Recently in Performances
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
14 Nov 2007
Macbeth in Istanbul
Attending the opera may not be the first thing you think of when visiting Istanbul, but opera is to be found (if less well advertised than the local Bach Festival) at the Ataturk Cultural Center on Taksim Square, the heart of modern Istanbul.
Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, loved opera, ballet
and theater and recommended them strongly – along with such Western
artifacts as the Roman alphabet, the panama hat, and votes – and scarfless
hair – for women. He saw the theater as a key to entering the modern world
– and isn’t it?
You will know you have come to the right place on Taksim because colorful
posters for the opera season cover the wall to the left of the Ataturk
Center. (Tickets are sold at a kiosk to the right of the building.) The
Center was built in 1969 and is sedately modern, neither flamboyant nor
hideous – 1969 was a dull time for international architecture from New York
to New Delhi. The auditorium is comfortable and of a comfortable size.
A Turkish friend who sings himself spoke unkindly of opera in his native
land, but I thought, if their Macbeth is as good as the Forza del Destino (or
Moč Sudbine) I heard in Zagreb seven years ago – honest, idiomatic,
provincial Verdi starring the stoutest woman in Croatia, lovely voice, no top
notes, and only the basso embarrassing – then I’ll enjoy myself. It was
my last night in Istanbul, and much as I delight in Turkish folk music, I
longed for an evening free of the Middle Eastern wail. To my great pleasure,
what I got was honest, idiomatic, provincial Verdi, in a production set on
telling the story, not some director’s interpretation of the story, with an
all-Turkish cast who knew how to sing Italian opera and did so, led by a
soprano with a lovely voice (including the top) who was easily the stoutest
woman I saw in Turkey.
Perihan Nayır Artan knew her business. Passionate in her entrance without
fudging the coloratura, keyed up during the duet, her pretty voice abruptly
hard at such moments as “Dammi al ferro,” when she demands Macbeth give
her the bloody daggers, and convincingly lost in an inner hell during the
sleepwalk, when the voice floated, contradicting the horrors she sang of.
I’d like to hear her Aida someday. Murat Güney gracefully sang a somewhat
distanced Macbeth, regretful but not exactly tormented as his world falls
apart, still a warrior despite an aluminum sword that bent at the first blow.
Tenor Hüseyin Likos, Macduff, seemed ready for Verdi’s shriller leading
roles like Radames and Manrico. After a few rough spots in the overture,
Markus Baisch kept the orchestra pumping if not exactly eldritch in this
score’s often highly original use of winds and strings to produce uncanny
– in 1847, unprecedented – effects.
Yekta Kara’s production was basic but not risible. (From house photos, I
gather the real money is saved to dazzle in Arabian Nights operas like
Mozart’s Sihirli Flüt and S. Ada’s Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. They
also give Mozart’s Seraglio every summer – in the Topkapi seraglio.)
Special effects were minimal, but the story was clearly and effectively told.
The witches wore white – appearing to be surgical nurses, with bloody
aprons they lent to Banquo’s murderers. The men were in black and only Lady
M got to wear a color – guess which. The direction rather privileged the
witches, who were shown manipulating all the other characters, even in scenes
where they do not usually appear (Lady M’s cabaletta invoking “ye spirits
that tend on mortal thoughts” and also, their fingers dripping blood down a
wall, during “Le luce langue”). The witches handed Macbeth paper and pen
to write home, delivered the letter, rescued Fleance, undermined victorious
Malcolm, and sang the lines behind the apparitions in the cauldron scene –
forces of chaos, enemies to all human effort. This, I think, gives them too
much power and takes it from Macbeth – in Shakespeare, he is clearly the
author of his own misfortunes, committing his crimes though imaginatively
aware of how how disastrous this choice will be. In Kara’s production, he
has an alibi – the devil makes him do it – and thus his own character
becomes less interesting.
The words were easily comprehensible to anyone familiar with opera
Italian, but there were no surtitles – which may be why the story was so
clearly told. There was also no prompter’s box – instead lines were
hissed from stage right. This would annoy hell out of me in Wagner or Mozart,
but in a creep show like Macbeth, it rather added to the atmosphere.