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

An English Winter Journey

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.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

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.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

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’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

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.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

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.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

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.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

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.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

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.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

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.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

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.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

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.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

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.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

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.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

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.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

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.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

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 Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

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 in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

La Cenerentola by Josep Guinovart
30 Dec 2007

Cinderella and her Cinderfella

Once upon a time, we used to only dream about a stellar pairing like Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu has fielded for their current offering on display: “La Cenerentola.”

Gioachino Rossini: La Cenerentola

Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona

Above illustration by Josep Guinovart

 

I mean, a diva and a divo that could both easily, nay joyfully negotiate the considerable and varied vocal demands of the title role and the Prince? And handle spot-on comic acting as effortlessly as they embodied well-judged sentimental moments that truly touched the heart? And on top of it all, both be possessed of exceptional, unassuming youthful good looks and that truly elusive “star quality”?

Well, ’tis the season, and dreams do come true. Those who whine and pine for some elusive “Golden Age” or another should shut up and hurry to Catalonia to catch Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez in what may just be definitive performances in Rossini’s enchanting rags-to-riches-rendition.

The beautiful, blond, Ms. DiDonato quite simply has it all. She can dispatch roulades with aplomb; color and vary seamless melismas to convey any variety of emotions; float high, middle, or low notes (and everything in between); spout out fiery dramatic phrases; or pull back to pianissimi of crushing frailty. It seems nothing in the role eludes her. She is a major artist with a beautifully schooled, richly handsome instrument, at the top of her game. Above all, she invites us into her world with a winning presence and an infectious delight, sharing her prodigious gifts in the service of one of Rossini’s most enchanting characters.

That she brought us to our knees and then to our feet with a perfectly judged “Non piu mesta” almost goes without saying. It was one of those thrilling performances when my heart began racing as fast as the coloratura, and the entire audience scarcely dared breathe. Applause and a low roar began as soon as she released the climactic note, and it built and built until the play-off finished and we seemed helpless in wanting to out-do each other in shouting our approval.

This is the kind of moment we dream of encountering in our years of routine, nicely competent opera-going, isn’t it? A spontaneous communal moment mercifully unspoiled by the likes of the Met Shush-ers (aka “The Applause Police”), where sudden perfection and the outpouring of recognition collide to make for an electric, one-of-a-kind shared experience. But far before this famous set piece, our star impressed from her very first, firmly-voiced “Una volta cera un’ re,” and then she just went from strength to strength. I felt much like Renee Zellweger in “Jerry Maguire” when she said “You had me from ‘hello’.”

Matching her note for note, and dripping charisma (he could bottle and sell it), Mr. Florez currently has no equal in this repertoire. Having heard him now on seven occasions, this cool bel canto dude just never mis-fires. Everything in his beautiful, bright lyric voice is perfectly aligned and evenly produced; he wisely judges just how far to push it in volume; his remarkable agility knows no apparent bounds; he can spin a hushed or full-throated legato phrase that the great Kraus would envy; and he can leap octaves and tenths (maybe fourteenths) in a single bound to perfectly centered high notes.

His Latin temperament and impossibly boyish dark good looks are certainly icing on the cake to ladies of both sexes (the five Milanese gentlemen with whom I shared my box were certainly enamored, prompting much passing of binoculars). Perhaps his most special skill as a complete performer is that he knows how to effortlessly play comedy — without mugging, without shtick, without gilding the lily — he just “gets it.” So here is a Prince Charming that is fun, passionate, a looker, and…he sings, too. No wonder he gets the girl!

In my previous encounters with “Cenerentola” I have certainly always enjoyed the tenors I heard, nice voices, nice enough acting. But I never quite realized what a great part Don Ramiro could be until I first caught Mr. Florez in it in London (well-partnered with Kasarova). It is cause for rejoicing that he is just a plain ol’ star singer who can make any of his assumptions a star part.

Not to say that these two were alone in their glory, for the Liceu assembled a most winning cast. At first I thought that Bruno de Simone (Don Magnifico) and David Menendez (Dandini) might should switch roles. The former was more suave of voice and presentation than I had imagined for Magnifico, and the latter a little more blustery and over-the-top than any of my previous Dandini’s. But once I set aside my pre-conceptions, both won me over with their well-realized (and well-traveled) interpretations. Although the frequent rapid-fire patter from both was well-executed, what impressed even more was the underlying beauty of tone both brought to the occasion, de Simone more lyrical, Menendez more burnished.

Simon Orfila’s warm, mature, and artfully deployed bass-baritone contributed another big plus with a lovingly conceived Alidoro. In the rather one-note dramatic roles of the step sisters, Cristina Obregon (Clorinda) and especially Itxaro Mentxaka (Tisbe) always acquitted themselves well, sparkling vocally in their spunky chatter-patter, and adding substantially to the many ensembles.

Joan Font directed a highly inventive production that has also been shared between Houston Grand Opera, Welsh National Opera -Cardiff, and Geneva’s Grand Theatre. Mr. Font and his designer Joan Guillen have come up with a cornucopia of clever touches, a riot of well-coordinated colors, and a unifying concept that deploys a “chorus” of eight dancers costumed as rats (with long pointy noses) who prettily pose, comment with movement, change scenery, and offer props along with tea and sympathy.

Amid all the bustle, and funning around, and subsequent glamor, these judiciously used rodent groupings kept us well grounded in Cinderella’s humble milieu. Indeed, she began “Nacqui all’affanno e al pianto” kneeling among the rats and charmingly tousling their heads as a sort of ‘thanks’ for having been such willing accomplices.

While all the tongue-in-cheek costumes and wigs were revelatory and aptly matched to the characters, I found our heroine’s white ball gown to be a bit of a disappointment. In this signature moment of her arrival at the ball, the skirt looked too short, like a high water model, and the veil that was removed revealed a huge white powdered wig that, from my seat at least, looked for all the world like a white Afro so big it could eclipse Angela Davis. Mr. Florez’ white wig, while accurate, might also have been traded in for a brunette model to better complement his coloring.

I initially wondered why Cinderella came out for the final scene in her black, gray and white(designer) rags and a tiara, but it became clear that Mr. Font had one more trick up his sleeve. During her final aria, she distanced herself more and more from the Prince, ending alone in a spotlight, and was once again rat-handed her broom. Was it all a dream? A unique touch to end a uniquely delightful production.

Albert Faura’s excellent lighting merits mention since it was such a willing accomplice in the afternoon’s effects. The back lighting of the basic scenic structure instantly transformed it from rat-infested home to palace (in this case, also rat-infested). The interior lighting of the fireplace created a wonderful effect as the mantle lifted and it grew to create/reveal the imposing palace doors. And in a novel touch, the storm scene was accompanied by the rats operating a shadow curtain showing a silhouette of the prince in his mini-coach riding through the blustery night en route to find the girl of his dreams.

Last but not least, Patrick Summers conducted with stylistic flair, and ably accompanied the recitatives from the keyboard. Inexplicably, he got a few undeserved hoots at curtain call. All I can figure is he was apparently being taken to task for a total of about six bars in Act I when our otherwise fine Dandini slightly misjudged an entrance, and later had a very minor moment of rhythmic uncertainty. When things are moving at such a breakneck clip, the slightest moment of inattention can cause a hiccup. But I found the maestro always to be large-and-in-charge, and he led an effervescent reading that was not only well-paced, but all the while pleasingly sensitive to the balancing introspective utterances.

Seen on 23 December, this struck me as a perfect gift for the holiday season, which I recommend to companies and opera lovers everywhere as a fine alternative to the usual parade of “Hansel and Gretel,” “The Magic Flute,” and “The Nutcracker.”

At least on this occasion, in light of this dreamy Rossini, it seemed a new “Golden Age” might be possible after all. And after all, it is the season of dreams, isn’t it?

James Sohre

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):