Recently in Performances
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
15 Oct 2007
Handel’s “Radamisto” revisited with mixed results in Hamburg
A remarkably quick turnaround from only last May when the first run of Handel’s “Radamisto” was blessed with a consistently high level of vocal performance may have been the reason for sparser houses this time round at the Hamburg Staatsoper (October 6th).
Those first shows had been well
received both domestically and internationally, with some outstanding singing
from Maite Beaumont, Inga Kalna and David DQ Lee. Unfortunately, the revival
only managed to retain the luminously warm-timbre’d Lee in the title role
and neither Deborah Humble as Zenobia nor Trine Wilsberg Lund as Polissena
could quite match their predecessors, although the latter had some good
moments. Also retained from the previous cast were baritone Florian Boesch,
required to play the tyrant Tiridate as a ridiculously pantomime villain,
bass Tim Mirfin as an elderly King Farasmane, and Hellen Kwon as Prince
Tigrane. Christiane Karg stood in at only 3 days notice to play Fraarte.
Marco Arturo Marelli’s intelligent but visually frantic production (he
is responsible for direction and the set/lighting) remains little changed and
is not singer-friendly; in the great tradition of modern German opera it
seems to relegate the music to some minor by-way of the director’s mind.
Handelian purists would be best advised to avoid this production where
tragedy is degraded to vaudeville, and odd conflations of the plot make an
already complex story dramatically questionable. Luckily, Mr. Handel could
cope (doesn’t he always?) despite some ragged and sometimes lumpen playing
of this marvellous score under the benign and undemanding conducting of
Martin Haselböck. One exception: the natural horns were, on the third night,
extremely proficient — no easy feat.
Yet there were vocal highlights that rose above this mish-mash of
directorial conceits and bland playing, and they included the strong dramatic
singing of Boesch, who could colour his upstanding baritone from cooing
suitor to bombastic tyrant with ease, the precise and pleasing coloratura of
Kwon, not a natural baroque singer, who warmed to her task in the later acts.
Wilsberg Lund as a feisty Polissena also sang Sposo ingrate, parto
sì with commendable vigour and passion as she strode about the stage
packing her things to leave her unfaithful husband — literally a
“suitcase aria” in this production. Most impressive of all was the
beautifully articulated, warmly sensuous singing of David DQ Lee as the
much-troubled Radamisto. He has a free and easy top that cries out for the
higher-lying Handelian castrato roles (popping a high B flat with nonchalance
during his “rage aria” Vile! Se mi dai vita) and he achieved
neatly executed divisions whilst convincing entirely with his acting. If, in
his lower range, he fought to be heard on occasion above an orchestra that
sounded as if they only had one dynamic in their range, that was partly due
to the director’s odd insistence on placing him way upstage for most of his
arias. When finally allowed just to sit quietly downstage and sing, his
“Qual nave smaritta” would be hard to better by any countertenor
singing today and showed what an exciting young talent he is.
Sue Loder © 2007