Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Temple Winter Festival: The Tallis Scholars

Hodie Christus natus est. Today, Christ is born! A miracle: and one which has inspired many a composer to produce their own musical ‘miracle’: choral exultation which seems, like Christ himself, to be a gift to mankind, straight from the divine.

A new Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House

Fairy-tales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories, but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way; you can take away the simple delight of the score, but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

Rouvali and the Philharmonia in Richard Strauss

It so rarely happens that the final concert you are due to review of any year ends up being one of the finest of all. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s all Richard Strauss programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra, however, was often quite remarkable - one might quibble that parts of it were somewhat controversial, and that he even lived a little dangerously, but the impact was never less than imaginative and vivid. This was a distinctly young man’s view of Strauss - and all the better for that.

‘The Swingling Sixties’: Stravinsky and Berio

Were there any justice in this fallen world, serial Stravinsky – not to mention Webern – would be played on every street corner, or at least in every concert hall. Come the revolution, perhaps.

The Pity of War: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall

During the past four years, there have been many musical and artistic centenary commemorations of the terrible human tragedies, inhumanities and utter madness of the First World War, but there can have been few that have evoked the turbulence and trauma of war - both past and present, in the abstract and in the particular - with such terrifying emotional intensity as this recital by Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall.

First revival of Barrie Kosky's Carmen at the ROH

Charles Gounod famously said that if you took the Spanish airs out of Carmen “there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish”.

Stanford's The Travelling Companion: a compelling production by New Sussex Opera

The first performance of Charles Villiers Stanford’s ninth and final opera The Travelling Companion was given by an enthusiastic troupe of Liverpudlian amateurs at the David Lewis Theatre - Liverpool’s ‘Old Vic’ - in April 1925, nine years after it was completed, eight after it won a Carnegie Award, and one year after the composer’s death.

Russian romances at Wigmore Hall

The songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov lie at the heart of the Romantic Russian art song repertoire, but in this duo recital at Wigmore Hall it was the songs of Nikolay Medtner - three of which were framed by sequences by the great Russian masters - which proved most compelling and intriguing.

Don Giovanni: Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera turned the art of seduction into bloodsport with its 2018/19 season-opener of Mozart’s dramma giocoso, Don Giovanni often walking a razor’s edge between hilarious social commentary and chilling battles for the soul.

Jonathan Miller's La bohème returns to the Coliseum

And still they come. No year goes by without multiple opportunities to see it; few years now go by without my taking at least one of those opportunities. Indeed, I see that I shall now have gone to Jonathan Miller’s staging on three of its five (!) outings since it was first seen at ENO in 2009.

Sir Thomas Allen directs Figaro at the Royal College of Music

The capital’s music conservatoires frequently present not only some of the best opera in London, but also some of the most interesting, and unusual, as the postgraduate students begin to build their careers by venturing across diverse operatic ground.

Old Bones: Iestyn Davies and members of the Aurora Orchestra 'unwrap' Time at Kings Place

In this contribution to Kings Place’s 2018 Time Unwrapped series, ‘co-curators’ composer Nico Muhly and countertenor Iestyn Davies explored the relationship between time past and time present, and between stillness and motion.

Cinderella goes to the panto: WNO in Southampton

Once upon a time, Rossini’s La Cenerentola was the Cinderella among his operatic oeuvre.

It's a Wonderful Life in San Francisco

It was 1946 when George Bailey of Bedford Falls, NY nearly sold himself to the devil for $20,000. It is 2018 in San Francisco where an annual income of ten times that amount raises you slightly above poverty level, and you’ve paid $310 for your orchestra seat to Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Des Moines: Glory, Glory Hallelujah

A minor miracle occurred as Des Moines Metro Opera converted a large hall on a Reserve Army Base to a wholly successful theatrical venue, and delivered a stunning rendition of Tom Cipullo’s compelling military-themed one act opera, Glory Denied.

In her beginning is her end: Welsh National Opera's La traviata in Southampton

David McVicar’s La traviata for Welsh National Opera - first seen at Scottish Opera in 2008 and adopted by WNO in 2009 - wears its heavy-black mourning garb stylishly.

'So sweet is the pain': Roberta Invernizzi at Wigmore Hall

In this BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall, soprano Roberta Invernizzi presented Italian songs from the first half of seventeenth-century, exploring love and loyalty, loss and lies, and demonstrating consummate declamatory mastery.

Staging Britten's War Requiem

“The best music to listen to in a great Gothic church is the polyphony which was written for it, and was calculated for its resonance: this was my approach in the War Requiem - I calculated it for a big, reverberant acoustic and that is where it sounds best.”

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

Royal Academy's Semele offers 'endless pleasures'

Self-adoring ‘celebrities’ beware. That smart-phone which feeds your narcissism might just prove your nemesis.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Danielle and Grant Knox (Photo: Matt Dilyard)
16 Aug 2007

Ohio Light Opera Festival

For twenty-eight years now the Ohio Light Opera Festival (OLO) has held forth in Wooster in the summertime, presenting no less than 99 different works (their big 100th comes next year), familiar and forgotten, by the likes of Gilbert and Sullivan, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Offenbach, Sigmund Romberg, Carl Zeller and Emmerich Kálmán — to refer only to the authors of the seven undertaken this year.

Ohio Light Opera Festival, Wooster, Ohio

Carl Zeller, Der Vogelhändler, August 3
Emmerich Kálmán, Die Herzogin von Chicago, August 4

Above: Danielle and Grant Knox (Photo: Matt Dilyard)

 

The audience is almost as ancient as the repertory, and as faithful as fairy tale royalty. (Matinees sell out; license plates document the region, from Georgia to Wisconsin.) The performers, however, are young and enthusiastic, and production values (aside from some desperate excuses for baroque court wigs) impressive. The old scores brim with melody and sentiment, are played by a full orchestra, and are all sung in English by a chorus that refuses to stand and deliver — they can all dance up a storm, and they do. Delectable waltzes, polkas, and czardas flood sultry Midwest evenings. It’s a wonderful cause and a wonderful occasion, and I wish I’d enjoyed the performances more than I did.

Operetta in its heyday was the less serious, more popular, highly localized form of musical play — and to this day translation is a problem. Offenbach has always had difficulties coming off outside France, Gilbert and Sullivan never appealed in France, and zarzuela is confined to Spanish-speaking lands. But when the United States was full of immigrants, there was a large audience for foreign product, which inspired local product. Broadway operetta came of age with the runaway success of Lehar’s Merry Widow in 1905; then an Irishman, Victor Herbert, and two transplanted Austrians, Romberg and Friml, covered the twenties, but local boys like Kern and Rodgers soon proved they could handle it.

Zeller’s biggest hit, Der Vogelhändler, opened in Vienna in 1891 and was playing New York — in English — before the year was out. Kálmán reigned with Lehar — and was every bit as good — in Vienna and Budapest from before World War I till World War II, but his shows were as likely to premiere in New York, London, or Zurich. (He died in 1953 in Paris, at work on his last, Arizona Lady — yes, they’ve staged it in Wooster.)

The reason pre-war operettas, with rare exceptions like Show Boat and G&S, no longer hold the stage here, aside from the unfashionable style of the music and the idiocy of most of the plots, is that singers no longer know how to sing them. Voices that should fill a room with an achingly romantic waltz sound shrill or shaky or simply unsensuous with microphones, while the voice with a mic sounds ridiculous singing over a full orchestra without one. Broadway singers depend on mics today to a disgraceful extent, even in the tiniest theaters — they are no longer trained to project, and they no longer try to. A recent evening of grand old American operetta standards performed by young Broadway performers at New York’s Town Hall (which the unamplified voice can easily fill) proved a disaster: squealing sopranos, dull baritones, lyrics inaudible or else blasting our ears when they did use mics. OLO performs in a 394-seat house, and a singer who can’t fill that size room should probably not be singing outside the shower. And yet, over and over again, the lyrics of the soloists could scarcely be heard — even in Row H center — and the big sensual voices for which this repertory was created were not on hand. Part of the problem may lie with an overly loud orchestra, but surely someone in the company can point this out to the conductors and take it down a few notches. Or was it that, like Broadway performers today, the singers were concentrating too hard on their dancing to bother putting a lyric across? Were they that embarrassed by the translations? Operetta translations are often grotesque … but I couldn’t hear enough to determine if that was true at either of the performances I attended.

Der Vogelhändler and Die Herzogin von Chicago appealed to me precisely because I’d never heard them before, and both scores had been warmly recommended over the years. Each boasts a wealth of melody that puts anything now on Broadway to shame, but that’s almost a given. Both have cardboard characters and ridiculous plots in which true love, frustrated, conquers in the end. In Der Vogeländler (The Bird-Seller, sometimes Englished as The Tyrolean), Suzanne Woods as the Princess-in-disguise got her voice and her points across, notably in the show’s hit tune, “If You Give Roses in Tyrol,” but winsome Karla Hughes and comic Sandra Ross vanished into the woodwork as soon as the band struck up. The sprightly duet of two corrupt professors was probably comic, but not a word reached the ears. Paul Hindemith (no, really, that’s his name) and Todd Strange made likeable comic villains, and the latter was occasionally loud enough — because he screamed. Peter Foltz made a capable title character, Zeller’s attempt to give Papageno more sentiment and some spine.

Emmerich Kálmán’s Die Herzogin von Chicago (The Duchess of Chicago) dates from 1928, when the youth of Budapest and Vienna were gaga for jazz — had any American shows reached Central Europe yet? The dance tunes certainly had. Nothing daunted, Kálmán cannily wrote a jazz operetta, inserting fox trots, Charlestons, saxophones and snippets of Rhapsody in Blue among the waltzes and sentimental serenades. The wisp of a plot concerns a bankrupt Balkan prince who falls for the spoiled daughter of an American millionaire. She won’t marry a man who won’t do the Charleston and he won’t marry a girl who won’t waltz — even if she has just purchased his decrepit family castle for six million smackers. True love naturally conquers, in a spirit of musical compromise.

The staging was, once again, enthusiastic to a degree, with full marks for dancing choristers and the orchestra pouring forth delicious tune upon tune. The Duchess, “Mary Lloyd,” was played by Danielle Knox, who looks like the millions she spends, acts and dances with flare, and has terrific legs, of which we saw a great deal — all requirements for a 1928 operetta diva. But when she sang, alas, not a word reached the ear. Her prince (and real-life husband — scuttlebutt has it they met while performing at the festival) was Grant Knox, whose voice is not beautiful but whose diction was the clearest all weekend. The rival princess was neither singer nor actress nor beauty, and smirking Jacob Allen, a tap dancing American entrusted with the comic duties, lacked the energy to carry the evening. The most expert and stylish performances — but alas no singing — came from Gary Moss, playing the caddish fathers of both lovers.

There’s such a treasure of music at OLO, and such a blessed enthusiasm for it, that one would like to have the company at one’s mercy, to test whether the orchestra really does need a more controlling hand than it gets from its conductors, or if the theater acoustics are defective, or if it’s the fault of the singers — many of whom have studied in opera programs and surely could project if they wanted to — that the experience was so unsuccessful. Regulars around me (though, when asked, they admitted they couldn’t get the words either) seemed very happy with what they were getting, but I doubt a theatrical experience of this order will appeal to youngsters introduced to the operetta repertory by such presentations. This is as sad a conclusion as one of Lehar’s pessimistic endings.

John Yohalem

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):