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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.
22 Oct 2007
Opera at the BBC Proms 2007
Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s guest appearance is an annual fixture at the Proms, and this year the work of choice was Verdi’s Macbeth, in a semi-staged performance on July 24th based on Richard Jones’s new production for this year’s Festival.
The opera was done in a hybrid edition in which the
familiar 1865 score gives way to the 1847 finale following ‘Pietà, rispetta,
amore’, thus keeping all the later version’s best music and gaining a more
theatrical, less ‘operatic’ ending.
Indeed, it had been a theatrically-compelling staging — at its
Glyndebourne home. However its bulky sets and large-scale choreography simply
wouldn’t have been viable in the limited dimensions and exposed nature of the
Royal Albert Hall platform. Consequently Geoffrey Dolton’s semi-staged
adaptation retained little of the original, and had it not been for the
tartan costumes which provided such a clear indication of family allegiances,
it might as well have been given in concert.
On its own terms, however, the musical performance was very strong, led by
Vladimir Jurowski whose conducting had rhythmic delicacy and dramatic sweep.
Voices which sound thrillingly huge in Glyndebourne’s intimate and forgiving
acoustic can struggle to make an impression in the cavernous Royal Albert
Hall, but as Lady Macbeth, Sylvie Valayre was notable here for her strength
and lyricism, and Stanislav Shvets for a portentous yet introverted account
of Banquo. Strong performances too came from Andrzej Dobber in the title
role, and Peter Auty as a young Macduff who is matured by his personal
On to August 12th and this season’s operatic highlight: a concert
performance of Götterdämmerung, the culmination of the first
“Ring cycle” in the Proms’ 113-year history - in reality, performances of
the four operas by four different companies over the space of four years.
After visits from Simon Rattle with the Orchestra of the Age of
Enlightenment, Antonio Pappano with a semi-staged adaptation from the Royal
Opera, and Christoph Eschenbach with the Orchestre de Paris, the baton was
handed to Donald Runnicles and the Proms “house band”, the BBC Symphony
Orchestra, for the final instalment in a concert performance.
It was a terrific ensemble effort by all concerned, speaking volumes about
Runnicles’ rapport with the orchestra. Christine Brewer (a regular guest
performer with the BBCSO) was a radiant, committed Brünnhilde. Stig Andersen
gave a muscular performance as Siegfried albeit with a couple of botched top
notes, and John Tomlinson’s Hagen was a triumph of characterisation and
malevolent stage presence. Of the supporting cast, the Scottish mezzo Karen
Cargill gave a notably excellent performance as Waltraute; her focused,
dramatic sound and expansive phrasing will surely stand her in good stead for
similar repertoire in the future. Only the Norns — Andrea Baker, Natascha
Petrinsky and Miranda Keys — sounded as though they had not been employed
with the success of the ensemble in mind, and even this is no reflection on
the individual singers.
This performance was a great achievement and, like all successful Wagner
performances, succeeded in making six hours go by in the blink of an eye.
August 20th brought a performance of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle by
the Philharmonia Orchestra under Christoph von Dohnányi, in a concert whose
first half featured Webern’s orchestration of part of Bach’s ‘Musical
Offering’ and a recently-assembled concert suite from Thomas Adès’s 1995
opera Powder Her Face. Contemporary music, even going back as far as
Bartók, simply doesn’t seem to pull in the crowds at the Proms; the hall was
almost empty. This cannot have done much for the morale of the orchestra or
soloists, but this Bluebeard performance would surely have been
disappointing in any case. Charlotte Hellekant was miscast as Judit, her
glacial poise giving no indication of the warmth she promises to bring to her
chilly new home. Correspondingly there was scant evocation of this in the
orchestral playing, and little sense of the richly-drawn individual musical
worlds to be found behind each of the seven doors. The orchestral balance was
all wrong too, swamping Falk Struckmann’s intelligent, generous-voiced
In the final week of the season, James Levine and the Boston Symphony
Orchestra visited for two evenings — an orchestral concert as well as a
concert performance of Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust with the
Tanglewood Festival Chorus. This performance fell on September 6th, the day
Luciano Pavarotti died, and the performance was dedicated to his memory.
Vocally the highlight was Yvonne Naef’s glorious mezzo in her fevered,
introverted account of ‘D’amour l’ardente flamme’, but elsewhere there were a
few problems. As Faust, Marcello Giordani had a tendency to strain, while as
Méphistophélès, the veteran José van Dam sounded a touch threadbare. The
real strengths in the principal ensemble lay elsewhere; the dynamic between
Faust and Méphistophélès was well-developed, and the characters were
finely-drawn and well rounded. This was, after all, a late date in the
orchestra’s tour calendar, so the opera (or rather the ‘dramatic legend’)
came to London fully ripe. This experience was evident too in the disciplined
and vivid singing of the chorus, and in the wonderful orchestral playing
especially in some of the solo woodwind.
Ruth Elleson © 2007