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

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.

Mahler Symphony no 8 : Jurowski, LPO, Royal Festival Hall, London

Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.

St Matthew Passion: Armonico Consort and Ian Bostridge

Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.

Pop Art with Abdellah Lasri in Berliner Staatsoper’s marvelous La bohème

Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.

Two rarities from the Early Opera Company at the Wigmore Hall

A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.

Enchanting Tales at L A Opera

On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.

Ermonela Jaho in a stunning Butterfly at Covent Garden

Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

New Sussex Opera: A Village Romeo and Juliet

To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Deborah Voigt
20 Jan 2008

Deborah Voigt in Concert with the San Francisco Symphony

With her performance of the “Four Last Songs,” ably partnered by Michael Tilson Thomas and his San Francisco Symphony, Deborah Voigt emphatically confirmed her place as one of the glories of the current roster of Strauss interpreters.

Above: Deborah Voigt (Columbia Artists Management | 21C Media Group)

 

We are perhaps familiar with a more usual “Liederabend” approach as furthered by other celebrated sopranos -- you know, the often mewing, cooing, hushed treatment of every fragile syllable as-if-they-might-break-if-sung-too-operatically? Such studied wispiness was little in evidence in Ms. Voigt’s renditions on January 10th. No wilting violet she, Diva Debbie just flat out really sang ‘em all instead of over-“interpreting” them. And oh, how she sang! With steady tone of great presence in all registers and at all gradations of volume; with generous, soaring, high-flying phrases; with delicate nuance and telling detail; all of which was characterized by excellent diction and complete stylistic understanding.

Up against her seasoned Straussian standard then, the SFO was highly competent if not quite equally successful in essaying this richly detailed score. Oft times on past occasions I have wished this fine group of musicians would coalesce into a single-minded band of thrilling music-makers, and often as not I have found them a bit wanting in artistic vision and ensemble, no more so than now as they confronted these lush, complex orchestral songs. If history is a teacher, my past SFO experiences had perhaps taught me that Maestro Thomas (or “MTT” as he is marketed locally) seems to draw inspiration from superb soloists more than he appears to impart it routinely to his players. That was certainly true of such past luminaries as Lang Lang and Helene Grimaud, with whom he became a true collaborator, and with whom the orchestra excelled. Here, MTT inexplicably seemed content to allow the orchestra to be a somewhat aloof accompanist.

That said, there were some very fine orchestral moments to be sure, not least of which was a peerless violin solo in “Beim Schlafengehen,” matched by an equally superb horn solo in “Im Abendrot.” (Indeed, the horns were remarkably wonderful throughout the evening.) Having heard the Vienna Philharmonic take on this score, the bar was set very high for me, since those guys absolutely inhabit this music as a seamless ensemble. That SFO would not be so seamlessly involved was foretold by the concert opener, Knussen’s Third Symphony. It was dispatched with cool skill, but little overt joy or passion, the very talented individual musicians shining if somewhat independent. The Strauss merely continued that semi-detached, sit-back-and-play-the-notes pattern.

And then something happened. Barber’s seldom heard “Andromache’s Farewell” knocked us right between the eyes with a well-judged and committed dramatic reading from our soprano, matched thrill for thrill by expansive, virtuosic orchestral playing elicited by MTT’s fiery conducting. (What, did this guy knock back a couple of Red Bull’s at intermission?)

The wonderful, under-valued soprano Martina Arroyo premiered the piece in 1963 to open the new Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. How enjoyable to already encounter the vibrant palette of orchestral sounds and effects (especially the exciting brass fanfares) that the composer would further refine and put to good use a bit later in his “Antony and Cleopatra” which opened the new Metropolitan Opera House.

“Andromache’s” dynamic score certainly deserves to be heard more often. That is, if a dramatic soprano of Ms. Voigt’s bountiful gifts can be found. It is an interesting and varied scena with well-calculated dramatic tension; featuring a pleasing balance of signature Barber melodiousness and parlando passages; and with some sure-fire, slam-bang, full-Geschrei money notes that stir the soul and tickle the eardrums. And man, does our Diva ever have those money notes! Million Dollar Baby, baby! It was a singular treat to hear such a wholly realized, successful undertaking of this rarity.

After the prolonged ovation died down for the Barber, MTT then jumped right into a Puckish reading of Beethoven’s Fourth with equally pleasing results. Though it may not have the grandeur or gravitas of the “bookend” Third and Fifth Symphonies, it was delightful nonetheless, especially in this playful, inspired interpretation. My persistence in returning to Davies Hall for yet another concert after those several disappointing near-misses was amply rewarded this night, for now SFO was indeed not just “playing” but truly “inhabiting” the music with abandon.

MTT was in his element, inspiring and charismatic, enjoying himself (and Beethoven) so much that at a couple of points I was thinking he may just break into some spontaneous Schuhplatten. The orchestra responded in kind with flawless ensemble playing and sparkling, intricate solo work. (As Ed Sullivan might say: “How about a hand for that bassoon player? C’mon!”) The last stinging chord brought a rain of rousing cheers down on the assemblage, probably not a usual response for the Fourth, which says a lot for the dazzling magic that MTT and the SFO imbued on a piece of such gentler gifts.

After this exciting second half, representing the very best I have ever heard from this bunch and rivaling any other orchestra in the world, I wanted to shout “Dude, drink the Red Bull before Act One next time!” And for all I know, MTT did. . .

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):