Recently in Performances
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
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.