Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

William Burden (Tom Rakewell) [Photo by Terrence McCarthy]
28 Nov 2007

Thanksgiving in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera makes it possible for opera-lovers who have stuffed themselves with turkey on the fourth Thursday of November to indulge in a feast of opera on the following three days.

William Burden as Tom Rakewell in The Rake's Progress, San Francisco Opera
Photo by Terrence McCarthy

 

This year, the three productions from Friday through the Sunday matinee featured productions new to San Francisco. The Rake’s Progress premiered on Friday the 23rd, while the Saturday the 24th Macbeth came in the middle of its run. The weekend ended with a sold-out Sunday matinee of La Rondine, in its penultimate performance.

David Gockley seems intent to marry at least some of the envelope-pushing excitement Pamela Rosenberg tried to bring to SFO to a more star-centered, audience-pleasing approach. What he may find is that even the world’s best marriage counselor can’t help this coupling.

The War Memorial clearly did not sell out for the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s score to W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman’s libretto of The Rake’s Progress. An opera arguably more respected than loved, even the presence of audience favorite James Morris as Nick Shadow couldn’t fill every seat. Director Robert Lepage apparently flipped through a volume on the history of cinema, found a photo of James Dean in costume for Giant on the wide plains of Texas, and decided, “There’s my concept”! At any rate, such a picture found its way to the cover of the San Francisco program. The spare production has some showy, humorous effects, such as a heart-shaped bed into which the errant Tom Rakewell (William Burden) and Mother Goose (Catherine Cook) fall, which then swallows them and sinks into the stage as they canoodle. Later a silver balloon pops up from a similar crack in the stage, inflating until it becomes a tacky mobile home. In Lepage’s vision, once Tom has left Texas, he is seduced by Hollywood glamour, with Nick Shadow at one point in the role of film director. Following that schema, the last scene perhaps should have taken place in a ritzy Malibu rehab clinic, but Lepage simply has it in an all-white hospital ward. After the color and drive of the earlier scenes, the evening slowly deflates, but getting some emotional impact out of the brilliant but cold creation of Stravinsky, Auden, and Kallman would be a challenge for any director.

Morris sang with professional authority, but never for one moment suggested evil. Laura Aiken caught the essence of Anne Truelove’s naive innocence, even though it’s possible to imagine a sweeter tone. As Baba the Turk, Denyce Graves nearly stole the show, dipping easily into the vocal pool of dark colors while also slipping into an on-stage pool at one point, looking quite glamorous in a ‘50s-style one-piece bathing suit (with beard accessory).

But ultimately the evening belonged to William Burden, an American lyric whose name doesn’t seem to come up often when discussing star tenors of the day. He can be counted on for solid projection of a pleasing, though slightly anonymous, tone, and he is that creature both applauded and derided on today’s opera stage: an attractive, fit performer who can really act. Why some would prefer an out-of-shape singer who stands and barks is beyond your reviewer.

Donald Runnicles led the SFO orchestra in the performance one would expect: detailed, dynamic, and urgent. It’s good to know that even when he has relinquished his title as music director, he will return to the War Memorial.

From various reports, the premiere of David Poutney’s production of Verdi's Macbeth met with strong disapproval, except for its star lead, Thomas Hampson. Hampson appears in a DVD of this production of Verdi’s opera, from Zurich some five years ago. Apparently the opening night audience thought Pamela Rosenberg had gained possession of Gockley. By the fourth performance on November 24th, things seemed to have jelled. Pountney wants the audience to feel truly weirded out by the Scottish tragedy, and probably correctly feels that a traditional approach can no longer achieve the appropriate spooky effect. Here the castle takes the form of a rotating cube with a mirrored interior, emphasizing the cramped psyches of the Lord and Lady Macbeth as they murderously pursue their expansive ambitions. The weird sisters are truly weird, a spectrum of feminine archetypes from grande dames and grandmothers to hula-hooping teenyboppers and stern matrons, all dressed in various shades of red. At the banquet that Banquo’s ghost crashes, for once we do not have to deal with a crudely made-up Banquo wandering around the stage to little effect. Hampson is more than actor enough to make us believe he sees the ghost, while Pountney has him pawing through dirt-strewn dining tables (the dirt of the grave?).

Understandably, for some in the audience, this constant flow of ideas becomes sensory over-kill, especially if one is hesitant to engage with the director, perhaps feeling it is more the director’s duty to engage the audience. Nonetheless, it is doubtful that many who see this production will be forgetting it very soon.

Georgina Lukács, by many reports, had a difficult time at the premiere. On Saturday her Lady Macbeth did seem tentative in her opening aria, perhaps understandably since she sang it from the top of the cube/castle, with a safety rope around her waist clearly in evidence. The voice is wild and unruly, but by the middle of the performance her fiery temperament and commanding high notes, especially in ensembles, had most of the audience on her side. Raymond Aceto’s Banquo and Alfred Portilla’s Macduff paled, in contrast to Lukács’s exciting risk-taking, but in the small role of Malcolm, Noah Stewart made a strong impression.

Hampson showed what star power - and fine artistry - is all about. His voice rang out with authority, and though he tended to tower over the other performers, he still manged to create a portrayal of a big man trapped in a small, frightened psyche. Conductor Massimo Zanetti, in a house debut, provided strong support for the singers, with the ballet music energetic.

But the SFO audiences were ready for dessert after the Stravinsky and Pountney’s Verdi, and they applauded the lush sets of Puccini’s La Rondine almost as happily as they did Angela Gheorghiu’s star turn. Director Nicolas Joël and set designer Ezio Frigerio had the budget for a towering set of marble colonnades; almost every scene resembled the lobby of a four-star hotel with a tacky Egyptian theme. This had little to do with Puccini’s lightweight faux-operetta, but it looked great.

Is there any other Puccini opera where the lead soprano makes a less imposing entrance? Magda is simply hanging around the parlor as the curtain rises, and in Franca Squarciapino’s costumes, which looked both expensive and unappealing, Angela Gheorghiu couldn’t make her star presence felt until she opened her mouth. But that did the trick. No matter what publicity she generates, Miss Gheorghiu has built her career on very fine singing. She doesn’t have the largest voice, but she could be heard well enough in the cavernous space of the War Memorial, and she even rang out with nice power in the wonderful ensembles of act two. Ultimately, La Rondine is a dissatisfying opera, and Puccini’s music for the third act is probably the weakest of his career, as he can no longer sustain the illusion that the story or characters inspire him. Such is Miss Gheorghiu’s artistry, she makes the opera seem worth staging, if just as a showcase for her talent.

As Ruggero, Misha Didyk came across as more at ease than he had as Puccini’s Des Grieux opposite Karita Mattila last season. He really has neither beauty of tone nor raw power, but with Puccini tenors in short supply, he can at least get through the music in representable fashion. Anna Christy and Gerard Powers both delighted as Rondine’s equivalent to Musetta and Marcello, a second couple to contrast with the love story of the opera’s main pair. Ion Marin, apparently a favorite of Miss Gheorghiu, scaled the orchestral performance beautifully to her needs.

As Gockley’s reign proceeds, it will be interesting to see if he continues to risk the audience’s disapproval with productions such as Pountney’s Macbeth. His challenge is finding enough stars in today’s current opera scene of the stature of Miss Gheorghiu (or Hampson). Rosenberg never seemed interested in walking the fine line between tradition and innovation. Mr. Gockley may have to be forgiven a stumble or two, but the three productions reviewed here, from the edgy to the elegant, actually are to Gockley’s credit.

Chris Mullins

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):