Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.



Karita Mattila (Photo by: Robert Millard )
01 Oct 2007


Across the country from Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Opera has opened its 2007-08 season with big stars (Netrebko, Alagna, Dessay, Giordani) in juicy, melodic operas by Donizetti and Gounod.

Leoš Janáček: Jenůfa
Los Angeles Opera, 30 September 2007

Above: Karita Mattila (Photo by: Robert Millard)


But at the Dorothy Chandler, the Los Angeles Opera chose to commence their season with two unquestionable masterpieces of darker colors, less likely to be thought of as “crowd-pleasers.” Beethoven’s Fidelio premiered first, with a stunning cast of relatively new names (Anja Kampe and Klaus Florian Vogt).

On September 27th Janáček’s Jenůfa opened, with the great and glorious Karita Mattila in the lead. Seen at the second performance on Sunday, 30 September, Oliver Tambosi’s now well-traveled production provided a reliable if not exactly memorable staging for a high-powered musical success. Music Director James Conlon appeared again at the pre-lecture (as is very much his wont), to speak with revivalist passion about the merits of Janacek’s opera, now over a century old and yet still not quite beloved enough to make such urgent declarations of merit unnecessary. But as Conlon said, once the audience is in the house for a performance, the opera makes its own case, and better than any speaker can.

Sunday’s performance certainly won over the matinee crowd. At intermission some members spoke admiringly about the dramatic vocals, while wondering about the significance of Tambosi’s core concept: a boulder breaking through the ground in act one, crowding the stage in act two, and broken into rocks and stones for the final act. As the beautiful Jenůfa hides in her step-mother’s house, scarred by her frustrated admirer Laca and recovering from the delivery of the child she produced with the handsome scoundrel Števa, she cries out that she feels as if a stone is crushing her. Apparently that one line provided for Tambosi his entry into the heart of the drama, but when the boulder becomes the primary visual reference, the literal depiction of the metaphor reduces the complexity of the drama, rather than supporting it. The tension of act two, at any rate, certainly does not benefit from giving some of the less serious members of the audience the temptation to giggle, as characters feel their way around the huge boulder in their living room.

But the roar of adulation that greeted the singers and conductor Conlon at the end of the afternoon proved that even the questionable qualities of Tambosi’s setting could not lessen the impact of this performance. Mattila owns the title role, and she remains in her glorious prime. An athletic performer, she could subtly suggest Jenůfa’s youth just through her posture, while incautiously throwing herself around the stage in the dynamic second act. Then in the third, after her almost hysterical outburst at the discovery of the body of her child (murdered by her step-mother in a desperate bid to save her stepdaughter from a shamed and lonely life), Mattila projected a wise and loving forgiveness, even standing stock still. Her singing approached the flawless, with only one high climax finding her reaching up a bit tentatively. Tambosi’s set does have the virtue of high walls, intersecting at the rear, which projects the voices out into the huge space of the Dorothy Chandler. Mattila had the power when she needed it, and could pull back into shades of detail as needed. She is, quite simply, an astounding artist.

As the step-mother Kostelnička, Eva Urbanová came through where it mattered most, in the powerhouse histrionics of act two. Not the actress that Mattila is, Urbanová nevertheless has the sort of edgy, penetrating vocal production perfect for the role, and her commitment helped make the audience understand both the cruel reasoning behind her decision to kill her stepchild and the ability of Jenůfa to forgive her.

The plain but honest quality of Kim Begley’s voice perfectly suits the character of Laca, as does his masculine appearance, which contrasts well with the boyish but callow handsomeness of Jorma Silvasti’s Števa. Silvasti was a late replacement for the young tenor Joseph Kaiser, who took a prime assignment at the Metropolitan. Perhaps this change was just as well, as the trip of Mattila, Begley, and Silvasti made a convincing assembly of peers, all of approximately the same age and all well experienced in their roles.

The LAO orchestra has not played a Janáček score for well over a decade, and Conlon has some more work to do to make the players fully comfortable with the spiky idiom of the composer. With Conlon’s impassioned leadership, Sunday’s performance still had all the power needed, especially for the heart-tugging lyrical outburst at the climax. Act one, however, felt a bit tentative.

So after two very successful productions of Fidelio and this Jenůfa, LAO will return to the tried and true with productions of Don Giovanni and Puccini’s ubiquitous Bohemians, under other conductors. Conlon returns in the 2008 half of the season, with Tristan und Isolde, Otello, and this season’s edition of Conlon’s “Recovered Voices” series, a double-bill of Zemlinsky and Ullman one-acts. All in all, LAO can’t compete with the Met for star-power or technical innovation, but when it comes down to the actual performance, the company may never have been better.

Chris Mullins

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):