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).
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.