Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May 1594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Teatro Verdi, Busseto
11 Nov 2007

Verdiland Revisited

Since his appointment as general manager of Parma’s Teatro Regio in August 2005, Mauro Meli didn’t conceal his ambitious plans for growth.

Giuseppe Verdi: Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio
27 October 2007, Teatro Verdi, Busseto
A Fondazione Teatro Regio (Parma) production

Teatro Verdi, Busseto

 

‘My presence here — he declared on entering office — is linked to Parma’s ongoing process of internationalization [as official seat of the European Union’s Food Authority]. It’s high time that Parma, by merging its many resources, does for Verdi what Salzburg did for Mozart or Bayreuth for Wagner. The Regio will spearhead the building of a cultural district of international appeal’. Besides the regular Winter season, since 1913 a highlight in the billboard is the Festival Verdi, named for Parma’s illustrious son and usually running in late Spring. For organizational reasons, this year it was postponed by a few months, thus allowing to center its timeline around the Maestro’s birthday anniversary (October 10), and to recruit into the project such neighboring towns as Modena, Reggio Emilia and Busseto under the logo ‘Le terre di Verdi’ [Verdi’s lands]. Number of events and attendance both profited from the innovation; as to artistic quality, new entries like Riccardo Muti, Yuri Temirkanov, Denis Krief, witness enough to the festival’s productive effort.

In the same vein of Salzburg and Bayreuth, the Parma series embraced the philosophy of completism, aligning established masterpieces alongside rarely performed works. Is the young Verdi underrated? Even among the composer’s staunchest fans there is a feeling that some apology needs to be made for such early operas as Alzira, Stiffelio or Giovanna d’Arco. However, this is hardly the case for Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio, the 1839 opera marking Verdi’s debut at La Scala. It lacks neither memorable tunes, nor a surprising instinct for drama, nor the depiction of strongly individualized characters. Also a towering father’s figure — a feature due to acquire so much momentum in Verdi’s later dramaturgy — is already there. Sure, the dark color of cloak-and-dagger drama is a bit conventional and less psychologically nuanced than — say — in Simon Boccanegra or Don Carlo; yet, compared to the average output of Mercadante or Donizetti in the same genre and at approximately the same time, Oberto can stand up to the benchmark — maybe a few inches above it.

Anyway, offering a run of seven nights for Oberto (nowadays mostly a fare for CD collectors) sounded all too confident, particularly considering the venue: the cosy Teatro Verdi in Busseto, a small town some 40 kms northwest of Parma, roughly midway between the roadside inn at Roncole, where Giuseppe saw the light of day, and Sant’Agata, the country estate he built out of his musical industry. In the event, all of the house’s 307 seats were regularly sold out, with standing rooms impartially used to accommodate those local socialites, globalized opera tramps and critics from far-away places who had failed to make timely reservations.

The Florentine director Pier’Alli, also in charge of sets, costumes and lighting, is reputed as the ultimate Oberto specialist worldwide. His new production, adapted to fit the small stage, stems from those already seen at Macerata in July 1999 and at Genua in October 2002, whose basic concept may be summarized as ‘moderate disbelief’. The characters’ geometric and emphatic gesticulations, not unlike a Greek tragedy staged at Epidaurum by some Balinese coreographer who earned his master from the Comédie Française, are less and less impressive as time goes by, since he tends to peruse them in any possible context. However, his sets are both simple and effective: a semicircle of rotating panels showing in turns tainted mirrors, walls, gilded hyper-baroque friezes, castle gates and more. As to the costumes, their dominant note points towards the 1830-40s, which could possibly amount to a (once more) ‘moderate’ updating from the original 13th century to the score’s time of composition. We have already seen such and worse applications of the time-machine gimmick — once in a while not without arguably good grounds. A judicious use of extras, as well as the choir’s partial displacement in a number of front boxes and in various locations within the hall so to provide stereo effects, were also to be counted as added value.

Despite the house’s crisp acoustics (highly defined, with a fast decay not giving approximation the slightest chance) the said choir and the forty-odd Regio instrumentalists squeezed into the pit delivered a flawless performance under the lively and finely-tuned tempo choices of Antonello Allemandi. He and the Bulgarian mezzo Mariana Pentcheva, impersonating Cuniza, reaped salvos of applause from an enthusiatic audience. Having not heard Pentcheva for quite some time, I was apprehensive about how she might curb her powerful and owerflowing (once Soviet-style) organ in such belcanto highlights as the Rossini-like cabaletta ‘Più che i vezzi e lo splendore’ at the beginning of Act II. Well, I gladly avow that I was wrong. Without losing anything of her usual firm intonation, polished dark color and authoritative acting, she seems to have now acquired a more mature style awareness and all the desirable fineries in utterance.

The same is unfortunately not true for Fabio Sartori as the treacherous (but in the end repentant) count Riccardo, although his beefy tenor and sustained clarion notes provided elementary excitement. He might well aspire to heavier roles, provided he refines his dynamics — and loses some weight. Soprano Irene Cerboncini’s undeniable acting sophistication doesn’t match her poor breath control, sometimes leading her astray in phrase endings. Her Leonora featured an irritating mixture of natural talent, good looks and imperfect pitch in the lower range. With imposing physical vigor and uncommon accuracy in arioso and recitative passages, Paolo Battaglia (Oberto) made up a noble loser; a defiant old gentleman-cum-bass partly in the mould of Mozart’s Commendatore. But the company’s strong point was indeed in their ensemble numbers: the finale of Act I, starting in a menacefully subdued tone and developing in continuous crescendo through multiple twist and turns, ended in a stormy stretta of wild energetic impact, arguably beyond the composer’s intention, yet much appreciated by the audience.

Carlo Vitali

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):