Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Christine Goerke - Strauss Elektra BBC Proms London

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role. Felicity Palmer was Clytemnestra, Gun-Brit Barkmin was Chrysothemis, Robert Kunzli was Aegisthus and Johan Reuter was Orestes. The concert staging was by Justin Way.

Christine Goerke - Strauss Elektra BBC Proms London

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role. Felicity Palmer was Clytemnestra, Gun-Brit Barkmin was Chrysothemis, Robert Kunzli was Aegisthus and Johan Reuter was Orestes. The concert staging was by Justin Way.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Santa Fe Opera Presents Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-sen

By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the HallĂ© Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

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):