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

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 Hallé 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.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

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):