Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Santa Fe Opera Presents Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-sen

By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Michael Slattery (© George Mott/Glimmerglass Opera)
16 Aug 2007

Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo”, Glimmerglass 2007 — Slattery rises to Alden’s challenging concept

The first masterpiece in the history of opera. That’s a tall order to live up to for any company and for any band of singers, especially those at the beginning of their careers.

Above: Michael Slattery in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo
Photo: © George Mott/Glimmerglass Opera

 

But that’s what Glimmerglass Opera is all about — pushing young singers on the cusp of international careers into the limelight with challenges of this sort of calibre. Luckily for them, this is an opera that has enjoyed a wealth of thought-provoking productions all around the world in the past two decades, and an audience now much more at ease with early 17th century musical forms than at any time since L’Orfeo’s first performance 400 years ago.

To quote Gustav Leonhardt, Monteverdi “turned a page of musical history and started to write a new chapter full of daring harmonies and (previously) unheard human passions.” Unfortunately there is a dearth of instructions from the composer and so nothing is writ in stone — yet, down through the years and certainly in the many 20th and 21st century recordings of L’Orfeo, all sorts of ideas as to how this juxtaposition of instrument and voice might be realised have been attempted. However, one thing is certain: he demanded the supremacy of the individual human voice in its eternal quest for psychological and dramatic truth. So that too has to be a priority of any staging: the voices and the story they tell must shine clear and unobstructed by any misguided directorial conceits.

On that subject, this production directed by one of opera’s current enfant terribles, Chris Alden, certainly tried the patience of many in the audience. Having attended its premier at Opera North in England last year, I was intrigued to see how Alden’s conceits had travelled to this very different house, and different singers. I wrote then: “You don’t get very much more classic than the opera that virtually invented the art-form, and Christopher Alden has most decidedly set out to challenge a few well-worn notions of this favola in musica.” Indeed he does, and on second acquaintance, I can’t say that I’m any more enamoured than I was first time around. It’s patchy; and although the idea of Orfeo as a troubled artist/singer in some sort of faux ducal palace works very well, the eliding of certain essential parts of the story — such as Eurydice’s rescue and second death — just jar the sensibilities too much, as do many of the bits of rather tired post-modernistic little “business” that the singers have to carry. Endless yards of sticky tape (to confine Eurydice to Hades and also to represent the Styx and now played more for laughs) and dozens of un-lit cigarettes get boring so quickly. Having said that, as this is the Glimmerglass Orpheus festival, in celebration of the great story’s many transmogrifications, perhaps the challenging Alden approach is what’s needed to keep the adrenaline running?

The pivotal and dominating role is of course that of Orfeo himself, where muse and myth fuse into the legendary singer who descended into the underworld to bring back his dead wife Eurydice, yet failed in the final moments. The essential difference between first run in Leeds, and here was the Orfeo. Paul Nilon in England concentrated on projecting a quite limpid, gentle, musical soul whose journey and eventual failure seemed oh-so-human and sympathetic. Here, Michael Slattery, a young American tenor and Juilliard graduate, was a very different kettle of fish. Resembling more a wild, wilful and wasted rock star of the 80's or 90's, his lithe body often seeming to project emotion and nervous energy as clearly as his admirably coloured tenor. His second act vocal climax, the virtuosic "Possente spirto", where the singer has to “audition” his way past Caronte at the gates of Hell, is 10 minutes of some of the most difficult vocal writing that Monteverdi (or his contemporaries) ever committed to paper. Slattery’s performance was a lesson in dramatic singing - the young poet/singer grew more desperate, more anxious, as his words seemed to fail him in his quest. If some tonal beauty was lost in the service of the drama, then it was a risk worth taking.

He was well supported by some spirited and effective singing from the rest of the cast, who doubled as the Chorus, although some were more committed to (and comfortable with) early music performance practice than others. Of note were Megan Monaghan as Eurydice/Speranza and bass Christopher Temporelli as Pastore 4/Pluto.

Matching them and Slattery in musical commitment was the orchestra under Antony Walker whose strong musical sense and understanding of idiom enabled the period instrument-augmented Glimmerglass Opera Orchestra to sound remarkably “authentic”. At this sort of festival with five widely varying works in repertory through the summer, one cannot expect scholarly exactitude from the players or the instruments they use — but with some clever adjustments (such as substituting the original cornetti with muted piccolo trumpets) and additions (three theorbos to augment the continuo accompaniment) Walker and his players gave a most satisfactory approximation to the real thing.

© Sue Loder 2007

Performances continue August 14th, 17th, 20th, 23rd, and 25th.

For tickets (limited availability): Glimmerglass Opera Box Office (607) 547-2255 and more information from the website: http://www.glimmerglass.org

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):