Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
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.
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.
20 Jan 2008
Die Walküre at the Met
The Metropolitan Opera audience loves its Wagner, and the management for the last several decades has, alas, made sure we aren’t spoiled: it’s a rare season that gets more than two production revivals of Wagner, and some years there have been none.
A dearth of major Wagnerian voices might be, has
been, blamed … but other companies do better … or so it seems to us New
The current revival of Die Walküre, always the most popular of
the Ring operas, is impressively satisfying: none of the singers are
bad, some of them are great, only one of them is even stout (Stephanie
Blythe, who, however, sings like the goddess she plays and moves in a
stately, never clumsy, manner), while an unfamiliar hand on the podium brings
out some unfamiliar colors from the depths of this shimmering score.
The weakest link in the cast was Clifton Forbis, the Siegmund — his
gravelly, forced quality, an ill-supported top, no lyricism in the
“Winterstürme,” all made this a woeful Wehwalt. The only time he sang
with much power was the cry of “Walse! Walse!” — something about this
shout seemed to align his throat properly for the first — and last — time
all night. In rather striking contrast, Adrianne Pieczonka, a slim, girlish
Sieglinde, sang with a full tone a bit beyond complete control, and was
underpowered only in the “triumph of woman” explosion in Act III. She
might be starting on the road to a major interpretation; Forbis, however,
seems simply miscast.
James Morris had a Mozart and bel canto background when he first essayed
Wotan twenty years ago — and was then widely expected to fail. Instead, he
thrilled all ears, and he has owned the part ever since. (Could his bel canto
experience be responsible?) Wobbles in his Hans Sachs last year made me
wonder if his Valhalla sun had set, but he was in fine voice during the
second performance of the run of Walküres, a little dryer than the lustrous
hue of old, no doubt, but wobble-free, in command of the full range of notes
and dynamics, and an experienced actor of this figure who attains tragic
stature through tardy self-knowledge.
Lisa Gasteen, a star of Rings from London to Vienna to Adelaide,
made her first essay at the title role of this opera in New York. She sang,
it was announced, with a sore throat, and one would like to credit that for
the general weakness of her voice above the staff that began with her first
war-cry and continued to the end of the night. But Wagner was not a high-note
composer, and the rest of her voice was lovely, beautifully produced, full of
A scene from Wagner's “Die Walküre” with Adrianne Pieczonka as Sieglinde and Clifton Forbis as Siegmund.
She also cuts a handsome figure and bounds about the rocky sets
with youthful athleticism, as a hard-riding warrior goddess ought to — but
how many do? In the orchestra, I had doubts about the size of the voice when
it came to filling the Met, and friends who sat upstairs shared them, but
this was an honorable attempt that gave much pleasure. If her health on
Monday is not the reason for her weak top, however, she is hardly the woman
to sing the higher Brünnhilde of Siegfried. This experience of her
made one interested in hearing her under optimum circumstances and in many
roles. (A revival of Frau ohne Schatten would suit her nicely —
she’s sung both soprano leads in Germany.)
A scene from Wagner's “Die Walküre” with (from left) James Morris as Wotan, Stephanie Blythe as Fricka, and Lisa Gasteen as Brünnhilde
Among the smaller roles, Mikhail Petrenko was especially striking —
joining the lengthy list of Hundings whom one wishes had more to do, or big
juicy roles in something else in the very near future. (Whatever became of
Stephen Milling?) Kelly Cae Hogan, a singer new to me, was first off the mark
among the valkyries, and one wished her war-cry, clear and focused and
bright, had somehow been substituted for Gasteen’s cautious one; the rest
of the gang were also happy choices.
The stage direction seemed to have been tightened, and was especially well
synchronized at such tricky moments as Siegmund’s death (and Sieglinde’s
flight) and the valkyrie ensembles. The diction all around was exceptional,
precise without being intrusive. Lighting for this production seems to be
getting steadily dimmer — which makes things like the magic fire all the
Lorin Maazel’s approach to Wagner was vivid and the pace snappier than
we are used to, which rather heightened the excitement of a happy occasion.
As at every great Wagner performance, one heard things, instrumental colors,
one had never noticed before. Consider, for instance, Wagner’s use of
kettledrums for everything but beating time: enhancing this, emphasizing
that, pointing words or other instruments, a sudden insertion of ominous
texture in the midst of a leitmotiv associated with things not ominous —
insofar as anything in the Ring is free from shadow.