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

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

A disappointing Prom from Nathalie Stutzmann and BBCNOW

Nathalie Stutzmann really is an impressive conductor. The sheer elegance she brings to her formidable technique, the effortless drive towards making much of the music she conducts sound so passionate and the ability to shock us into hearing something quite new in music we think we know is really rather refreshing. Why then did this Prom sometimes feel weary, even disappointing at times?

Merola’s Striking If I Were You

Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer have become an indispensable presence in the contemporary opera world, and their latest premiere, If I Were You, found the duo at the very top of their game.

The Thirteenth Child: When She Was Good…

Santa Fe Opera continues its remarkable record for producing World (and American) Premieres with The Thirteenth Child, music by Poul Ruders, libretto by Becky and David Starobin.

The Sopranos at Tanglewood

Among classical music lovers, Wagner inspires equal measures of devotion and disdain. Some travel far and sit for hours to hear his operas live. Others eschew them completely.

Agrippina at the Bavarian State Opera

And still they come. The opera world’s obsession with Handel’s operas shows no sign of abating. The Bavarian State Opera has, since Peter Jonas’s Intendancy, stood at the forefront of Handel staging; this new production of Agrippina was dedicated to him. As ever, I was pleased to see one of these operas for the first time in the theatre – how could I not be pleased to see almost anything in Munich’s wonderful Prinzregententheater – but again, as ever, I was left unable ever quite to put to one side the dramaturgical difficulties/problems/flaws/inadequacies. (Call them what you will.)

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Alexander Mansoori (Lenia) and Ariana Wyatt (Flavia Gemmira) [Photo: Alex Irvin]
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.)

Above: Alexander Mansoori (Lenia) and Ariana Wyatt (Flavia Gemmira)
All photos Alex Irvin

 

But despite 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.

AMFS073016.png

“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” tells.

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 conflict-ridden soul.

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.)

David-Zinman.png

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.

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):