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.
13 Nov 2007
Macbeth at the Met
Verdi, a born skeptic where the supernatural is concerned, did not seem to know quite what to do with the witches in Macbeth and was far too loyal to Shakespeare to reduce their role – he knew how closely the play was bound to them, famous for them.
(Shakespeare wrote the play, remember,
for James I, a descendant of Banquo’s, a passionate believer in witchcraft
and the author of a book on demonology. There’s no way to know how much of
this credence the author shared.) In the opera, the witches’ off-kilter
polka in the opening scene is peculiar but not exactly sinister; their
whirling waltz in the cauldron scene is not music for a ballroom but does not
stink of black magic. He does much better with the ghostly evocations of
bagpipes (bassoons and oboes) for the apparitions of the kings.
Stage directors tend to share Verdi’s ambivalence (if that’s what it
was), and they have the additional problem of making sense of what modern
audiences no longer take seriously. In a recent production in Istanbul, the
witches were humorless demonic forces motivating all the wicked actions of
the opera – which I think is a mistake. Ludicrous witches, however, were
the great flaw in Adrian Noble’s new production at the Met – an enormous
crowd of bedraggled park bench ladies in ratty housecoats, clunky shoes and
socks, pin-on hats, and handbags wielded like the weapons of Monty Python
drag queens. Are they intended to be funny or eldritch? Though this is a
puzzlement Verdi may have shared, it seemed a desperate attempt to find a
modern equivalent in gooseflesh to Shakespeare’s voices of Fate who vanish
into thin air. (The Met’s witches do not vanish at all; they run
The scenes that tend to stump the average director stumped Noble as well:
Banquo the soldier vet sings his haunted aria to Fleance after acknowledging
the tramps gathered around a steel-drum fire; their casual friendliness then
turns inexplicably to menace. The omission of a forest of cut branches for
ambulatory Birnam Wood is regrettable. The sensuality at the core of the
Macbeth marriage is clear enough from their duets and complete trust in each
other; it isn’t necessary to have every encounter conclude rolling into
bed. The Sleepwalking has been cued by Verdi’s highly original choice to
have the Lady’s snatches of dream uttered while the orchestra plays – but
no one ever sings – the melody; this is undercut when the two witnesses’
interjections of horror come from seated psychiatrists observing the patient
from a therapeutic distance.
Noble’s production achieved most when it tried least hard. The gloomy
forest semicircling the stage area gave an appropriate mood to the tale, and
the sequoia-sized columns that move about to become Duncan’s trapping
bedchamber or an imperial banquet hall (with the splendid addition of
grotesque chandeliers and grotesque choreography) are highly effective uses
of the Met’s enormous stage. The blazing light show (probably only visible
from downstairs) that accompanies the apparitions is a thrill, as are the
mouthing faces in glass bubble monitors.
And the singing, you ask? Well, after October’s underpowered
Lucias (both casts), it was a great pleasure to hear five (yes,
five) Met-sized voices easily filling the cavernous theater. Maria Guleghina
sang a sumptuous “Vieni t’affretta,” filling one with anticipation for
her Norma, but followed it with a cabaletta that was sloppily all over the
place to fill one with alarm at the thought of her as Norma. The coloratura
of the drinking song also lurched, but for this scene it’s appropriate; she
acted the woman who loves being the life of her parties – and seemed
humiliated when the her husband’s hysteria ruined her moment. The murky
suspense of “Le luce langue,” sung on her back on a couch as she idly
daydreams of power, curdled the blood, but the Sleepwalking Scene was a
distraction, delivered full voice as she histrionically clambered over chairs
and played with a rocking ceiling light – perhaps she can deliver this
climactic scene introspectively, with some exposure of character, but as
staged, it went for very little.
A scene from Act IV of Verdi's "Macbeth."
To Guleghina’s weird, wet and wild bra-popping Lady, Željko Lučić’s
Macbeth made a contrast and a complement, brooding where she was flamboyant.
This is appropriate: action is taken by Macbeth, but only after long
consideration (and wifely exhortation), the great soliloquies state the point
of the play, of Shakespeare’s essay on the self-destructions of ambition.
Stout and weary in formal clothes already drenched in the sweat of ghostly
visitations at his big party, he sits disconsolate, exhausted, an
impersonation of has-it-all-been-worth-it? success. Lučić has a voice of
true Verdian warmth and heft, though a few sustained notes troubled him. The
beauty of his singing underscored the tragedy here: Macbeth is not
intrinsically evil; he’s an ambitious man who knows he is doing wrong but
cannot stop himself. Lučić should prove an elegant interpreter of many
another of Verdi’s introspective baritones.
John Relyea, a bit young and sexy for a role that sounds and usually looks
patriarchal, sang an impressive Banquo. (He makes a sexy ghost, too.) Dimitri
Pittas, a New Yorker who’s been coming up through the Met ranks, sang
Macduff with a brash but interesting sound, a clarion Verdi tenor with a
youthful ping. Macduff, with his one aria and one-fourth of a finale, is a
popular spot for a not-yet-star-Verdi tenor to make a first impression, and
Pittas made it. Richard Thomas was impressive in Malcolm’s few lines:
another bright, focused tenor.
John Relyea as the ghost of Banquo and Zeljko Lucic in the title role of Verdi’s “Macbeth.”
James Levine is said to have campaigned for the new production of this
opera: the charm for anyone with an appreciation for Verdi’s mastery, his
originality, in this breakthrough score was clear in his guidance of
its many shivery effects. My only objection was the battle fugue and the
“bardic” finale, which did not sweep the theater with an arc of relief
as, after three hours of horror, they should.
Despite its imperfections, this was a production that (unlike the
Lucia) inspired me to wish to see it again. That will be possible in
May with very different singers, among them Gruber’s Lady, Alvarez’s
Macbeth, Pape’s Banquo and Calleja’s Macduff – and I wouldn’t miss