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

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

Il trittico, Opera Holland Park

Time was when many felt compelled to ‘make allowances’ for ‘smaller’ companies. Now, more often than not, the contrary seems to be the case, instead apologising for their elder and/or larger siblings: ‘But of course, it is far more difficult for House X, given the conservatism of its moneyed audience,’ as if House X might not actually attract a different, more intellectually curious audience by programming more interesting works.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

L’Oracolo (Franco Leoni) and L’Incantesimo (Italo Montemezzi) at Teatro Grattacielo
19 Nov 2007

Verismo Rarities, Teatro Grattacielo

Part of the fun of visiting the many companies that specialize in unearthing forgotten operas lies precisely in not knowing what you’re going to get.

L’Oracolo (Franco Leoni)
With Todd Thomas, Ashraf Sewailam, Arnold Rawls, Daniel Ihn-Kyu Lee, Asako Tamura and Mabel Ledo.

L’Incantesimo (Italo Montemezzi)
With Todd Thomas, Ashraf Sewailam, Asako Tamura and Ashraf Sewailam.

Teatro Grattacielo, conducted by David Wroe. Avery Fisher Hall, November 13.

 

It could be a justly ignored trifle or a work underappreciated in bygone days, or a work overappreciated that gives you a clue to what the tastes of that era were. Audiences liked this? What did they like about it? And sometimes, when you least expect it, it’s a pleasure from start to finish.

Take Leoni’s L’Oracolo, now — Antonio Scotti recorded a bit of it (he played wicked Cim-Fen, proprietor of an opium den in San Francisco’s Chinatown), and there has even been a complete recording with Tito Gobbi and Joan Sutherland. The opera was rather popular at the Met in its day, during and after World War I — but how many of us have actually experienced a live performance? And as for Montemezzi’s swan song, L’Incantesimo — how many have even heard of it? Composed for radio during the Mussolini administration, it did get a staging at the Verona Arena nearly sixty years ago.

But you never know if you don’t go hear them, and sometimes that hearing provides astonishment, surprise in the amount of pleasure available. One of the most enjoyable operas I’ve heard this season was Dame Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers, performed by the American Symphony Orchestra last September at Fisher Hall. How much more awake we all were, alert to the unknown, the forgotten, the ignored, when Smyth’s expert orchestration came flooding out at us like some Cornish valkyrie?

You have to try it, or you will regret the chance lost. That, I am happy to report, was the conclusion of a happily dazed band of opera lovers at Fisher Hall again last Tuesday, when Teatro Grattacielo, an organization that presents one concert a year of a forgotten (often unknown) work of the verismo era. It was their thirteenth season and the prima donna withdrew with a sore throat, and the other singers were far from well known, and the double bill of one-acts particularly obscure — but no matter. However much we may have shrugged going in — there was a lot of “Here we go for another one” among a fatalistic crowd — all eyes sparkled and a happy babble of comment filled the air at intermission: If L’Oracolo is not a masterpiece of the first water (did verismo produce masterpieces of the first water? Isn’t that besides the realistic point of the form?), the opera is a thing of beauty, melodious and passionate and odd, filled with blood and lovely tunes and horrible destinies. Any decent orchestra will have fun playing it (there were times with this one when one wasn’t sure if the teeth-grating harmony was intentionally “oriental”or off key), and the singers all have parts that make it clear just how hard they are working. Best of all, Teatro Grattacielo had filled the cast with excellent voices, healthy, loud, urgent, and thoroughly schooled in the Italian manner.

Todd Thomas, a baritone of imposing malice — a man born to sing Scarpia, which he does — sang the monstrous Cim-Fen. Ashraf Sewailam, a young Egyptian bass of distinction, sang his nemesis, Win-Shee. Asako Tamura made a striking impression as Ah-Joe, one of opera’s many delicate oriental maidens with a larynx of steel (Teatro Gratticielo has already presented Mascagni’s Iris), and Arnold Rawls sounded attractive and ardent in the short but high-lying role of her unfortunate true love, San-Lui. Daniel Ihn-Kyu Lee, as the wealthy businessman at the center of the plot, and Mabel Ledo in the brief role of a careless nursemaid, made one wish to hear more from them.

L’Incantesimo was another matter. Almost the end of the line for verismo and, indeed, for Italian melodic opera, it is Montemezzi’s tribute to the fairy tale works of Richard Strauss and his ilk, with a full, Germanic orchestra swirling us through a slight drama of lover (tenor) versus husband unable to love (baritone), contesting for the devotion of a wife more symbol than woman, all of them under the contrivances of the enchanter of the title. (This is the rare verismo fable with a happy ending.) José Luis Duval sang the desperately high-lying role of the lover as well as one could expect — he will find the awkward Strauss tenor repertory congenial, or at least possible — and Mr. Thomas scored again as a bravura heavy: hard, haughty, loveless Count Folco. Ms. Tamura gamely followed up her Ah-Joe by replacing an ailing colleague as Giselda, who doesn’t have to do much, but must do it at the top of her range, with the entire orchestra competing fortissimo. She, like Mr. Thomas, sounded at the evening’s end as if they gobble this stuff for aperitifs and could happily sing more — which cannot physically be true. Mr. Sewailam, in the brief but significant role of the sorcerer, was again highly effective.

For mastery of the forces he deployed, Montemezzi certainly deserves high marks for L’Incantesimo — though his finale is cruelty to singers. But for substance, for personality, for offering a story that took us to new or intriguing places, the opera seemed thin: a lot of bark, little bite. This was not the general reaction to L’Oracolo, which a performance like this one makes us think worthy of another look, even a staging (despite its hokey contrivances: opium addicts, kidnappings, mad scenes, murders, sewers — it’s all Chinatown, Jake), perhaps on a double bill with Puccini’s veristic Tabarro, another slice-of-brutal-life show. L’Oracolo was a reminder that the era did not only produce Cav and Pag.

The Teatro Grattacielo Orchestra was led, and the singers inspired, and the entire performance a triumph for David Wroe, a conductor new to me. The only down sides of the entire event were the unfortunate inclination of the company to use over-miked electronic sound effects — in this case a foghorn and a rooster — at moments when subtlety would have made the point better.

John Yohalem

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):