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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.
07 Sep 2007
Aspen premieres forgotten Cavalli work
A husky baritone in Speedos on a motor scooter and a buxom, purple-wigged Dame Edna drag clone — the Aspen Opera Theater Company’s staging of Francesco Cavalli’s 1667 “Eliogabalo” was off to a start that promised to equal the program’s over-the-top staging of the composer’s 1649 “Giasone” two summers ago. (AOTC director Edward Berkeley raised the curtain on that Baroque potboiler to a biker Amor on a Harley.)
magnificent singing by a huge contemporary-clad cast and the superlative
musicianship of Cavalli scholar Jane Glover as conductor of a pocket-size
early-instrument ensemble the promise did not hold.
Advances on the production, plus two lengthy hand-wringing essays in the
Aspen program book, focused not on the opera, but on its seemingly mysterious
history. In brief: Cavalli, long the darling of his day in opera-mad Venice,
looked back on over 30 successes when “Eliogabalo” was all set for a
carnival-season premiere in the city. Then the work was not merely cancelled,
but replaced by an opera on the same decadent Roman emperor by Giovanni
Antonio Boretti. And to make the substitution still more painful to the aging
Cavalli his librettist Aurelio Aureli wrote a new text for Boretti. The
manuscript of “Eliogabalo” — sketches of a score, as was the habit in
that day of agile improvisation — was filed away in the Venice Marciana
Library and forgotten for over three centuries. Cavalli wrote another two
operas — both lost — and died in 1676.
“Eliogabalo” emerged from oblivion in 1998 when an edition of the
score by Roberto Solchi attracted the attention of Europe’s major master of
Baroque opera Rene’ Jacobs, who made it the basis of a staging at
Brussel’s La Monnaie in 2004. That production, essentially the world
premiere of the work, moved on to Innsbruck and Paris and was
enthusiastically celebrated by incense-burning critics throughout Europe.
Indeed, Opernwelt, Germany’s leading opera periodical, declared it
“the rediscovery of the year.”
It is impossible, of course, to compare the Aspen production with a
staging that one knows only from written reports; one feels, however, that
something was lost in crossing the Atlantic. Aspen was in no way behind
Brussels in scholarship. British-born Glover, in her fifth season as music
director of Chicago’s Music of the Baroque, wrote her dissertation on
Cavalli and published a book on him in 1978. And she undertook her own
realization of the edition of the score by Harvard’s Italian-born Mauro
Calcagno, another leading authority in the field.
The Aspen production was, to be sure, impressive in its solid musicianship
and in the work of a huge cast thoroughly schooled in Baroque vocal
performance practices. It did, however, not radiate the excitement that one
recalls from “Giasone,” and in outright fun it was light years behind the
staging of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s 1745 “Platée” on stage at the Santa
Fe Opera this summer. Even armed with a detailed guide through the contorted,
convoluted and complicated plot and English titles it’s not easy to follow
the story of depravity, intrigue and perversion that “Eliogabalo”
As briefly as possible: Eliogabalo — in history the boy emperor
Heliogabalus who corrupted Rome from 418 to 422 — is aided by
co-conspirator underlings Lenia and Zotico in his quest for bedmates. Out to
seduce Gemmira, he orders the murder of his cousin Alessandro to whom she is
betrothed to achieve his goal. Five-watt-bulb Atilia is after Alessandro, and
boy-about-palace Nerbulone finds himself in the middle of this mess. In the
final act Eliogabalo is knifed offstage and — only the Baroque could manage
a happy end after so much senseless misery, and Alessandro, the new emperor,
is united with Gemmira and Eritea finds a mate in Giuliano.
Gender, of course, isn’t merely bent in Baroque stagings these days;
it’s thrown on the floor and stamped upon, and that allows the director
free choice of voices for a production. Yet director Edward Berkeley,
long-standing mastermind of opera at Aspen, might have gone off the deep end
in casting women in seven leading roles in “Eliogabalo.” That in itself
resulted in a lack of contrast that contributed to the tedium of the two
hour, 40 minute performance.
The lower register was thus left entirely to tenor Alex Mansoori, who
stole whatever show there is to steal as Dame Edna look-alike Lenia, and to
be-Speedoed baritone David Keck as court glamour boy. As the bi-sexual
cross-dressing title figure mezzo Cecelia Hall was appropriately louche in
both male and female attire, while soprano Christin Wismann brought happily
contrasting dignity to Alessandro. Ariana Wyatt’s brilliant soprano
combined with her natural beauty to make Gemmira a credible object for
Eliogabalo’s raging hormones, and business-suited Ellen Putney Moore
employed her dark-hued mezzo wonderfully to offer insight into Giuliano’s
Top vocal honors, however, went to Paris Hilton look-alike Carin Gilfry,
whose well-honed mezzo made Atilia credibly human. (The only moral being in
the cast was the white doggie that Gilfry carried.) Arthur Rotch’s
scaled-down ruin of a triple-arched Roman gate proved a perfect set for the
many on-stage machinations in “Eliogabalo,” and the superb 14-member
chorus brought additional color to the cross-dressing central to the
production. (Unusual in today’s Baroque stagings was the inclusion of only
one countertenor in the cast, and he was relegated to the chorus.)
Overall, however, the opening performance in Aspen’s historic Wheeler
Opera House on August 14 came across much more as a magnificently prepared
academic study than a knock-out evening at the opera. Rather than biting
nails about the possible injustice done Cavalli in the 1667 cancellation,
Aspen might better have considered that “Eliogabalo” was written at a
time when opera was in transition, moving from the largely through-composed
stile representativo of Monteverdi (presumably Cavalli’s teacher)
to the contrast between recitative and aria that was soon to be Handel’s
glory. The “star” singer was emerging, and both audience and artists were
eager for change. One returns to the conclusion that works residing in
oblivion are right where they belong.