Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
12 Nov 2007
Le Nozze di Figaro – Metropolitan Opera
Le Nozze di Figaro, in 1786, was the longest and most elaborate opera buffa ever composed and (though it is seldom given complete) is still the longest you are likely to see in the regular repertory.
There are so many
variables that a critic can easily find something to object to. A Countess
short of breath in “Porgi amor,” with which (no warm-up) she opens Act
II; a Cherubino too feminine for adolescent male outpourings; a Count
insufficiently virile for his masculine vanity (the engine that drives the
plot) to be credible; a Marcellina too young to be Figaro’s mother
(Beaumarchais turns Oedipus into farce here, showing how close
tragedy and comedy really are); a lackluster conductor; a “concept”
staging that ignores half the plot; an ugly set; an incompetent fandango or
leap from the window – there is always (as Gilda Radner would say)
something. Attending the Met’s Figaro in a year when few
world-famous names have signed on for it, the manipulator of the poison pen
whets his fangs in malicious anticipation.
At the matinee of November 10, the Met fooled me: until the last two
minutes of the staging (and then it was Jonathan Miller’s unaltered
original direction that let me down, not anything the performers did), Le
Nozze was as near perfect as you are likely to get, and none of those
obvious lapses occurred. Anja Harteros sang both the Countess’s arias
flawlessly and was, in addition, a radiant beauty whose neglect by any
husband puzzled everyone and made him look an oaf. She won the
ovation of the afternoon – even for one who missed the angelic quality Kiri
Te Kanawa brought to the Countess’s final lines of forgiveness. (The opera
– and buffo in general – is primarily about forgiveness for everybody’s
human imperfections – which is why the original, imperial audience found it
easy to overlook the revolutionary subtext.) Ekaterina Siurina, a plump
Russian tidbit, as Susanna sang a radiant “Deh vieni non tardar” and a
“Venite, inginocchiatevi” with the proper giggly bounce. Kate Lindsey is
a real find – her Cherubino looked like an adolescent boy, a very pretty
one to be sure but with an arrogant chin and a “street” sort of strut
that made this cocksure kid a credible threat to the older males. She sang
gloriously too. Marie McLaughlin made an ardent but not preposterous
Marcellina – for once one regretted the omission of her aria – and
Anne-Carolyn Bird, though a bit tall, sang a sweet Barberina.
Anja Harteros as the Countess
Among the men, Bryn Terfel naturally stood out in the title role. I did
not like his Figaro when the production was brand new – he seemed so
anxious to show what an actor he was that he huffed and puffed and groaned
and grimaced instead of singing; Mozart took a back seat to Beaumarchais. He
has calmed down considerably over the years, and though still a bouncing
buffo-man with plenty of time for comedy (if his pretence of jumping off the
balcony is not quite believable), he now sings the arias at a less frenetic
pace, with more of the elegance they require and reward. Simon Keenlyside
played the Count as an elegant fop, forever tossing his curls and pratfalling
on the polished floors, but this never interfered with his musical authority.
Maurizio Murano’s blowhard Bartolo, Greg Fedderly’s slithy Basilio, and
Patrick Carfizzi’s lumpish Antonio earned most of the day’s laughs.
Philippe Jordan is a young Swiss who conducts with zest and delight, as if
he wanted to grab you by the ears and prove this is a masterpiece with charms
you never suspected – hardly necessary with Figaro, but what I
mean is, he takes none of it for granted, he is thrilled by the music and
eager to share.
Ekaterina Siurina (Susanna), Bryn Terfel (Figaro) and Simon Keenlyside (Count)
And what did I object to about the conclusion? In the Met’s rush to get
the Countess into a new and glittery gown for the finale, no one has thought
(and Mr. Miller years ago did not think) to have her show the ring to the
Count, revealing to him that she is the mysterious lady he made love to in
the dark. The audience knows this, and Figaro and Susanna know it, but the
Count does not, and his heartfelt, aristocratic apology is inexplicable if he
doesn’t. The laws of farce are immutable: If you do not tie all the knots,
the machine unravels. It’s such an easy piece of business to fix – and so
satisfying when it’s fixed. Patch it up, Met.