Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La Bohème, Manitoba

Manitoba Opera’s first production in nine years of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème still stirs the heart and inspires tears with its tragic tale of bohemian artists living — and loving — in 1840s Paris.

Arizona Opera Presents Don Pasquale in Tucson

On April 12, 2014, Arizona Opera opened its series of performances of Donizetti's Don Pasquale in Tucson. Chuck Hudson’s production of this opera combined Commedia dell’arte with Hollywood movie history.

Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?

This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:

“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”

Gound Faust - Calleja and Terfel, Royal Opera House London

Gounod's Faust makes a much welcomed return to the Royal Opera House. With each new cast, the dynamic changes as the balance between singers shifts and brings out new insights. In that sense, every revival is an opportunity to revisit from new perspectives. This time Bryn Terfel sang Méphistophélès, with Joseph Calleja as Faust - stars whose allure certainly helped fill the hall to capacity. And the audience enjoyed a very good show.

Syracuse Opera’s Porgy and Bess
Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

Karlsruhe’s Mixed Blessing Ballo

The reliable Badisches Staatstheater has assembled plenty of talent for its new Un Ballo in Maschera.

Louise Alder, Wigmore Hall

This varied, demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch.

Luke Bedford: Through His Teeth, Linbury, Royal Opera House

Can this be the best British opera in years? Luke Bedford’s Through His Teeth at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre is exceptional. Drop everything and go.

Powder Her Face, ENO

As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Never thought I’d say it but......

Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Wigmore Hall, London

Celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the UK's greatest composers (if not the greatest), this concert was an intriguing, and not always stimulating, mix. Birtwistle with Carter makes sense, but Birtwistle with Adams does not - or at least only within the remit of the concert series. The concert was actually entitled “Nash Inventions: American and British Masterworks, including an 80th Birthday Tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle” and was the final concert in the “Inventions” series.

Requiem for a Lost Opera Company

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.

The Met’s Werther a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

Chicago’s New Barber of Seville

New productions of repertoire staples such as Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia bear much anticipation for both performers and staging.

Lucia in LA: A Performance to Remember

On March 15, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented Elkhanah Pulitzer’s production of the opera, which she set in 1885 when women were beginning to be recognized as persons separate from their fathers, brothers and husbands. At that time many European countries were beginning to allow women to own property, obtain higher education, and choose their husbands.

San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera

On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

From the moment she walked, resplendent in red, onto the Wigmore Hall platform, Anne Schwanewilms radiated a captivating presence — one that kept the audience enthralled throughout this magnificent programme of Romantic song.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Ercole sul Termodonte di Antonio Vivaldi (Foto (c) Michele Crosera)
22 Oct 2007

Biondi’s Labors Won, or Unearthing The Lost Vivaldi

An expedition against the famed warring women, the Amazons, ranking as Hercules’ ninth labor out the canonic twelve, provided the subject for the libretto by Antonio Salvi (not Giacomo Francesco Bussani, as hitherto misattributed) that Vivaldi set to music in 1723 as his own sixteenth operatic labor.

Antonio Vivaldi, Ercole sul Termodonte, 6 October 2007
Antonio Vivaldi, Bajazet, 7 October 2007

Teatro Malibran, Venice
A Fondazione La Fenice production

Above: Photo © Michele Crosera

 

Rome’s Teatro Tordinona was the ordering venue, thus bringing gender ambiguity to a peak, due to the papal ban preventing women from appearing onstage in the Holy City. What the original Roman audience actually saw and heard was a bunch of seven castrati, partly disguised as ladies in androgynous warriors’ costumes, partly as heroes of Ancient Greece - all of them warbling in soprano and alto pitches around one single tenor impersonating the most macho character imaginable, Hercules. To make things even worse, on the podium stood a Catholic priest, Vivaldi himself, acting in the many capacities of composer, conductor, solo violinist - and probably also stage director. Suspension of disbelief, albeit on the basis of lip-service to morals, was apparently much needed…

The pendulum has now swung so far that, having to dispense with the unavailable castrati, Fabio Biondi selected no less than five ladies, plus one countertenor - and yes! two tenors, one of them very high-pitched — for the world premiere revival of the same opera. Since not any complete score of it is extant, Biondi undertook one more labor, that is tentatively reconstructing one from the sets of detached arias preserved in the libraries of Paris, Münster, Turin and several other locations, then discarding and substituting some of them for the sake of inner balance and, last but not least, composing all the missing recitatives. This bears witness to the situation recently described by the Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot: “Today, there is not one performable Vivaldi opera that someone has not staged somewhere, and those still desirous of novelty for its own sake are now forced to explore the margins of his operatic output where fragmentary works or works of multiple authorship reside. Even there, it has grown hard to discover material for a genuine prima assoluta”.

Was the whole painstaking process worth trying? Judging from the results, it was. Vivaldi’s Ercole according to Biondi (different reconstructions might be attempted, and probably will, sooner or later) fits well into the general pattern of Venetian baroque opera prior to the Metastasio-Hasse-Farinelli revolution, which was due to start very soon, in the late 1720s. It exhibits most features thereof: mainly the intricacies in the plot and sub-plots, which result in mixed styles of singing, ranging from quasi-comic through amorous, to utterly heroic or tragic, sometimes all within the same character. In other words, variety pays a premium over dramatic consistency or psychological credibility. Thus, for instance, the title-role Ercole aptly delivers a row of warlike and menacing arias as he keeps clubbing his way to the final triumph; nevertheless, he also produces himself in a sort of love lesson paternally delivered to Martesia, an Amazon princess who ignores the very basics of marriage and wavers between the competing Greek princes Alceste and Telamone, both in love with her. Enhanced by the charm of Vivaldi’s compelling rhythms, unison accompaniments, colorful orchestral palette, all that amounted to some three hours of sheer, if not particularly highbrow, entertainment. Needless to say, lovers’ complaints, warriors’ bravados, last-minute rescues — and an unusually high rate of battle scenes involving brasses and kettledrums — led to the unavoidable happy end, when peace was restored and sealed with a double marriage.

Among the singing company, high praise was due to both Amazon queens (and sisters), mezzo Romina Basso as Antiope and soprano Roberta Invernizzi as Ippolita, for their unfailing intonation and agility, clear diction, style competence and acting stamina. The same was true for Laura Polverelli in the trousers role of Alceste, prince of Sparta, as well as for tenor Carlo Allemano in the title-role, who displayed a doughy quasi-baritone register and a bodily appearance well matching the muscular demi-god he was supposed to impersonate. Pity that the young and lovely soubrette Stefanie Irányi as Martesia, reportedly impaired by a cold, was a bit short of breath now and then. Nor did the mellifluous Catalan countertenor Jordi Domènech (Teseo), just perfect as a subdued lover, sound fully up to the requirements of an hero, mainly because of lacking dynamic variety. Both Emanuela Galli as Orizia and Mark Milhofer as Telamone got going very hard, yet their vocal technique still needs some refinement in order to meet the stipulations of this particular repertoire.

In the (Vivaldi-like) double bill of conductor and first violin, occasionally also grabbing the viola d’amore, Biondi led the performance with a relentless overall pulse, a nuanced choice of tempi and, most notably, a careful insight into the singers’ needs for breath and action — nowadays not a terribly common feature among opera conductors, whether of period bands or regular pit orchestras. His Europa Galante sounded like a large multi-register theorbo struck by a single hand: an amazing outcome, considering the frequent turnover of instrumentalists within its ranks. Biondi has clearly got a signature sound, one of the most exciting in the early music scene today — to say nothing of his individual prowess on the baroque violin.

Generally appreciated were the costumes, a mixture of fanciful 18th-century fashions and military paraphernalia much in the guise of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Some disappointment was instead caused by the fixed set which, according to ongoing anticipations, was due to be part of an historically informed staging care of the Arts Faculty, University of Venice, under the supervision of Walter Le Moli, a respected professional. Actually, it was all about huge square portals in the mould of stock Neoclassic, providing functional in-and-out access to the backstage. No machines, no decorations, no spectacular effects whatsoever.

***

The same set was re-used for the ensuing Bajazet, less than a novelty for early opera freaks since Biondi’s award-winning recording released in 2005 by Virgin, yet still a rarely staged title. (Back in 1994, this writer attended a fully-staged production under the alternative title Il Tamerlano — at Verona’s Teatro Filarmonico where it originally had premiered in 1735, but the singers were hardly historically informed).

As it turned out, the present Venice production was only semi-staged, with the characters dressed in modern black attires as if for a formal cocktail party, and all of the action revolving, in a rather indecipherable manner, around a Victorian-style couch in red velvet. Once again, the real centerpiece was the singing cast, studded with heavier sounding women’s voices. The barbaric warlord Tamerlano was Daniela Barcellona, towering for her imposing physical shape no less than for the force and precision of her deep mezzo. As the destitute Little Orphan Asteria, Marina De Liso unfolded hot temperament and versatility in her four widely diverse arias. As Prince Andronico, Lucia Cirillo delivered a passionate rendering of “La sorte mia spietata”, a Vivaldi borrowing from Hasse’s Siroe. Notoriously, Bajazet is a thoroughgoing pasticcio, in which several arias are favorites of the singers themselves, a.k.a. arie di baule, mostly in the ‘new’ Neapolitan style. This doesn’t apply to the unfortunate Bajazet, who, besides one exciting showpiece from Vivaldi’s own Motezuma (“Dov’è la figlia?”), is just allotted a row of angry utterances or frantic vocal gesticulations with very little thematic substance in them. Despite that, tenor Christian Senn emerged with full honors from his unrewarding part.

The sole survivor from the 2005 recording was Vivica Genaux, in the not-so-important role of Irene. However, her appearance raised an unprecedented salvo of curtain calls among the demanding operagoers of Venice. Clad in a funereal black attire vaguely resembling a chador, the Alaskan mezzo machine-gunned an incredible amount of vocal pyrotechnics in “Qual guerriero in campo armato”, the treacherous coloratura piece written by Riccardo Broschi for his brother Farinelli, bristling with inter-registral leaps extending over two and a half octaves and featuring endless florid passages in semiquavers. In contrast, another Farinelli suitcase aria, “Sposa, son disprezzata” (by Geminiano Giacomelli), gave evidence for her deep dramatic potential and faultless legato technique. During the intermissions, there was much arguing among the patrons about the frantic quivering motions of her lips and lower jaw. While some cognoscenti tended to identify a technical device for hitting each note more clearly and precisely (“finding the position”), others called that a disturbing mess or a pointless mannerism. The dispute was solved by an old gentleman who suggested with a meek smile: “Perhaps she’s not from Alaska, but from somewhere in the outer space: the Planet of Steel Nightingales...”.

Carlo Vitali © 2007

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):