Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
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.