Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?

This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:

“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”

Gound Faust - Calleja and Terfel, Royal Opera House London

Gounod's Faust makes a much welcomed return to the Royal Opera House. With each new cast, the dynamic changes as the balance between singers shifts and brings out new insights. In that sense, every revival is an opportunity to revisit from new perspectives. This time Bryn Terfel sang Méphistophélès, with Joseph Calleja as Faust - stars whose allure certainly helped fill the hall to capacity. And the audience enjoyed a very good show.

Syracuse Opera’s Porgy and Bess
Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

Karlsruhe’s Mixed Blessing Ballo

The reliable Badisches Staatstheater has assembled plenty of talent for its new Un Ballo in Maschera.

Louise Alder, Wigmore Hall

This varied, demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch.

Luke Bedford: Through His Teeth, Linbury, Royal Opera House

Can this be the best British opera in years? Luke Bedford’s Through His Teeth at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre is exceptional. Drop everything and go.

Powder Her Face, ENO

As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Never thought I’d say it but......

Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Wigmore Hall, London

Celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the UK's greatest composers (if not the greatest), this concert was an intriguing, and not always stimulating, mix. Birtwistle with Carter makes sense, but Birtwistle with Adams does not - or at least only within the remit of the concert series. The concert was actually entitled “Nash Inventions: American and British Masterworks, including an 80th Birthday Tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle” and was the final concert in the “Inventions” series.

Requiem for a Lost Opera Company

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.

The Met’s Werther a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

Chicago’s New Barber of Seville

New productions of repertoire staples such as Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia bear much anticipation for both performers and staging.

Lucia in LA: A Performance to Remember

On March 15, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented Elkhanah Pulitzer’s production of the opera, which she set in 1885 when women were beginning to be recognized as persons separate from their fathers, brothers and husbands. At that time many European countries were beginning to allow women to own property, obtain higher education, and choose their husbands.

San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera

On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

From the moment she walked, resplendent in red, onto the Wigmore Hall platform, Anne Schwanewilms radiated a captivating presence — one that kept the audience enthralled throughout this magnificent programme of Romantic song.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

La Fille du regiment, Royal Opera

Donizetti’s opera comique La Fille du regiment returned to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, for its third revival.

Schoenberg and company

With Schoenberg, I tend to take every opportunity I can — at least since my first visit to the Salzburg Festival, when understandably I chose to see Figaro over Boulez conducting Moses und Aron, though I have rued the loss ever since.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Jennifer Aylmer
17 Feb 2008

Rodelinda at Portland

Valentine’s Day may not quite be in the same major holiday league with the Fourth of July or New Year’s Eve, but you wouldn’t have known it from the fireworks emanating from the stage of Portland Opera, in the form of some dazzling Valentine’s night vocalizing in quite a fine production of Handel’s “Rodelinda.”

G. F. Handel: Rodelinda
Portland Opera

Above: Jennifer Aylmer

 

In the title role, the radiant Jennifer Aylmer showed off quite a full arsenal of technical perfection. Throughout the night Ms. Aylmer not only poured out plangent legato phrases, trip-hammer fioritura, and unfailingly lovely tone at all volumes and in all registers, but also displayed a solid technique, handsome stage presence, and an admirable command of this difficult genre. If her trills were sometimes approximated it was small matter. Hers is a major musical presence on the current scene and happily for us all, these days she is singing all over the map.

That said, for all her strengths, at the top of the show I thought she lacked the weight of voice, or perhaps the seriousness of dramatic purpose required. “Rodelinda” begins in tragedy mode, which accelerates rapidly to righteous anger. I certainly thought the voice a wonderful instrument from the git-go, but perhaps a half-size too small. Her first splashy coloratura harangue, while clean and musical, seemed more “petulant soubrette” than “royalty wronged.”

Indeed throughout Act One, I was thinking rather what a memorable “Susanna” she would be, and then, lo, from Act Two onward, as her performance deepened I settled into a broader appreciation of her talents for the work at hand. Maybe she was pacing herself? Or maybe I just got over myself! In any case, while she is not “quite” just yet Beverly or Renee or Cecilia in this repertoire, this is a major talent with a great future. Watch for her.

Arguably, the “discovery” of this production was countertenor Gerald Thompson as “Unulfo.” We have come a long way since pleasant rarities like Russell Oberlin, let me tell you! Mr. Thompson has an uncommonly impressive instrument for this Fach, full-bodied, expressive, responsive, capable of every demand that Handel asks of it. Our singer absolutely and thrillingly nailed every sixteenth note of the (extremely) rapid passage work with fiery precision. Moreover, he displayed real heart in his slower parlando passages. So accomplished was he, that I found myself wishing that he were the one singing the incomparably lovely “Dove Sei,” one of leading man “Bertarido’s” big set pieces. (He has sung the role elsewhere.)

Not that Jennifer Hines didn’t bring many fine qualities to her impersonation of our hero. She is a handsome woman with good musical instincts and a well-schooled mezzo. While her dark, almost vibrato-less sound should have been well-suited to this male character, her production did not seem grounded in the speaking voice, at times sounding hollow instead of troubled, backward-placed instead of forthcoming. She had all the notes for her final showpiece aria, but scarce brilliance of tone. Perhaps I have become too accustomed to the luxurious bravura of Horne or Verrett or Larmore in such trouser roles, but Ms. Hines seemed mis-cast, not in agility or intelligence or intentions, but in vocal star presence.

The “Eduige” of Emma Curtis had plenty of spunk, and she quite successfully married her rock solid low register to a rather rich middle and a secure, if slightly thinner top. She managed some awesome arpeggiated licks with thundering baritonal low notes, but her generous vibrato caused a little grief in slower passages in the lower middle voice, when the “point” of the pitch got muddied a bit here and there.

For the first two acts, it was difficult to make out the skill set of tenor Robert Breault’s “Grimoaldo.” His florid singing seemed accurate enough, if somewhat thin and scaled back, and I had the feeling he wanted to lag behind the beat. Then, suddenly, ringing climactic high notes would appear that rattled the chandeliers. Hmmmmmm. Looking at his credits, this is a guy who sings “Cavaradossi” and “Don Jose” and here he was, frogging around in melismatic Handel, for God’s sake. Then in Act Three, Mr. Breault was totally vindicated with a memorable and moving reading of his big scena of doubt and redemption. Amazingly fine.

In the mute role of “Flavio,” young lad Jamesmichael (sic) Sherman-Lewis (don’t you love that name?) was adorably effective without upstaging. Bass Verlian Ruminski was so terrific as “Garibaldo” that I dearly wished the role were not so small. He tore up the stage with his solidly projected arias and theatrical conviction.

And “theatrical conviction” is a point of discussion in considering Helena Binder’s staging. It is interesting that in other times and places, producers have occasionally sought (with considerable effort and imagination) to make viable stage pieces out of oratorios. But here it seemed that we were looking at a highly stage worthy opera, which was reduced on more than one occasion to an oratorio.

Let me first say that Ms. Binder’s management of the logistics of exits and entrances, integration of set changes, and creation of lovely tableaux was skillfully done. And she is mistress of focusing the attention in all the right places, striving to serve the story well. Believe you me, these are no small skills, and we could use more directors/producers with this mind set.

However, to my taste there were too many instances of “stand-and-sing” or busy movement that did not illuminate the relationships, nor develop the character. You know, those interludes of stage “busy-ness.” You’ve seen it: “Now I will walk right; nope, nope; I will stop as if remembering I really wanted to go left; maybe; maaaaybe; nope, left’s not it; I’ll just stop; and. . .oops-it’s-time-to-sing-again.”

Too, a pattern emerged of having the soloists tromp off stage at the end of almost each and every aria, sometimes way too soon prompting applause over the postludes, and leaving silence in the ensuing set changes which could have been better covered by the audience reaction to the aria. I appreciate the artistic decisions that were made and the consistency of their execution, all the while I would yet urge Madame Director to further develop the character relationships, delve into more specificity, and take fuller advantage of the ripe dramatic possibilities.

John Copley’s pleasing settings were an effective modern interpretation of Baroque theatrical conventions, like the “in-one” scene changes. The playing space was made more intimate by a succession of receding square proscenium-like frames which threw the action forward to the primary playing space on a red lacquer square front and center stage.

Within this simple and elegant black and white unit, minimal furniture and key set pieces (like “Bertarido’s” memorial) were smoothly placed and removed by costumed servants. The colorless silhouettes of scenery flown in and out behind the upstage frame suggested trees, prison, gravestones, etc. like stylized and unadorned paper cut-outs. The shallow apron area had the advantage of bringing the singers forward more often than not, but had the disadvantage of somewhat restricting blocking to more linear moves.

The beautiful lighting design by Thomas J. Munn achieved lovely effects, especially with back lighting and isolated areas. The uncredited lavish costumes (Mr. Copley?) appeared to have been updated to Handel’s time, and well, why not? They enhanced the character, and looked gorgeous to boot.

Musical matters were in secure hands with conductor George Manahan. While modern instruments were used, there was the usual inclusion of the (winningly played) theorbo and baroque guitar. There are trade offs in this choice. While the ensemble was immeasurably better tuned that some “early music” bands I have heard (ooh, was that my out-loud voice?) it also lacked the special color that great “original instrument” players can elicit. Playing with minimal vibrato and well-considered style, purists be damned, the Portland pit contributed some beautiful, idiomatic support.

Ever felt like a jaded opera fan who has maybe “seen it all”? I sure did as I watched lines of patrons parade to the orchestra pit at both intermissions to see just what this “theorbo thing” was all about. Many had never seen one before, and it was a total delight to be party to their discovery. Too, it should be remarked that there were any number of young people in attendance. The Goth Valentine’s couple in the row just behind me seemed to be getting off on “Rodelinda” with an uncalculated enthusiasm often lacking at such temples as Glyndebourne or Glimmerglass. Other companies with a maturing customer base might do well to study what Portland is doing right in audience development.

If I heard more “woo-woo-woo’s” than “bravi” at the curtain call, the net result was the same. The Portland public seems to know and appreciate the fact that they have a top notch producing organization, whose high standards were always in evidence with this enjoyable “Rodelinda.”

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):