06 Apr 2008
San Diego Opera: Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci
Opera companies often tout new productions as a major attraction of their seasons.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.
Opera companies often tout new productions as a major attraction of their seasons.
Somehow it had eluded your reviewer that the third program of San Diego Opera's 2008 season, the classic pairing of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, would feature a new staging from director Lotfi Mansouri and designer John Coyne. In fact, only on checking the program at intermission, after the (pardon the abbreviation) Cav, did I notice the words "a new production" tucked away as the fifth bullet point of 8 under the act and intermission breakdown.
Instead, San Diego Opera had trumpeted the show as a mini-tenor festival, with the return of San Diego favorite Richard Leech in his role debut as Turiddu and the house debut of José Cura as Canio. And the company was wise to do so. Both tenors put on very good performances, though far from perfect. And the new production? Sadly, it would hardly have appeared "new" 20 years ago. At least the Cav boasted a passably attractive traditional set, although on the cramped Civic Center stage the tables of Mamma Lucia's tavern are only a couple yards from the steps to the church. The one creative touch here came after the prelude, played before a scrim of passing clouds against a blue sky. For Turiddu's sereande to Lola, a small, elevated room to the rear of the stage became illuminated, and we saw the lover leaving his married partner's bedroom. Since Cav takes its time getting started, this bit of staging actually works well to establish the drama early on. After that, every move and gesture played out pretty much as one would expect. Mansouri's predilection for the obvious revealed itself at Santuzza's entrance. Although she steps around the church and Mamma Lucia is almost immediately in front of her, Mansouri had Carter Scott look left and right, as if confused about her location.
But the direction truly went for the risible in a sort of festival procession for the Easter mass. After the passage of townfolk and some penitents (looking alarmingly like Klansmen in their white robes with red sashes), a couple of Roman centurions wheeled on a platform bearing Jesus on the cross, portrayed by a living man. We know he's living because the "Jesus" comes down off the cross, raises his arms in triumph, and enters the church, escorted by the Roman soldiers. Now research may well have established this as typical of an Italian village of the time of the opera's setting, but putting it on stage is a very different thing. The audience did a commendable job of stifling giggles.
Cav has lasted because it is nearly indestructible, and so it proved at this matinee. In his serenade Leech gave a distressing reading, unsteady and brassy. By the time he reappeared, he seemed to have settled. His big voice filled the hall, and he at least sketched in a credible portrait of a strutting small town cad who finds, as he faces his death, some compassion for the woman who has given herself to him. Turiddu is a role where the absence of a subtlety won't cripple a performance. Carter Scott's Santuzza played up the pathetic side of the character a bit too much. She came off best at the top of her range; the middle voice needs more color. Judith Christin's Mamma Lucia sounded suitably aged, and she managed to made moving the stock staging of falling on top of her son's corpse. Bruno Caproni blustered away as Alfio, a role which doesn't ask for much more. Perhaps the best singing overall came from Sarah Castle's Lola; she possess not only a very attractive voice but the acting skills to make Lola a credible character in her brief confrontation with Santuzza and Turiddu.
The always reliable conductor Edorado Müller reinforced his reputation as such. San Diego Opera boasts a fine chorus, led by Timothy Todd Simmons. Some of the wackier supertitles of a stilted translation went to the ladies of the chorus. "Cease these rural labors," they urged their male counterparts. Yea, and forthwith!
If the drably colored set for Cav hardly appeared new, it still must have taken most of the budget. The spartan Pagliacci set offered a laughably crude painted backdrop, a tree to the left, and a bare platform before a fragment of ancient wall. At least in the second half the platform was dressed up a bit and the "stage" for the comedia had some color. Fortunately the singers didn't lack for inspiration, and Mansouri's work moved to a higher level than that seen in the Cav. Elizabth Futral contrived to make Nedda entirely sympathetic, although Canio may not be all that wrong at the end when he charges her with ingratitude and a well-developed taste for "sensuality." Bruno Caproni, the Tonio, got to show more colors to his voice than he had as Alfio. His evil laugh of triumph when he leads Canio to the discovery of Nedda with her lover Silvio, however, came right out of Snidely Whiplash. Scott Hendricks cut a handsome figure as Silvio, although not much erotic charge developed between him and Futral, who sang attractively throughout. Mansouri did not give Beppe, sung by Simeon Esper, much to do other than pop out for his serenade, which went pleasantly enough.
Cura dominated the performance, with a well-defined portrayal of a still handsome man frustrated into rage by the weakening grasp he has on his wife. In the first half, all the way through "Vesti al giubba," Cura sounded in good voice, with strong projection and a solid top. He does enunciate oddly at times, and "Vesti la giubba" came out a bit like "vedi la duba." Disappointingly, the voice retreated in the second half, and the power needed for the furious climax eluded Cura. But perhaps this was all part of his act; Cura took Tonio's last line and choked it out in such an exhausted whisper that the final "e finita" could hardly be heard. But the audience loved Cura and gave him the only standing ovation of the afternoon (at least from about half the audience in orchestra).
Not a memorable afternoon at the San Diego Civic Center, but an entertaining one. Aida and The Pearlfishers remain in the 2008 season.