Recently in Performances
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
14 Nov 2007
Aida at ENO
After the marketing gimmickry of Sally Potter’s production of Carmen, and a dance-based Poppea set at the bottom of the sea, it did not bode well when the advertising for ENO’s latest
production included an interactive dress-up doll circulated by email.
The company currently
seems obsessed with ‘hooking’ a new audience, while giving little thought to delivering a
consistent standard of meaningful theatrical output which might encourage this audience to stay
and explore the operatic medium further.
The ‘hook’ for Jo Davies’s new production of Aida (in collaboration with the opera companies of
Houston and Oslo) was the prospect of sets and costumes by the iconic British designer Zandra
Rhodes – hence the dress-up doll – and it was Rhodes’s name which dominated the publicity
Rhodes’s creation is a riot of colour in stylised, exaggerated versions of authentic Ancient
Egyptian designs. The men’s chorus sport voluminous gold skirts and bald-caps painted with
turquoise zigzags; Amneris is entertained by orange-clad child dancers in a room with intricate
wing-patterned windows, and Radamès makes his Act 2 triumphal entrance on a fabulous
turquoise-and-gold elephant puppet amid a shower of gold. These are the garish ceremonial
colours of the Egyptian armies; the Ethiopians have earthier colours, browns and burnt reds and
yellows. Diagonally-hung scenic draperies slide back and forth to create pyramid-shaped spaces;
the final scene is highly effective as a triangular space closes in on Aida and Radamès.
Crucially, behind the zany turquoise headdresses and lavish visuals, Jo Davies has created a
straightforward, ultra-traditional reading of Verdi’s drama which focuses on the central love
triangle and Aida’s internal struggle. It is refreshingly gimmick-free and invites the audience to
care about the characters. Furthermore, the singing is terrific.
Two singers are particularly outstanding; Claire Rutter, who sings the title role for the first time
and does so with total commitment and unfailingly lovely tone, and Iain Paterson, also in his role
début as Amonasro, a former ENO Young Artist whose bass-baritone is now impressively
refined and compelling (his future engagements include Gunther at the Met).
Full stage with Jane Dutton (Amneris) and Gwynne Howell (The Pharaoh) centre
Tenor John Hudson may be short on vocal ‘edge’ but he sings Radamès with power in the big
moments at the end of Act 1 and the Nile Scene, and remarkable sensitivity in the quieter
passages, including a proper diminuendo on the final B-flat of ‘Celeste Aida’. Jane Dutton’s
Amneris is vocally capable, but it’s her characterisation that would really benefit from more
depth. For the first two acts at least, she comes across as little more than a smug,
two-dimensional cartoon villain; there’s little evidence of the personal pain behind her
victimisation of Aida. After the Nile Scene, suddenly there’s some depth and real drama. (One
weakness of the staging as a whole, in fact, is that it doesn’t really start to take itself seriously
until the second half.)
Add into the mix the two distinguished basses – Gwynne Howell as the King of Egypt and
Brindley Sherratt as Ramfis – and the cast is one of which any top-rank international house
would be proud. In the pit, conductor Edward Gardner makes delicate work of the score’s soft
opening and the calm reverence of the ‘Possente Ptha’ scene, but pulls the stops out for the
warmongering in Act 1 and the big stuff of Act 2.
For once, the formula seems to be right. Attract the punters with a well-known opera title and a
big-name designer, and keep them entertained with first-class music making, a visual spectacle,
and a production which acknowledges that the intimate stuff is most important of all. ENO
should treat this as a salutary lesson.
Ruth Elleson © 2007