Recently in Performances
‘Mack does bad things.’ The tabloid headline that convinces Rory
Kinnear’s surly, sharp-suited Macheath that it might be time to take a
short holiday epitomizes the cold, understated menace of Rufus Norris’s
production of Simon Stephens’ new adaptation of The Threepenny
Opera at the Olivier Theatre.
On May 25, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of the Herbert Ross production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La bohème. Stage director, Peter Kazaras, made use of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s wide stage by setting some scenes usually seen inside the garret on the surrounding roof instead.
On May 21, 2016, Ars Minerva presented The Amazons in the Fortunate Isles (Le Amazzoni nelle Isole Fortunate), an opera consisting of a prologue and three acts by seventeenth century Venetian composer Carlo Pallavicino.
While Pegida anti-refugee demonstrations have been taking place for a while
now in Dresden, there was something noble about the Semperoper with its banners
declaring all are welcome, listing Othello, the Turk, and the hedon Papageno as
Opera houses’ neglect of Leoš Janáček remains one
of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the
‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas
would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa,
Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely
hook most for life.
It’s not easy for critics to hit the right note when they write about musical collaborations between students and professionals. We have to allow for inevitable lack of polish and inexperience while maintaining an overall high standard of judgment.
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
16 Jan 2008
A New Hansel und Gretel at the Met
Wagner’s all-conquering chic made apocalyptic music-dramas drawn from folklore the ideal of the nationalistic era; every serious opera composer of the time felt obliged to attempt something in that line.
Ironically, the only
one of these faux-Wagnerian epics that became (and remained) a popular hit
was Humperdinck’s 1893 setting of a Grimm fairy tale, which achieved the
perfect union of tunes kids could appreciate (and even sing themselves — he
wrote them for his sister’s children) and orchestral method that savors of
Meistersinger. Hansel und Gretel makes use of Wagnerian
counterpoint without all those embarrassing Wagnerian emotions, both immoral
and illegal — Hansel and Gretel do not go running joyously into an amorous
Gertrude (Rosalind Plowright) and Peter (Alan Held)
In the present era, when children imagine themselves too sophisticated for
fairy-tale kitsch (though they still love it in the right circumstances, and
the old Met production was perfect of its kind), when they are raised on
sarcastic cartoon banter and an After-School Special level of squalor, it
seems that the presentation of Hansel und Gretel must modernize too.
Hence the new Met staging, borrowed from the Welsh National Opera with a
number of Brit trappings, such as a Witch in drag out of panto. The titular
children, when we meet them, resemble shell-shocked raggedy dolls, listless
and starving on oversized chairs in a low-rent kitchen. Later they fall
asleep in a forest that resembles a very large dining room (terrific
scary-forest wallpaper out of a Maurice Sendak tale and nightmarish waiters
with branches for heads), dreaming not of angels but of Pillsbury doughboy
chefs. The Witch lives in an industrial kitchen suitable to a summer camp and
appears (in Adam Klein’s delicious performance) to be doing Julia Child and
Dame Edna in tandem. Papa probably drinks and Mama is haggard from overwork
(we are plainly dealing with latchkey kids here), and the dreams are not of
Godly salvation but of gaudy desserts.
Hansel (Alice Coote), Gretel (Christine Schaefer) and Chefs/Angels
There’s a lot of good fun on the stage — what kid won’t snicker at a
grown man in drag? — but will this do for holiday resurrection year upon
year, as the fairy tale staging did? Or will once or twice do it? And will
the kids have nightmares from those tree-waiters? I did. A friend of mine
encountered a subway car full of kids after one of the special matinees of
this production, and much as they’d loved the witch, the enormous
machine-propelled Mouth that invites our heroes into her house was not their
idea of fun.
The Witch (Adam Klein)
There is a lot of good Wagnerian melody coming from the orchestra under
Vladimir Jurowski and a lot of good singing from the soloists, and the
staging ideas, if they don’t all make sense, pass the time entertainingly.
The Sandman (Sasha Cooke), Hansel (Alice Coote) and Gretel (Christine Schaefer)
The piece is performed in an updated translation that sometimes fights with
the old-fashioned music, and Christine Schaeffer as Gretel, the only singer
in the cast who was not a native English-speaker, had some problems getting
her words across — but that’s what subtitles are for. She and Alice Coote
(a fine Sesto and Octavian — will I ever see the charming Ms. Coote in a
girl’s role?) produce clear, reliably sexless vocal lines — these two
proto-Wagnerian characters must carry over a Wagnerian orchestra with
apparent childish ease — and they had fun mingling the demands of the
libretto with moves borrowed from modern video. Rosalind Plowright looked
like a harried denizen of Coronation Street, but the mother’s role is by no
means a simple one, and she sang it effectively. Alan Held filled the theater
with impressive vigor as the father — it was no surprise after this
performance to learn he is preparing Wotan for the D.C. Ring
The Dew Fairy (Lisette Oropesa)
Lisette Oropesa sang the Dew Fairy sweetly in hotel chambermaid drag. In
short, the piece came off, the Witch got her madcap laughs (we all liked the
paper sleeves she placed on Hansel’s wrists and ankles before baking), and
there was joy to share. What more does one ask of this opera? Magic?
Of genuine magic there was only one moment all night: the aria of the
Sandman, as sung by Sasha Cooke of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artists
Program: a light, clear voice, seemingly tiny but produced so that it easily
filled the house and fell on each ear like fairy dust, a subtle staging that
was, for once, not an intrusion but a rare visit from the atmosphere of Grimm
to a corrupted world.