Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

Handel's Brockes-Passion: The Academy of Ancient Music at the Barbican Hall

Perhaps it is too fanciful to suggest that the German poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) was the Metastasio of Hamburg?

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

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):