Recently in Performances
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
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.