Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
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.