Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.



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):