Recently in Performances
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
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.