Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.

Mahler Symphony no 8 : Jurowski, LPO, Royal Festival Hall, London

Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.

St Matthew Passion: Armonico Consort and Ian Bostridge

Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.

Pop Art with Abdellah Lasri in Berliner Staatsoper’s marvelous La bohème

Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.

Two rarities from the Early Opera Company at the Wigmore Hall

A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.

Enchanting Tales at L A Opera

On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.

Ermonela Jaho in a stunning Butterfly at Covent Garden

Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

New Sussex Opera: A Village Romeo and Juliet

To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

London Handel Festival: Handel's Faramondo at the RCM

Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.

Brahms A German Requiem, Fabio Luisi, Barbican London

Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.

Káťa Kabanová in its Seattle début

The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

23 Apr 2008

Sarasota rises above the regional

Victor DeRenzi is a man of convictions — and of courage. Given his commitment to tradition, you might call DeRenzi, artistic director of Sarasota Opera since 1982, conservative.

Sarasota Opera 2008

Above: Benjamin Warschawski as Jacopo Foscari
Photo by Richard Termine courtesy of Sarasota Opera

 

These, however, are concepts given new dimensions by the four operas on stage this spring in Sarasota’s newly remodeled 1200-seat theater.

DeRenzi is no friend of Regieoper, the approach to opera that gives the director full freedom to ignore the original time and place of a work — and the intentions of the composer. At Sarasota Opera, for example,you will never see Handel’s “Julius Caesar” set at the Cairo Hilton,where Peter Sellars once located it to great acclaim. That does not mean,however, that DeRenzi is a man stuck in an bygone age. His concern is for fidelity to opera and for authenticity and integrity in SO stagings.

Much research and study go into each production to make it reflect its time in history. Every effort is made to offer an honest presentation of a composer intentions. All this came to the fore in the season’s “I due Foscari,” which was part of two major SO projects. It continued the Verdi cycle designed to perform the composer’s entire oeuvre — operatic, vocal and instrumental — in Sarasota.

Launched in 1989 by DeRenzi, a Verdi scholar in his off hours, the cycle includes alternate of versions of scores when they exist. It will conclude in2013 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth.“Foscari” is also part of DeRenzi’s “Masterworks Revival Series,” which brings to the SO stage long-neglected works that the director considers of artist merit. The series, begun in 1989, has included such rarities on the American stage as Catalani’s “La Wally,” “Königskinder” by Humperdinck and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “May Night.”

Given the quality of the SO “Foscari,” directed by Martha Collins, the neglect of the 1844 score is difficult to understand. The opera, the well-focused and touchingly sad story of a wronged father and son, is without the complexities that often make Verdi’s plot line hard to follow. With DeRenzi on the podium, the April 6 performance moved with edge-of-the-seat excitement through three hours of full-blooded choruses — several of them for men alone.

Italian baritone Marco Nistico brought dramatic intensity to octogenarian Doge Franceso Foscari, while Benjamin Warschawski sang his passionate song with an energetic voice that, however, lacked the support that a good teacher should have given the Swiss tenor. As devoted wife, mother and daughter-in-law Panamanian soprano Reyna Carguill bore the sufferings of Lucrezia Contarini with regal dignity. Jeffrey W. Dean’s sets were of classic simplicity, and costumes by Howard Tsvi Kaplan brought the richness of primary colors to the staging.

That one knows of Puccini’s “La Rondine” at all is due to the popularity of the aria “Il bel sogno di Doretta,” a favorite of singers from Kiri Te Kanawa to Renee Fleming. And a pity that is, for the entire work, performed as lovingly as it was at the SO April 5 matinée, is an experience of heightened sensuous beauty. Some devaluate the sumptuous score as operetta, for in the directness of its emotional appeal it follows in the footsteps of Vienna’s fin-de-sie`cle masters. And the reference to Vienna is indeed valid, for Puccini had been asked to write “a comic opera like‘Der Rosenkavalier,’ but more amusing and more organic.” Whether“ Rondine” amuses the individual can decide, but the work is organic in that is well organized and tightly written. Nothing in it is superfluous.

MG_0011_copy.pngRyan MacPherson as Ruggero and Lina Tetruashvili as Magda (Photo by Richard Termine courtesy of Sarasota Opera)

Georgian soprano Lina Tetruashvili, who headed the cast as Magda, was perhaps the top star of the entire ’08 SO season. A young woman of gentle beauty, she was equally convincing as the successful courtesan and as a woman experiencing great love for the first time. As both she was painfully vulnerable, and her delivery of the first-act confessional self-confrontation competed favorably with recordings by established divas. Tenor Ryan MacPherson was a perfect blend of spoiled mama’s boy and unwritten page as a Ruggero who was a perfect partner for Tetrusashvili. As the second couple in the story Christina Bouras sang the maid Lisette with ironic detachment and a sense of good humor about the fools that mortals can be. But the true hero of the afternoon was David Neely, a young conductor whose career centers in Germany. Neely obviously believes in this score and in his surrender to its beauty made a fine case for its greatness.

The scenery and costumes that evoke the time and place of each SO production were particularly noteworthy in the second act of “Rondine.” A café of the Belle Époque was designed to perfection by Michael Schweikardt.An abundance of glass walls and ceilings, some decorated with sprays of flowers, made visible groups of round lights and a gray cityscape outside. References to the posters of the period by Alphonse Mucha and Toulouse-Lautrec provided a perfect ambiance for chance meetings and revelry.

Sometimes called “a poor man’s ‘Traviata’” because of parallels in plot, director Michael Unger proved that “La Rondine” is anything but;it is an opera to be taken seriously for its own merits. One hopes that the excellence of the SO staging will lead other companies to consider the work.

It is probably a good thing that Mozart’s “Cosí fan tutte” lists as a comic opera, for — considered in the cold light of day — this opera offers a picture of man — and woman — that in its brutal frankness is of a shocking cruelty that would otherwise ban it from the stage. (Indeed, one left the matinée performance on April 6 recalling the admonition from Georg Büchner’s drama “Woyzeck:” “Humans, you are sand, dust and filth —how dare you pretend to be more?”) Small wonder then that it took “Cosí” well over a century to find its way into the repertory. Fortunately, Mozart conceals his view on human frailty beneath the surface of music irresistible in its charm and élan, and Sarasota was fortunate in having as it conductor Pacien Mazzagatti, a youthful American who understands both dimensions of the work.

New Yorker Mazzagatti had cast and orchestra on such short leash that it was almost impossible for the audience to applaud at the end of arias. This practice should spread to operas everywhere, for it was astonishing to seethe continuity and dramatic structure that there is in Mozart when the music is not continuously interrupted by listeners overly eager to show their appreciation. Director Pat Diamond had an ideal quartet at his disposal:Marie Adele McArthur (Fiordiligi), Vanessa Cariddi (Dorabella), Sean Anderson (Gugglielmo) and Chad A. Johnson (Ferrando). Young, good looking and secure in their roles, the four easily kept pace with Mazzagatti’s animated approach to the score. Stephen Eisenhard was a worldly Alfonso without the Mephistophelean overlay often encountered elsewhere these days, but it was Alice Bernesche who really made things move as a bright and witty Despina. David P. Gordon’s airy sets permitted spoke almost fragrantly of the land where lemons blossom and allowed for quick changes by stage hands also in costumes by Howard Tsvi Kaplan.

IMG_3892.pngSean Anderson as Guglielmo, Vanessa Cariddi as Dorabella, Marie-Adele McArthur as Fiordiligi, and Chad A. Johnson as Ferrando (Photo by Danielle Rappaport courtesy of Sarasota Opera)

“Rigoletto” is something of a signature opera in Sarasota. In 1989 DeRenzi launched his Verdi Cycle with the 1851 work and he chose it to reopen the company’s renovated Mediterranean Revival theater this season. (The project cost $20 million.) It is thus surprising that it fell below the standard of excellence and excitement set by the other three works on SO stage this season. Michael Corvino kept the jester’s unsavory side in check to emerge as a truly tragic figure. However, Rafael Dávita sang — and played — the Duke with all the markings of a provincial tenor, and as Gilda Erica Strauss failed to catch fire. Impressive singing came from those in minor roles: Jeffrey Tucker (Sparafucile), studio artist Blythe Gaissert (Maddalena) and Jonathan Carle (Monterone). DeRenzi’s conducting was neither inspired nor inspiring. Stephanie Sundine directed; designer was David P. Gordan, and costumes by Howard Tsvi Kaplan. “Cosí” was a revival of the 2002 staging; the three other productions were new this season.

Although Saratoga packs its 33 performances — plus several programs staged by its apprentices — into a seven week March/April season, the company is an active presence on the Florida arts scene throughout the year.From August through April the SO musical staff works with three Youth Opera Choruses that enroll members beginning at age eight. They stage formal concerts in various venues in the city and appear also in hospitals, senior residences and nursing homes. The ensembles have participated in Italy’s International Choral Festival in Tuscany. As soon as the main season ends, work begins on the annual Youth Opera Production that stages works expressly written for children and young adults.

On stage in May this year is Canadian composer Dean Burry’s “The Hobbit,” a work based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel that was premiered to critical acclaim by Toronto’s Canadian Children’s Opera in 2004. Saratoga presents the American premiere of the work at performances slated for May 9 and 10. And SO has commissioned America’s senior music master Ned Rorem to compose a new work for 2009 based on Winsor Mcay’s comic strip “Little Nemo in Slumberland.” The libretto is being written by J.D. McClatchy. Members of the Youth Opera Choruses work with SO’s professional staff as supernumeraries and — when required — in children’s roles and choruses in mainstage productions.

MG_0019A.pngRafael Dávila as the Duke of Mantua (Photo by Richard Termine courtesy of Sarasota Opera)

Sarasota, with a population of 300,000, is — like much of Florida — primarily a retirement community. It is relatively easy to find accommodations within easy walking distance of the opera, which has contributed greatly to the revitalization of the downtown area. The town is immaculately groomed, and good — and reasonably priced — restaurants abound. Public transportation, although limited largely to daylight hours, is well organized. It gets one to the famed Ringling Art Museum in only 15 minutes. The small airport is a fairy-tale realm compared to the chaos and confusion that prevails elsewhere today. A taxi to downtown is as little as $13.

An advantage of the SO main season is that on two weekends one can hear all four operas in only three days. On the other hand, it seems a shame to spend so little time in a town that offers a maximum of leisure at slow tempos.

Saratoga Opera opens its 50th anniversary season in November with “Barber of Seville.” On stage in spring 2008 are “Tosca,” “Elixir of Love,” “L’amico Fritz” and “Don Carlos.”

For information, visit www.sarasotaopera.org

Wes Blomster

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):