Recently in Performances
Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra climbed out of the War Memorial pit, braved the wind whipped bay and held spellbound an audience at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Auditorium at UC Berkeley.
Utterly mad but absolutely right — Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos started the Glyndebourne 2013 season with an explosion. Strauss could hardly have made his intentions more clear. Ariadne auf Naxos is not “about” Greek myth so much as a satire on art and the way art is made.
“Man is an abyss. It makes one dizzy to look into it.” So utters Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, repeating what was also a recurring motif in the playwright’s own letters.
National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.
Once upon a time, Frankfurt Opera had the baddest ass reputation in Germany as “the” cutting edge producer of must-see opera.
Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.
Just in case we were not aware that the evening’s programme was ‘themed’, the Britten Sinfonia designed a visual accompaniment to their musical exploration of night, sleep and dreams.
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Composed between 1718 and 1720, Handel’s Esther is sometimes described as the ‘first English Oratorio’, but is in fact a hybrid form, mixing elements of oratorio, masque, pastoral and opera.
Hector Berlioz's légende dramatique, La Damnation de Faust, exists somewhere between cantata and opera. Berlioz's flexible attitude to dramatic form made the piece unworkable on the stages of early 19th century Paris and his music is so vivid that you wonder whether the piece needs staging at all.
St. John’s Smith Square was the site of Elizabeth Connell’s final London concert, intended as a farewell to London on her moving to Australia. It was rendered ultimately final by her unexpected death.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
Back for its fourth revival, David McVicar’s 2003 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte has much charm, beauty and artistry.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro has a libretto by Lorenzo daPonte based on the French play La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (The Crazy Day or the Marriage of Figaro) by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799).
For its world class Easter Festival, Baden-Baden mounted a Die Zauberflöte that owed more to the grey penitential doldrums of Lent than to the unbridled jubilance of re-birth.
Once Berkeley Opera, renamed West Edge Opera, this enterprising company offers the Bay Area’s only serious alternative to corporate opera, to wit Bonjour M. Gauguin.
In the first of pianist Julius Drake’s three-part series,
‘Perspectives’, our gaze was directed at Gustav Mahler’s eclectic musical
responses to human experiences: from the trauma and distress of anguished love
to the sweet contentment of true friendship, from the agonised introspection of
the artist to the diverse dramas of human interaction.
The Los Angeles opera company marketed its spring production of Rossini's La Cenerentola as Cinderella though there is no opera by that name. The libretto of La Cenerentola is not the Cinderella story we know.
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