Recently in Performances
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.
28 Sep 2007
Dusting off a Masterpiece… “The Fortunes of King Croesus” by Reinhard Keiser, coming to Opera North, Leeds and Minnesota Opera soon.
Masterpiece? The term rather depends on whether the artist in question was indeed a master and it might come as a surprise to learn that this little-known composer of the brief, but significant, German Baroque Opera period is regarded by many as just that.
We can be forgiven today for not
knowing much about either Keiser or his contemporaries in the jigsaw of small
Germanic states of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Their work was
very localised in terms of audiences, and specific to their towns and
townspeople, and they more often than not composed for the German language,
not the more widely accepted Italian or French. However, musically, they were
perfectly aware of, and amenable to, some of the more southern influences of
the times. They also occasionally included in their midst up and coming young
composers on the way to greater things – Handel and Telemann to name but
two. Indeed a young Handel absorbed many influences from Keiser, acknowledged
in his day as the greatest living composer in Germany.
What makes Keiser (1674-1739) so special – and his “King
Croesus” is a good example – is that he was a master of variety,
expression and colour, and not only vocally. He liked nothing more than
arranging the instrumental accompaniments in complex layers of sonority,
giving his fast-paced vocal numbers a dizzying variety of effects. He wrote
Croesus in 1711 when no longer in charge of the Hamburg opera house,
but still writing for it, and returned to the piece revising it extensively
(possibly for the better, although the original is lost) in 1730, making full
use of the latest dramatic and musical ideas. He knew his audience. Not for
them the epidemic sweeping the rest of Europe of strict Italian opera
seria format, the rigid recitative-da capo aria-recitative sung by
starry castrati and sopranos who could, literally, call the tune. The German
tradition was much more eclectic and country-based, full of traditional dance
rhythms and structures. The townspeople of Keiser’s time liked to hear
tunes and see characters that reminded them of their folk traditions (even if
they had long left the fields for more lucrative merchandising), they liked a
bit of broad comedy, and wanted to know that all would come good in the end.
On top of that, their rather grim Lutheran Church elders also required
morality and ethics, for without that they could make big trouble for the
local opera houses of the time.
The story of King Croesus as told by Keiser is typical of its period: that
is to say, convoluted. The mighty Croesus of Lydia is proud but soon humbled
by his enemy King Cyrus, as predicted by the sage Solon. His son, Atis, is
dumb (at least in Act 1) but is in love with Elmira, Princess of Media. She
is loved by the treacherous Orsanes, who is pursued in turn by Princess
Clerida…who is loved by Croesus’ son Eliates. Only Atis’s servant
Elcius (the comic character) is immune to these eternal triangles, and
prefers the pleasures of the table. After war, imprisonment, concealed
identities, betrayal and lessons learnt, we emerge at the end into the light
of a wiser and more content court, with joy and happiness apparently
By the time Keiser revised the version of King Croesus we will
see in Leeds and Minnesota, both his career and the German Opera as a working
entity were soon to disappear beneath the flood of Italian works, so it’s a
good choice on the part of director Tim Albery, who originally convinced
Opera North’s General Director Richard Mantle to stage it, to show off
Reinhard Keiser’s brilliance as a master of musical invention.
And it’s that very brilliance of fecund invention – layer upon layer
of musical and dramatic ideas pouring forth with an almost indecent
profligacy – that Tim Albery has had to both tame and barber to fit our
modern sensibilities, and expectations. Asking him to describe his attraction
to this piece brought forth an equally profligate flow of enthusiasm:
“It’s a wonderful, anarchic, hugely varied piece, suddenly irreverential,
suddenly serenely heroic – it’s a gift, and a challenge, to present to
So how has he done it? He says that they have made some cuts, especially
in the recitative that didn’t progress the story to any effect, and a few
arias for the same reason – but also moved around a couple of arias that
just didn’t feel comfortable where they were and seemed to work better
elsewhere – and he hopes that the audience will find it works too. They
have cut some of the peasant and children’s dancing scenes and relocated
the “country bumpkin” character from the village street to become more of
a courtly old roué attached to the palace. Albery also feels that the
downside of Keiser’s fecundity – so many ideas, tumbling over each other
it seems – is that the opera can provoke a feeling of almost breathlessness
as we the audience try to keep up. So when Keiser does slow the pace, and
gives a beautiful melody space to expand and evolve, it’s almost as if we
feel “oh, thank heavens, yes, let’s just enjoy this a bit”. So to that
end, he and Harry Bicket, the musical director, have, on occasion, just
repeated a particularly lovely line of song – to give people the chance to
appreciate it before it disappears and the story’s off again. At Opera
North, we will hear the work sung in English, the work of Albery himself,
although in Minnesota it will be sung in the original German.
Helping Albery achieve this alchemy of adaptation and clarification in
Leeds is an impressive musical line-up. As well as “Mr Baroque Opera”
himself, Harry Bicket, there is a top flight cast of actor-singers including
British tenor Paul Nilon in the title role, young Canadian soprano Gillian
Keith, the extraordinary, exciting American male soprano Michael Maniaci in
the role of Prince Atis, and Henry Waddington as Cyrus.
Will this production finally bring Keiser back to popularity? Albery
certainly hopes so and he’s sure that once people get to hear the wonderful
richness of melody and orchestration in “King Croesus” they too will want
the dust-sheets left off for ever.
Sue Loder © 2007
“King Croesus” can be seen at:
The Grand Theatre, Leeds on 17th & 20th Oct and 7th &10th Nov
The Theatre Royal, Nottingham on 27th Oct
The Lowry, Salford Quays, on 17th Nov
here for information on U.K. performances.]
and at Minnesota Opera from 1st March 2008
here for information on Minnesota performances.]