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

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Giuseppe Verdi
16 Dec 2007

OONY Performs Verdi's I Due Foscari

After the triumph of his fifth opera, Ernani, Verdi could have gone on writing howling melodramas and made a mint.

Giuseppe Verdi: I Due Foscari

Opera Orchestra of New York, Carnegie Hall, 13 December 2007

Francesco Foscari: Paolo Gavanelli
Jacopo Foscari: Aquiles Machado
Lucrezia Contarini: Julianna Di Giacomo
Conducted by Eve Queler

 

But his sixth, I Due Foscari, indicates a new direction: inwards. Taken from a verse drama by Lord Byron, it’s a piece with little action in it. The three principals are not in opposition to each other – their antagonist is the ruthless machinery of the Venetian state; the opera concerns what goes on in their hearts, torn between love (of family, of country) and duty (to country, to unjust laws). Verdi did not yet have the musical chops to develop such internal conflicts, to create new layers for Italian opera – but that’s where he wanted to go, and in time, opera followed. Foscari, however, despite its wealth of melody, got kind of passed by. None of the tunes are well known and the leading roles are perilous – you need three big voices to pull the thing off.

In the history of Venice, a compleat oligarchy, the truly heroic figure is Venice. But human beings are drawn to individuals, and when stories come down to us from Venetian history, it is not state organs that elicit our sympathy. We sympathize with the oppressed, and with the conspirators who tried to disrupt the Venetian constitution – but Venice would not have become Venice if they had succeeded. Francesco Foscari, the longest-serving Doge of Venice (an almost powerless elected figurehead), after twice being refused permission to retire, was forced out of office against his will. He had also been forced to stand by when his son was wrongly accused of murder, tortured and exiled for it. That’s the story here: young Foscari complains (at the top of his tenor lungs), his wife resents (even louder), the old man bewails and, at last, drops dead.

Eve Queler chose Foscari (which she has presented a time or two before) for Opera Orchestra of New York’s one hundredth concert, and it was a joyful occasion on all counts. Venezuelan tenor Aquiles Machado, the accused Jacopo Foscari, is a Venezuelan tenor who has honorably sung such roles as Enzo at the Met. A little man with a big, brash voice of gleaming metal, he filled the room and made everyone smile, but there was little shading or subtlety. Jacopo should move us with his heartbreak not just his ardor.

He was very well matched by Julianna Di Giacomo as his wife, Lucrezia Contarini, one of Verdi’s hectic heroines, a dramatic coloratura like Abigaille in Nabucco or Odabella in Attila. (The Met’s producing Attila for the first time in a year or two, and they should keep her in mind.) Her voice, too, is huge and gleaming, and she has the coloratura, though the instrument is not ideally supported at the top. She had no troubles with strenuous Lucrezia, but she sang at only two levels, loud and louder, and there was little sign that she had other colors to her palette. Unless she learns how to characterize and how to manage soft singing, her future as a Norma, Anna Bolena or Verdi’s Hélène, the roles she seems to crave, is uncertain. Both these singers earned, and received, great enthusiasm.

The ovation of the evening, the performance that made people sigh as well as scream, was for Paolo Gavanelli’s Doge Francesco Foscari. His voice too is large, a rich, bluff smoky baritone with heart to it, and a sense of poetic phrasing. There were depths of feeling, of internal discussion, when he sang of his heartbreak, and we seemed to be an audience for that genuine discourse. It was easy to imagine him as Verdi’s other tormented baritone fathers, Rigoletto or Amonasro or Germont (which he has sung at the Met in years past), and everyone present would be eager to hear him in such roles.

As so often in Verdi, the baritone is the heart of this opera, and Queler chose the right man to make a case for the work. She did as well with the work’s thrilling, attention-grabbing prelude and several background choruses, though some of the orchestral work sounded a little scrappy. In any case, as at all the better Queler evenings, we came away with a better notion of the roots of the operatic canon, besides having made the acquaintance of several little-known singers we look forward to encountering again.

John Yohalem

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):