Recently in Performances
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement,
but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment
“is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga
Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.
Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.
Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.
On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.
Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.
You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.
If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.
Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.
I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.
For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.
Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.
04 Dec 2007
Bolcom’s ”View” brilliant at WNO
The American Dream and the tragic vision of ancient Greece are miles and millennia apart; yet they merge seamlessly in William Bolcom’s “View from the Bridge,” on stage in November at the Washington National Opera.
The mythic dimension, of course, was already there in Arthur Miller’s 1957 drama, a true-to-life
story, in which the author detected “some re-enactment of Greek myth that was ringing a
long-buried bell in my subconscious mind.” In the play Bolcom too sensed the mythic horizon
behind life in the New York Sicilian community of which Eddie Carbone had long been a pillar.
And working with Miller and long-time collaborator Arnold Weinstein to “translate” the drama
into opera the composer amplified the mythic resonance of the story by adding a chorus that
functions as it did in classic tragedy: it comments on — rather than taking part in — the events
Commissioned by and premiered at the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1999, “View” moved — with
the addition of two arias to the score — to the Metropolitan Opera in 2002 . And this third
staging of the original production — directed by Frank Galati with sets and costumes by Santo
Loquasto — by a major company confirms that this is indeed an American classic.
Three singers in the WNO cast who created their roles in Chicago and then repeated them at the
Met contribute greatly to the WNO success: Kim Josephson as stevedore Eddie Carbone,
Catherine Malfitano as his wife Beatrice and Gregory Turay as relative Rodolfo newly-arrived
It is a coincidence perhaps that this trio returns to “View” for a third time. Yet their presence in
the cast speaks of a commitment to the work that came across clearly in the performance at
Washington’s Kennedy Center on November 14. It is, of course, Malfitano, now looking back on
an international career spanning three decades, who amazes. The dramatic power and the beauty
of her voice remain undiminished. Her delivery of “When am I gonna be a wife again?” — one
of the added arias — expresses the pain she feels as she watches her husband’s growing
obsession with her orphaned niece, portrayed with all the innocence of the ‘50s by Christine
This illicit passion that turns this account of life in a community still committed to an Old-World
code of honor into tragedy defines Eddie as the central figure in “View,” and Josephson has fully
mastered the complexity of the role. He violates this code first in his passion for his niece and
then in reporting his wife’s illegal immigrant relatives in to authorities. But of far greater
consequence is the kiss that he gives his rival Rodolfo.
It is a violation of a taboo that determines the outcome of the drama. What makes the scene
doubly compelling is that up to this moment Eddie was not consciously aware of the sexual
attraction that Rodolfo held for him.
This kiss, comparable in its force to that embrace in the Garden of Gethsemane, is at the very
heart of “View,” and Bolcom has set it with a master’s hand. Backed by the black-white
bleakness of the photographs projected on the rear of the stage, it reaches beyond the story as a
violation of such dimensions that it demands action from the gods. Indeed, in its impact, it stands
beside Hagen’s murder of Siegfried in Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung.” It is one of the great
moments in opera.
An outstanding member of the supporting cast is Richard Bernstein as illegal immigrant —
“submarine” — Bruno. Bass Bernstein, one of America’s most agile singers, is superb in
everything he does, yet he remains among the unsung truly significant voices of his generation.
And he makes “A Ship Called Hunger,” the finest and most overpowering aria in the score, a
show stopper. Indeed, the bitterly sorrowful line “I do not understand you, America!” is the
supreme vocal moment in the opera.
Also impressive is veteran bass John Del Carlo as Lawyer Alfieri, a man intimately familiar with
the characters in the drama, but at the same time an objective observer who leads the chorus that
Bolcom has integrated so effectively into the score. And tenor Turay brings bel canto brilliance
to Bolcom’s recasting of the hit song “Paper Doll” as a Pucciniesque aria.
John DeMain, now in the senior ranks of American conductors, gives full power to Bolcom’s
score with the WNO orchestra. Amy Hutchison directed this re-staging of the Chicago
“View from the Bridge” tells a story as poignant as it is bleak of what opera scholar Thomas May
describes as “an era that combined lingering innocence with suspiciousness, unjaded faith in the
American dream with a shield of cynicism.” Arthur Miller was a major spokesman of that age;
with this opera William Bolcom lays bare its emotional heart.