Recently in Performances
It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by
the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
10 Feb 2008
Madam Butterfly at ENO
Anthony Minghella's visually-arresting staging, a co-production with New York's Metropolitan Opera and the Lithuanian National Opera, returned this month to its original home at the London Coliseum after a gap of two years.
Michael Levine's set designs and Peter Mumford's lighting are utterly beautiful, from the floating lanterns and curtain of flowers which descend upon Butterfly and Pinkerton on their wedding night to the dramatic brush-stroke effect of the unravelling of Butterfly's crimson obi at her suicide. Despite Minghella's film credentials, it is not a cinematic approach as such, though the steep rake and the giant mirror above the stage create a 'widescreen' effect which suits the shape of the Coliseum's stage and concentrates the eye.
Although the staging keeps Pinkerton as very much a one-dimensional character, the production's Bunraku puppetry – expertly supplied by Blind Summit Theatre – gives the audience a little glimpse into the beliefs and perceptions which cause him to act the way he does. The exquisitely lifelike puppets, most notably used to portray Butterfly's son, blur the boundaries between artifice and reality, and it becomes almost easy to accept Pinkerton's perception of the Japanese as pretty playthings, not quite real. Sometimes the puppets seem more natural than the human performers.
Indeed, there is a risk with such a staging that it could sacrifice substance for style, and as such it needs a very strong cast to balance it out and reach the heart of Puccini's opera . I confess I was apprehensive about Judith Howarth's debut in the title role, as her (very successful) career has been almost entirely in the lyric coloratura repertoire. I need not have worried; the soft-grained, pearly quality of her soprano, though not the sound we are used to hearing in the role, proved equal to Puccini's characteristically heavy scoring and an appropriate timbre for this most youthful of operatic heroines. Her stage presence and mannerisms were just as credible, and she was shattering in her vulnerability. It was perhaps a misjudgement to pair her with as vocally powerful a Suzuki as the excellent Karen Cargill, but this is really a minor criticism.
As Pinkerton, Gwyn Hughes Jones, returning from the original run of the production, was in fine voice. He was allowed 'Addio, fiorito asil' despite the modern fashion to do without it, but it seems superficial. Sharpless – the one character who can see the situation from every angle and is left with the responsibility for damage limitation – was given a warm and dignified portrayal by Ashley Holland.
Gwyn Hughes Jones as Pinkerton / Ashley Holland as Sharpless
Musically this revival was in every way superior to the original run in 2005. David Parry was once again in the pit, giving a sensitive and never self-indulgent reading of the score. Words came across well, except in parts of Act 1; members of ENO's chorus made clearly-defined characters of their cameo roles as wedding guests. But above all it was a remarkable personal triumph for Judith Howarth.
Ruth Elleson © 2008
Karen Cargill as Suzuki / Judith Howarth as Madam Butterfly