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

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

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):