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

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.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

Handel's Brockes-Passion: The Academy of Ancient Music at the Barbican Hall

Perhaps it is too fanciful to suggest that the German poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) was the Metastasio of Hamburg?

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

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):