Recently in Performances
It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
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.
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