Recently in Performances
It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
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.