Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
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.