl and the Night Visitors” in 1951), yet the Central City staging makes clear why the work is so seldom encountered today. The CCO has further staged Menotti’s “Amelia Goes to the Ball” with Eleanor Steber in 1951 and “The Medium” in 1979.

A personal recollection:

Italian-born and Curtis-educated Menotti was his own man in opera. He wrote for Broadway during decades in which academic atonality dominated serious music and in “Amahl” written for television, he created what remains today the most-performed American opera. The world owes him much as a composer also active as a director and architect of the Spoleto Festival, first in Italy and then in Charleston, South Carolina. We were hardly buddies, yet for several years Gian Carlo Menotti was a presence in my life, and I - in a modest way - in his.

It was one of those right-place, right-time scenarios that have enriched my life. For many years I wrote a weekly column for a major newspaper chain. This gave me “visibility,” and musical organizations were eager to be the subject of my articles. A special fruit of this chapter of my life was a close and warm association with Spoleto USA, the American “half” of the Festival of Two Worlds, founded by Menotti in Italy in 1956 and then “imported” to Charleston, S.C. 11 years later.

During the decade before his somewhat operatic departure from Charleston, I interviewed Menotti by phone each spring about the up-coming season - he was usually then at home in his Scottish castle, where Prince Charles and the late Queen Mum were frequent guests. And in the first days of the season, which begins the last week in May, Menotti invited the critics present to breakfast in the garden of Charleston Place Hotel, his home in the city.

Not content to be only Spoleto’s founder and artistic director Menotti further made his mark by directing Mozart’s “Figaro” and Wagner’s “Parsifal” during my years at the festival. And he laid weight on being a man-about-town, cropping up suddenly in the midst of performances in the many historic venues used by the program. And I often encountered him “off stage” at the lavish late-night parties staged in the gardens of the well-maintained mansions on Charleston’s historic peninsula.

He radiated charm and charisma and - thanks largely to daily swim sessions - on his 80th birthday he could easily have been taken for 65.Yet Menotti was a difficult person who - in Charleston at least - became his own worst enemy. As the years piled up, the question of administrative succession at Spoleto grew pressing and it was complicated by Menotti’s insistence that his adopted son Francis follow him as artistic director of the festival both in Charleston and in Italy.

Those who had long supported Spoleto in Charleston felt that Francis, a difficult person, was not the man for the job. During negotiations often confrontational and even hostile Menotti threatened to move the American festival elsewhere - Savannah, just down the coast, was mentioned as a new site. And when Menotti finally did depart from Charleston he insisted for a time that the name “Spoleto” was his personal property.

Happily, Spoleto USA has done very well without Menotti, while word from Italy indicates that son Francis is no great success there. My life was made richer through my association with Menotti, with whom I had little contact following the death of his American press agent shortly after he left Charleston. It was sad indeed that things ended in that wonderful, historic city as they did, but it was clear that the time had come for Menotti to go. Nonetheless, today Spoleto USA, the country’s top all-arts festival, is a major monument to Menotti; even if his many operas are not often performed, he was an active presence on the art scene of the world for over half a century.

Wes Blomster

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):