Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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’.
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.
18 Dec 2007
Belfast welcomes a first-rate Messiah
If Belfast in Northern Ireland isn’t a city that immediately springs to mind as a centre of musical excellence then it’s not for want of talent, initiative and professionalism within its cultural community.
It is also a
city busy re-inventing itself after decades of internecine strife and is now
buzzing with the optimism and investment that is part of the “peace
dividend”. At a time of year when many cities in the UK and USA are
churning out moderate and sometimes frankly embarrassing renditions of
Handel’s great work it was a delight to see last Saturday night that the
Ulster Orchestra, under the forward-thinking guidance of Chief Executive
David Byers, had invited a top flight international conductor with excellent
baroque credentials to meld the undoubted talents of its musicians and chorus
with some world class soloists.
Martin Haselböck holds the titles of Vienna Court Organist (shades of
Hapsburg splendour there) and Professor of Organ at the University of Vienna,
but it is his work throughout Europe and the USA (he’s recently been
appointed Music Director of the baroque “Musica Angelica” in Los Angeles)
as a conductor of baroque opera and orchestras that he is best known perhaps.
With just a couple of days of rehearsal with a slimmed-down Ulster Orchestra
and Belfast Philharmonic Choir under Christopher Bell, he obviously gelled
most satisfactorily with both, as on both nights before full houses there was
evidence of like minds working together to produce a nimble, but supremely
eloquent rendition of this iconic work. The modern instrument orchestra
played with great Handelian style and flourish without ever over-doing the
baroque gesture, whilst the choir was almost immaculate in both intonation
and ensemble, with special mention going to the alto section for a
particularly creamy tone. No fuzzy diction in the faster passages, crisp
enunciation throughout, and a sense of true pleasure in singing came though
loud and clear. Messiah is a wonderful platform for solo excellence, but it
stands or falls by the quality of its less starry musicians, and Ulster has
every reason to be proud of its achievements here – they stand comparison
with many higher-profile European ensembles.
With this sort of solid musicianship behind them, it was inevitable that
the soloists would have to shine and really live up to their individual
billings and we were not disappointed, although on the second night there was
perhaps a slightly less ebullient start to proceedings.
Young British tenor Benjamin Hulett is, like his colleagues Deborah York
and David DQ Lee, now based in Germany and his warm, agile voice has been
noticed there in a range of baroque and classical repertoire. At the
Waterfront Hall last night his ease of production was particularly noticeable
in the Part Two recitatives and arias such as “Behold and see if there be
any sorrow” with some lovely unforced high notes being balanced by darker
The one singer in the group who might be termed non-specialist in the
baroque was the American baritone Randall Scarlata. However, he had no
trouble in fitting into this sound world and indeed demonstrated a similar
degree of agility in the coloratura as his colleagues, plus showing some
impressive colouring and expression in the more passionate arias, “Why do
the nations so furiously rage together” being a prime example.
With the first alto aria “But who may abide” the Belfast crowd got
their first taste of the highly promising young countertenor David DQ Lee,
who made such an impression this year in the BBC’s Cardiff Singer of the
World competition. Just a couple of weeks previously they had enjoyed the
more mature talents of Germany’s Andreas Scholl, and in the young
Canadian-Korean’s voice local informed opinion found a fascinating
comparison to enjoy. Lee’s instrument is more in the modern American
tradition of countertenor vocal production, with a warmer, more full-blooded
sound than the English/Germanic one, and his operatic experience to date
appears to colour his interpretations of these classic alto/mezzo arias,
although always with good taste and refinement of line and ornament. Some
elegant phrasing and soft, exquisitely-held cadential notes in “He was
despised” were particularly impressive.
Deborah York’s Handelian credentials are well known and respected
worldwide and if we have heard her less frequently in the UK recently, it is
more due to her present residence in Berlin than any lack of demand within in
these shores. Her bell-like, almost vibrato-free, soprano is not particularly
large, but it has the ability to ping to the farthest corners of a big house,
and the 1800 seats of the Waterfront held no terrors for her. She sang “I
know that my redeemer liveth” with a particularly glistening tone and was
an intriguing contrast to Lee’s more vibrant one in the duet “He shall
feed his flock”.
With music and singing of this standard, Belfast and the Ulster Orchestra
are up there with the best in Europe and America and Handel was well-served
Sue Loder © December 2007