Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?

This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:

“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”

Gound Faust - Calleja and Terfel, Royal Opera House London

Gounod's Faust makes a much welcomed return to the Royal Opera House. With each new cast, the dynamic changes as the balance between singers shifts and brings out new insights. In that sense, every revival is an opportunity to revisit from new perspectives. This time Bryn Terfel sang Méphistophélès, with Joseph Calleja as Faust - stars whose allure certainly helped fill the hall to capacity. And the audience enjoyed a very good show.

Syracuse Opera’s Porgy and Bess
Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

Karlsruhe’s Mixed Blessing Ballo

The reliable Badisches Staatstheater has assembled plenty of talent for its new Un Ballo in Maschera.

Louise Alder, Wigmore Hall

This varied, demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch.

Luke Bedford: Through His Teeth, Linbury, Royal Opera House

Can this be the best British opera in years? Luke Bedford’s Through His Teeth at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre is exceptional. Drop everything and go.

Powder Her Face, ENO

As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Never thought I’d say it but......

Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Wigmore Hall, London

Celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the UK's greatest composers (if not the greatest), this concert was an intriguing, and not always stimulating, mix. Birtwistle with Carter makes sense, but Birtwistle with Adams does not - or at least only within the remit of the concert series. The concert was actually entitled “Nash Inventions: American and British Masterworks, including an 80th Birthday Tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle” and was the final concert in the “Inventions” series.

Requiem for a Lost Opera Company

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.

The Met’s Werther a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

Chicago’s New Barber of Seville

New productions of repertoire staples such as Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia bear much anticipation for both performers and staging.

Lucia in LA: A Performance to Remember

On March 15, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented Elkhanah Pulitzer’s production of the opera, which she set in 1885 when women were beginning to be recognized as persons separate from their fathers, brothers and husbands. At that time many European countries were beginning to allow women to own property, obtain higher education, and choose their husbands.

San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera

On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

From the moment she walked, resplendent in red, onto the Wigmore Hall platform, Anne Schwanewilms radiated a captivating presence — one that kept the audience enthralled throughout this magnificent programme of Romantic song.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

La Fille du regiment, Royal Opera

Donizetti’s opera comique La Fille du regiment returned to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, for its third revival.

Schoenberg and company

With Schoenberg, I tend to take every opportunity I can — at least since my first visit to the Salzburg Festival, when understandably I chose to see Figaro over Boulez conducting Moses und Aron, though I have rued the loss ever since.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

 Beverly Sills in her Metropolitan Opera debut as Pamira in Rossini's Siege of Corinth on April 7, 1975.
11 Nov 2007

Houston pays homage to opera’s living legends

Although seriously ill, Beverly Sills and Luciano Pavarotti were still very much alive when general director Anthony Freud in his second year in this position planned the 53rd season of the Houston Grand Opera.

Above: Beverly Sills in her Metropolitan Opera debut as Pamira in Rossini's Siege of Corinth on April 7, 1975.

 

It is thus coincidence — but therefore doubly touching — that the season opened with two operas that pay tribute to America’s first true supersoprano, felled by cancer in May, and to the most legendary tenor of the late 20th century, who died in September.

The season opened in the Wortham Theater Center with Verdi’s “Masked Ball” on October 19; Donizetti’s “Daughter of the Regiment” followed on October 26. Luciano Pavarotti spoke of Riccardo, the king-hero of Verdi’s “Masked Ball,” as his favorite Verdi role and the one he would chose if he were to be allowed to sing only one opera for the rest of his life.

Indeed, “Masked Ball” — with Renata Tebaldi as Amelia — was the tenor’s first Verdi recording, made before he sang the opera on stage. He made his role debut as Riccardo at the San Francisco Opera in 1971. And 20 years later he was the star of a Metropolitan Opera production released at a DVD by Deutsche Gramophone. For the story of “Masked Ball” librettist Antonio Somma turned to the 1792 murder of Swedish King Gustav III. This was uncomfortable subject matter for the crowned heads of Verdi’s day, and to placate them the composer moved the opera to Boston, where Riccardo was a obviously crownless governor.

In this production from the Chicago Lyric Opera French-born, Vienna-educated director Oliver Tambosi combined Sweden and Boston to set the opera “in a kingdom, once upon a time.” Designer Frank Philipp Schlössman joined Tambosi in what — to use a buzz word of the day — is a deconstructionist approach to the work.

The King wore a paper gold crown that spoke more of the proximity of Halloween than of royal grandeur, and all in attendance at the final ball were garbed in the same crowns and ermine-trimmed robes as Riccardo. Although colorful, this “take” impeded the dramatic force of Verdi’s music, leaving this a largely well-sung, but unengaging drama.

As Riccardo Mexico-City-born Ramón Vargas left no doubt that he is one of the world’s leading Verdi tenors today. Born in 1960, Vargas is now at the peak of his powers, and his voice that has previously cast him as a lyric tenor has a darkness that qualifies him for heavier roles.

Vargas was well matched by veteran Italian baritone Carlo Guelfi as a troubled Renato, husband of Amelia, caught in the clutches of unrequited love with Riccardo. It was premature, however, to cast Tamara Wilson as Amelia, for, although a young artist of promise, the HGO studio alumna is not yet ready for a role of this weight.

High point of the production, seen on November 2, was the sinister scene in which Eva Podleś as witch-like Ulrika forecasts the doom about to descend upon these unhappy characters. And Podleś — a true contralto of the old school — brought high passion to her portrayal of Ulrika.

Coloratura Lyubov Petrova, one of today’s most impressive Zerbinettas in Strauss’ “Ariadne,” was seriously overdirected as a hyperactive feline Oscar. HGO music director Patrick Summers again extracted superb playing from the orchestra that he has brought to a level of exceptional excellence.

In dedicating his HGO Riccardo to Pavarotti Vargas recalled student days in Vienna, where he heard the tenor in this role at the Staatsoper. “His identification with the role, his generous singing, his electrifying phrasing and exuberant voice left an indelible impression, which has been a fountain of inspiration for me,” Vargas wrote in the program.

Beverly Sills sang Maria in “Daughter” at the HGO in 1973. It was a signature role for which she had a special affection and just a year ago she gave her vocal ornaments for the opera to vocal coach Gerald Martin Moore, asking that they be shared. Laura Claycomb, a vivaciously youthful Marie in the current HGO staging, used them in this production, seen on November 3. The Texas-born soprano further wrote a verbal tribute to Sills, her “Queen of Hearts,” for the HGO program book.

And to give concrete meaning to these sentiments, Claycomb headed the cast in a “Daughter” that was anything but traditional. In a production first seen at Bologna’s Teatro Comunale director Emilio Sagi moved the story of the 1840 work forward from the age of Napoleonic wars to the final days of World War Two. “My aim was to bring greater insight into the psychology of the opera’s protagonists,” Sagi wrote in a program note. “I wanted them to be human beings, not puppets, and to make them more lifelike and entertaining.”

But whether Donizetti’s simple village souls have thus achieved the “greater sense of reality” that Sagi sought is open to question. The opening act, now set in a village bar, is excessively overrun by stout-hearted men of the military, who at times make the stage a blur of khaki. However, with the second act — all too brief in this production — Sagi comes into his own in the Art Deco salon of Marquise of Berkenfield, smashingly sung by Eva Podleś, who exceeds Ethel Merman in comic elan.

Podleś, now well into her 50s, is a cult object wherever she sings, and it was a coup for the HGO to cast her in these two very different roles. Sagi further peopled the stage with outrageous servants, inspired — he admits — by the films of Ernst Lubitsch — and a bevy of party guests rich in local references.

Texas-born Claycomb is always at her best when she returns to the HGO, and here the beauty of her voice — tinged at times by melancholy — was of magic appeal. And she paired with tenor Barry Banks to bring this “Daughter” to a hilarious close.

In his HGO debut British Banks, a man short in stature but a giant in vocal power, was an ideal Tonio — naive and innocent and with a voice that hit the 9 high C’s of “Ah! Mes Amis” with ease and exactitude. And in another debut Italian conductor Riccardo Frizza underscored the easy charm of Donizetti’s idiom. (Frizza, by the way, conducts a Genoa staging of Sagi’s “Daughter” with Patrizia Cioffi and Juan Diego Florez on a Decca DVD.)

The production was designed by Julio Galán.

The HGO dedicated this production to Sills’ memory; in the context of the season, however, it also recalls that it was as Tonio that Pavarotti achieved superstar status as “King of the High C’s” when he sang “Daughter” at the Met in 1972. (Joan Sutherland was his Marie.) And Pavarotti spoke of Riccardo, the king-hero of Verdi’s “Masked Ball,” as his favorite Verdi role and the one he would chose if he were to be allowed only one opera for the rest of his life.

Indeed, “Masked Ball” — with Renata Tebaldi as Amelia — was the tenor’s first Verdi recording, made before he sang the opera on stage. He made his role debut as Riccardo at the San Francisco Opera in 1971. And 20 years later he was the star of a Metropolitan Opera production released at a DVD by Deutsche Gramophone.

Pavarotti made four appearances in Houston: a recital in 1979, two concerts, one with Joan Sutherland in 1983, and a solo appearance in 1987, and he was a guest artist at the Houston Grand Opera Ball in 1982.

Beverly Sills made her HGO debut in 1966 as Queen of the Night in “The Magic Flute.” She returned in 1970 to sing the three heroines in “Hoffmann” and later appeared in the leading roles in “Lucia,” “Traviata,” “Merry Widow” and “Don Pasquale.”

The current HGO further marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of its home, the Wortham Theater Center, on May 9, 1987.

Wes Blomster

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):