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

O/MODƏRNT: Monteverdi in Historical Counterpoint

O/MODƏRNT is Swedish for ‘un/modern’. It is also the name of the festival — curated by artistic director Hugo Ticciati and held annually since 2011 at the Ulriksdal’s Palace Theatre, Confidencen — which aims to look back and celebrate the past ‘by exploring the relationships between the work of old composers and the artistic and intellectual creations of modern culture’.

Late Schumann in context - Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler, London

Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler at the Wigmore Hall, London, an intriguing recital on many levels. Goerne programmes are always imaginative, bringing out new perspectives, enhancing our appreciation of the depth and intelligence that makes Lieder such a rewarding experience. Menahem Pressler is extremely experienced as a soloist and chamber musician, but hasn't really ventured into song to the extent that other pianists, like Brendel, Eschenbach or Richter, for starters. He's not the first name that springs to mind as Lieder accompanist. Therein lay the pleasure !

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

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.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Derek Lee Ragin
04 Dec 2007

Beyond The Media Avatar

Imagine a mild December night, with some three hundred people queueing for a concert ticket on Siena’s horseshoe-shaped Piazza del Campo.

Recital by Derek Lee Ragin, alto; Il Rossignolo (with original instruments)

Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, December 1st, 2007

A Festival Contemporaneamente Barocco preview production

 

Past the stately gates of the medieval city hall, a breath-taking sight: the Sala del Mappamondo, a large hall studded with the old regalia of the proud Tuscan Republic that once competed with Florence over supremacy of Europe’s financial markets. Images of saints and sinners; angels, bankers, friars and warriors frescoed by Simone Martini, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Sano di Pietro — names echoing like clarions. And the clarions are actually there, arranged within crystal shelves: precious originals of the long trumpets whose copies still resound twice in a year for the Palio horse race. From Autumn 2008, this is planned to become one more regular series, a so-called “Festival Contemporaneamente Barocco” storming a variety of historic venues in the city — including two recently-restored opera houses, the cathedral, the university and more — with events connected to opera, music, drama and cultural heritage at large.

To Italian concertgoers who missed the seldom chance to hear him live, countertenor Derek Lee Ragin is a sort of media avatar, the lower half of Farinelli’s voice as heard in the gorgeous soundtrack of a (quite despicable) 1994 feature film on the legendary Neapolitan castrato. The upper one, as largely spread at that time, was provided by the Polish soprano Ewa Mallas Godlewska, with a French computer digitally processing both halves into the virtual reconstruction of a voice which, around 1725, could boast a range of two octaves and a fourth (from A to D’’’) — and later extended by a few more pitches downward, thus to around three octaves! (However, there is no surviving evidence in the scores that Farinelli ever used all of them in any single piece…).

Ragin_Siena.png

As to Ragin, his voice sounds most effectively in the range just around the middle C up to a tenth above. It might have grown darker in years, yet without losing the appeal of an other-wordly color, something of an alto of warm polish and purity, all of a sudden opening up towards high notes generally forbidden to the male falsetto. At those dizzying pitches, he doesn’t either squeak or resort to a metallic compression that betrays strain, like many among his peers tend to, but emerges with a lustrous full-pressure resonance, apparently with some major support from the chest. If only he could smooth the transition between both ranges, you would call him a monster; nevertheless, he remains a singer of superior class and versatility, equally at ease in Baroque arias, contemporary music and the Negro spiritual. Add to that a technical refinement matching the stipulations of early Bel Canto style. His opening messa di voce in “Alto Giove”, from Porpora’s Polifemo, pierced the gloomy instrumental atmosphere like a sunbeam from a cloudy sky — a terrific effect. One more piece from Farinelli’s suitcase repertoire — “Ombra fedele anch’io”, set by the castrato’s profligate brother Riccardo Broschi in his opera Idaspe — was lamentably shortened of its second section and subsequent da capo. A pity indeed, considered Ragin’s heart-rending delivery of the first plaintive section, featuring a good deal of appoggiaturas and inter-registral leaps in slow tempo. Before that, a pair of Handel cantatas (Mi palpita il cor, HWV 132d and Lungi da me, HWV125b) displayed bravery in fast syllabic passages, meaningful switching between staccato and legato, polished fast trills, evidence of dramatic sensitivity in the recitatives. By the way, Ragin’s Italian diction was more than acceptable throughout, reaching a peak in the favorite encore “Ombra mai fu” from Xerxes, whose notorious text clumsiness often fires jokes among native hearers.

Rossignolo%2BRagin.png

Besides providing a spirited accompaniment to Ragin’s vocal solos, the resident period band “Il Rossignolo” (a gentle archaism for nightingale) showed off with notable panache in the fillers: a four-parts sonata and a concerto for the same forces by Telemann, plus Vivaldi’s Concerto for recorder, RV 106. All of the players emerged in turns for their individual merits and deserve quotation: harpsichordist-cum-conductor Ottaviano Tenerani and flautist Marica Testi for their assured elegance of phrasing, the mercurial cellist Ludovico Minasi for his bold strokes, Luca Giardini, a young violinist in growing international demand, both for finery of sound and fanciful embellishments. Oboist Martino Noferi, a promising virtuoso on the baroque oboe, didn’t perform equally well on the recorder. He should probably choose for the better opportunity, sooner or later.

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):