Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May 1594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Andrew Shore in the title role of Falstaff, part of Lyric Opera of Chicago's 2007-08 season. Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago.
03 Feb 2008

Verdi's Falstaff at Chicago

There is nothing redeeming about Sir John Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s most lively comic characters and the subject of Verdi’s final opera, and yet, inexplicably, we love him.

Giuseppi Verdi: Falstaff
Civic Opera House, January 28, 2008

Above: Andrew Shore in the title role of Falstaff, part of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2007-08 season. All photos by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago.

 

A bloated, insult-wielding drunkard who finds himself suddenly broke, he seeks to free himself from debt by wooing two wealthy women—both with the exact same love letter. When Alice Ford and Meg Page, the ladies in question, discover that they are being played for fools, they band together with the help of their friend Mistress Quickly and plan to dupe Falstaff. The musical result is one of the rare occasions when comic opera is actually funny. Played, as such evenings often are, to the blind in the 10th balcony, the laughs at Lyric are more often than not collective good-natured chuckles than guffaws of genuine surprise. Still, on opening night, the audience clearly enjoyed the opera’s style of comedy, investing in the show and audibly rooting for its favorite characters. This notion is further reinforced by Frank Phillipp Schlössmann’s Globe Theatre-inspired sets, which immediately transplant the audience into a world where a broader method of presentation is the norm. Costumes were traditional, but the bold colors contrasted beautifully with the amber-toned sets.

An audience can expect a thoroughly enjoyable evening of theatre—even if there are slight problems with the production—with a Falstaff from a top-notch company like Lyric Opera of Chicago. Picky imperfections in performance pale in the shadow of the brilliance of the work itself, obviously a labor of the composer’s love.

Like any comedy, a Falstaff is only as strong as its sense of ensemble, and, in something of a coup, by utilizing the brightly burning talents of current members of the Ryan Opera Center and supplementing them with the Center’s alumni, the administration has gathered a group of artists used to working with each other and who, out-singing most of the imported stars of the evening, present a tidy troupe. Even though director Olivier Tambosi fails to tighten the comic timing to sharp punctuality, the general mirth on stage more than carries the evening’s entertainment. Once again stepping forward with her booming voice, Meredith Arwady sparkles as Mistress Quickly, and her “Riverenza” scene inspired most of the genuine laughs of the evening. Elizabeth DeShong’s Meg Page is sprightly and attractive of voice. Of the current Ryan Opera Center’s roster, the most notable singer in this opera is Bryan Griffin, whose turn as Fenton is marked by a lyric tenor voice of both sweetness and strength, and Ryan Center alum Stacey Tappan’s crystalline Nannetta soars opposite Mr. Griffin. David Cangelosi, whose character tenor roles are well known at Lyric for their physicality, seems positively subdued next to the boisterous commedia dell’ arte characterization of fellow alumnus Rodell Rosel’s Bardolfo.

Falstaff_Chicago2.pngAlice Ford (Veronica Villarroel, third l.) describes her plan to feign interest in Falstaff's wooing as Meg Page (far l.), Nanetta (second l.), and Mistress Quickly (far r.) listen with delight in Lyric Opera of Chicago's 2007-08 production of Falstaff.

Though not advertised as Megastars, one would expect the leads of this production to outshine the ensemble easily, but such was not the case. As Alice, Veronica Villaroel is not the plastic prima donna spinning measure after measure of line while ignoring the baser nature of the material; the Chilean soprano found some joy in even the subtler moments of the comedy. Neither is Villaroel the soprano with very little in the way of voice, but with star power to burn. (In fact, she sang Alice with no apparent strain.) Villaroel lands this role instead somewhere in the unfortunate pleasant-enough middle ground and manages neither to offend nor excite. Similarly, Andrew Shore in the title role perhaps does not have the wherewithal to color more lyrical moments with the vocal subtlety he intends; however, he does make a convincing Falstaff, barking and seducing at regular intervals. The audience may forgive the slow moving actor because of the additional costuming required to render him obese, but his physical comedy fell short of the standard set by other members of the cast. Boaz Daniel, on the other hand, as Signore Ford, turns in a thoroughly engaging vocal performance, his robust and appealing baritone easily launching itself expressively over the orchestra for his aria “È sogno? O realtà…”

Andrew Davis, conducting what the official press release calls his ‘’favorite Verdi opera”, keeps the evening well paced in this reviewer’s opinion. His tempi, though, may have been a little slow for those on stage; the singers consistently tried to rush the Act One finale. Granted: the Act One finale is incredibly difficult to keep together, and the cast does a noble job of trying, perhaps, though, it could stand to watch the bouncing head of hair up front a little more. Still, the opera itself is sung very well across the board, the stagecraft solid, and the evening spent in the Civic Opera House absorbing Verdi’s last masterpiece is well spent.

Gregory Peebles © 2008

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):