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

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

Expressive Monteverdi from Les Talens Lyriques at Wigmore Hall

This was an engaging concert of madrigals and dramatic pieces from (largely) Claudio Monteverdi’s Venetian years, a time during which his quest to find the ‘natural way of imitation’ - musical embodiment of textual form, meaning and affect - took the form not primarily of solo declamation but of varied vocal ensembles of two or more voices with rich instrumental accompaniments.

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):