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

Eugene Onegin at Seattle

Passion! Pain! Poetry! (but hold the irony . . .)

Pow! Zap! Zowie! Wowie! -or- Arthur, King of Long Beach

If you might have thought a late 17thcentury semi-opera about a somewhat precious fairy tale monarch might not be your cup of twee, Long Beach Opera cogently challenges you to think again.

Philippe Jaroussky and Jérôme Ducros perform Schubert at Wigmore Hall

How do you like your Schubert? Let me count the ways …

Crebassa and Say: Impressionism and Power at Wigmore Hall

On paper this seemed a fascinating recital, but as I was traveling to the Wigmore Hall it occurred to me this might be a clash of two great artists. Both Marianne Crebassa and Fazil Say can be mercurial performers and both can bring such unique creativity to what they do one thought they might simply diverge. In the event, what happened was quite remarkable.

'Songs of Longing and Exile': Stile Antico at LSO St Luke's

Baroque at the Edge describes itself as the ‘no rules’ Baroque festival. It invites ‘leading musicians from all backgrounds to take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them’.

Richard Jones' La bohème returns to Covent Garden

Richard Jones' production of Puccini's La bohème is back at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after its debut in 2017/18. The opening night, 10th January 2020, featured the first of two casts though soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who was due to sing Mimì, had to drop out owing to illness, and was replaced at short notice by Simona Mihai who had sung the role in the original run and is due to sing Musetta later in this run.

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Mozart’s Don Giovanni returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Robert Falls updating of the opera to the 1930s. The universality of Mozart’s score proves its adaptability to manifold settings, and this production featured several outstanding, individual performances.

Britten and Dowland: lutes, losses and laments at Wigmore Hall

'Of chord and cassiawood is the lute compounded;/ Within it lie ancient melodies'.

Tara Erraught sings Loewe, Mahler and Hamilton Harty at Wigmore Hall

During those ‘in-between’ days following Christmas and before New Year, the capital’s cultural institutions continue to offer fare both festive and more formal.

Prayer of the Heart: Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet

Robust carol-singing, reindeer-related muzak tinkling through department stores, and light-hearted festive-fare offered by the nation’s choral societies may dominate the musical agenda during the month of December, but at Kings Place on Friday evening Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet eschewed babes-in-mangers and ding-donging carillons for an altogether more sedate and spiritual ninety minutes of reflection and ‘musical prayer’.

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

Professional opera in Japan is roughly a century old. When the Italian director and choreographer Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-1940) mounted a production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Italian in Tokyo in 1917, with Japanese singers, he brought a period of timid experimentation and occasional student performances to an end.

Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

For those of us who live in a metropolitan bubble, where performances of Handel's Messiah by small professional ensembles are common, it is easy to forget that for many people, Handel's masterpiece remains a large-scale choral work. My own experiences of Messiah include singing the work in a choir of 150 at the Royal Albert Hall, and the venue's tradition of performing the work annually dates back to the 19th century.

What to Make of Tosca at La Scala

La Scala’s season opened last week with Tosca. This was perhaps the preeminent event in Italian cultural and social life: paparazzi swarmed politicians, industrialists, celebrities and personalities, while almost three million Italians watched a live broadcast on RAI 1. Milan was still buzzing nine days later, when I attended the third performance of the run.

La traviata at Covent Garden: Bassenz’s triumphant Violetta in Eyre’s timeless production

There is a very good reason why Covent Garden has stuck with Richard Eyre’s 25-year old production of La traviata. Like Zeffirelli’s Tosca, it comes across as timeless whilst being precisely of its time; a quarter of a century has hardly faded its allure, nor dented its narrative clarity. All it really needs is a Violetta to sweep us off our feet, and that we got with Hrachuhi Bassenz.

'Aspects of Love': Jakub Józef Orliński at Wigmore Hall

Boretti, Predieri, Conti, Matteis, Orlandini, Mattheson: masters of the Baroque? Yes, if this recital by Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński is anything by which to judge.

Otello at Covent Garden: superb singing defies Warner’s uneven production

I have seen productions of Verdi’s Otello which have been revolutionary, even subversive. I have now seen one which is the complete antithesis of that.

Solomon’s Knot: Charpentier - A Christmas Oratorio

When Marc-Antoine Charpentier returned from Rome to Paris in 1669 or 1670, he found a musical culture in his native city that was beginning to reject the Italian style, which he had spent several years studying with the Jesuit composer Giacomo Carissimi, in favour of a new national style of music.

A Baroque Odyssey: 40 Years of Les Arts Florissants

In 1979, the Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor, William Christie, founded an early music ensemble, naming it Les Arts Florissants, after a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

Miracle on Ninth Avenue

Gian Carlo Menotti’s holiday classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors, was the first recorded opera I ever heard. Each Christmas Eve, while decorating the tree, our family sang along with the (still unmatched) original cast version. We knew the recording by heart, right down to the nicks in the LP. Ever since, no matter what the setting or the quality of a performance, I cannot get through it without tearing up.

Detlev Glanert: Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch (UK premiere)

It is perhaps not surprising that the Hamburg-born composer Detlev Glanert should count Hans Werner Henze as one of the formative influences on his work - he did, after all, study with him between 1984 to 1988.

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):