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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

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.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“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.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.



In a scene from Act I of the Peter Sellars-directed Doctor Atomic, a Lyric Opera of Chicago premiere for the 2007-08 season, Robert Oppenheimer (Gerald Finley, l.) and Edward Teller (Richard Paul Fink, r.) confer in a Los Alamos laboratory. Photo by Robert Kusel/Lyric Opera of Chicago.
20 Jan 2008

John Adams' Doctor Atomic in Chicago

John Adams, whose opera Nixon in China set the bar for post-minimalism in the lyric theatre, has once again scored a success with his latest work.

Above: In a scene from Act I of the Peter Sellars-directed Doctor Atomic, a Lyric Opera of Chicago premiere for the 2007-08 season, Robert Oppenheimer (Gerald Finley, l.) and Edward Teller (Richard Paul Fink, r.) confer in a Los Alamos laboratory. Photo by Robert Kusel/Lyric Opera of Chicago.


Doctor Atomic, now making its second appearance in North America at Lyric Opera of Chicago after a successful premier in San Francisco, has at its core the sound that we have come to expect from a work bearing Adams’ autograph, but the composer has expanded his sonic language, embracing an approach that straddles a very delicate compositional line: Adams, unlike many of his contemporaries, is able to be at once harmonically complex and accessible. The dense score is simultaneously engaging and tuneful.

The drama of the opera concerns itself with the work of J. Robert Oppenheimer and his team at the test site of the first atomic bomb outside Los Alamos, New Mexico during the days leading up to the first detonation. Tensions build as the test approaches and conditions become less and less favorable. Oppenheimer and his staff consider the implications of their work and the strong possibility that their labor and calculations could end in folly.

The role of Oppenheimer, sung exquisitely by Gerald Finley, begs the ethical scientific questions of the first half of the 20th century. First, is a mastery of science reason enough to employ the laws of nature to destructive ends? And, additionally, if we respect the dignity of life, what are the criteria we use to decide when the time has arrived to employ devastation on such a large scale? Adams paints with broad strokes well suited to operatic characters. Acquiescing to the commands of those more powerful than he and arguing that morality has no place in a lab, Oppenheimer struggles to convince himself that he is not responsible for the global annihilation of which his “gadget” is capable. Conflicted but moving ever forward, Finley’s Oppenheimer is representative of humanity itself. Finley’s end of act one tour-de-force soliloquy “Batter my Heart” is a crystallization of this dramatic idea.

On opposite sides of the allegorical spectrum, Robert Wilson and Richard Teller respectively oppose and condone the experiment. Thomas Glenn handles the vocally demanding role of Robert Wilson securely in spite of its relentlessly high tessitura. Glenn’s characterization is appropriately urgent, as he eloquently implores Oppenheimer and the rest of the team to petition Washington to stand down on the attack until the Japanese have been given clear terms of peace. Richard Paul Fink’s characterization of Teller is chillingly laissez-faire, his matter-of-fact delivery as frightening as the bomb itself, which hangs overhead throughout the entire performance.

As Kitty Oppenheimer, Jessica Rivera provides an attractive foil to a mostly male cast. Her warm tones bring true beauty to “Am I in your light”, and her mastery of the angular, cross-registral lines show the singer off to great success. If Meredith Arwady’s vocal line is not as smooth as one might have hoped, her portrayal of Pasquelita is characterized by a rich and booming contralto. A member of Lyric Opera’s Ryan Center, Ms. Arwady’s career is definitely one to watch.

Under the leadership of Donald Nally, the ensemble gives an effective, moody opening chorus and provides commentary throughout. The sense of ensemble is sure, and the musicianship unfaltering and clear. The corps de ballet, however, does not fare as well. Lucinda Childs’ choreography was abstract and moving, and it provided a great deal of much appreciated spectacle, but it is, unfortunately, executed somewhat weakly by the dancers, who seemed on several occasions dangerously off-balance. Peter Sellars’ compiled libretto is serviceable but suffers under comparison to the brilliant work of Alice Goodman, who prepared the incomparable text for Nixon in China. Sellars’ choice of texts for arioso moments, which range from the metaphysical and symbolist poets to the Bhagavad-Gita is wise, saving the director-librettist from foisting upon the composer the unhappy task of setting less lyrical texts for critical emotional moments. Sets by Adrianne Lobel were industrial and functional, helping the drama to continue along at an exciting pace.

Highest praise, however, must be extended to conductor Robert Spano, who finds the logic of the fascinatingly overwhelming score. Under his baton, Lyric’s orchestra makes sense of the polyrhythmic undulations and pan-tonal implications of the work.

Doctor Atomic is an important addition to the operatic canon. The evening continues the Adams-Sellars collaborative tradition of socio-political examination of definitive moments of modern history, and as such, is perhaps not as narratively satisfying as traditional nineteenth century opera to less experienced theatre-goers. Though it is not overwrought, this evening of theatre is operatic, and this sentiment can be found in the cardinal expression of the human heart in ethical conflict with itself. This anxiety is not particular to modernism, but its application in Doctor Atomic is extremely timely and makes for a thoroughly entertaining evening. Those who attend hoping for stage pyrotechnics and a “big bang” will be disappointed, but those who attend looking for distilled ethical conflict will leave more than satisfied.

Gregory Peebles © 2008

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