Recently in Performances
Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
04 May 2008
La Fille du Régiment at the Met
When the Met presented La Fille du Régiment for Lily Pons during World War II, she sought permission to wave the Cross of Lorraine, symbol of Charles de Gaulle’s Free French, during the Salut à la France in Act II.
The Met management opposed the idea (what next? setting operas in
contemporary costumes?), but Pons was a diva of the old school, impossible to
discipline or embarrass — she knew the wartime audience would roar and that
Met General Manager Edward Johnson wouldn’t dare reprimand her. As for the
opera — if a diva is cute and funny and has the high notes (Pons, we hear,
scored on all three counts — so, in my own experience, did Sutherland and,
at least in early years, Sills), then nothing can go wrong: Donizetti’s
vehicle is a ’54 Chevy, handsome, unpretentious and unbreakable. Fill ’er
up with high octane and she’ll take you where you want to go.
Too, since Pavarotti revealed the opera as a tenor vehicle as well, the
boys get to share the limelight, and for the last few years (at least since
Hermione Gingold began to camp it up — recent entrants include Montserrat
Caballé at Covent Garden), the two-line speaking role of the Duchess of
Krakenthorp has expanded like an accordion to become a major player. At the
Met these days, Marion Seldes gets two scenes and two outfits, as many
costumes as the prima donna.
Having heard last Saturday’s broadcast (full of audience giggle), I went
to the Met’s new production of La Fille (shared with Covent Garden
and Vienna) expecting to lean back and enjoy myself, and I did. So, as far as
I could tell, did everyone else in the packed house. First of all, there’s
the irresistible Donizetti fable, full of sentimental regret (during the
reign of pacific Louis-Philippe) for the days of Napoleonic gloire,
with march-time send-ups and regimental ditties (what does “rat-a-plan”
mean? It’s not in my Larousse), as well as sentimental
numbers that almost play themselves — the duet where Tonio and Marie
“prove” their love to each other’s exacting specifications, the
delicious trio of old comrades, “Tous les trois réunis” — all
of it melodious, hilarious, touching by turns, a musical with good singing
and no agonized American idols. La Fille couples lack of pretension
with Donizetti’s deft, professional hand at achieving exactly what he wants
to achieve: the characters do not surprise us — they’re much too
straightforward for that — but they’re worthy of the happiness they want,
and our hearts are warm when they get it.
Laurent Pelly’s production has a backdrop concocted by Chantal Thomas
from nineteenth-century European maps that form a mountainous Tyrolean
landscape on which Juan Diego Florez (who grew up in the even steeper Andes,
right?) takes an occasional pratfall while otherwise twirling like a
curly-headed Fred Astaire in lederhosen. If the guy, lately married in the
cathedral of Lima, loves his new bride half as much as he loves cutting up
for 4000 strangers she’s a lucky woman.
Natalie Dessay is charming when singing showpiece roulades while ironing
longjohns, when advancing on the enemy while seated on the floor in a
doll-like position, when striding about the stage with robotic gestures —
the same gestures and movements that tickled us when she played Olympia in
Hoffman and Zerbinetta in Ariadne. But the constant
mugging, intentionally or not, distract from imperfect fioritura and
breathless concluding notes, indeed from vocalism — you have to force
yourself to pay attention to the singing to notice it is being done at all. I
could have done without a great deal of the frenetic business — she never
calmed down long enough to let us enjoy the beautiful music she and Donizetti
might have made together. Charm is undercut by this level of aggression, and
it is possible to charm, even in knockabout farce, without channeling Lucy
Ricardo. Nor is it necessary to make invidious comparisons to the equally
funny but musically richer performances of Sutherland or Sills (or Freni, who
sang the loveliest, purest “Il faut partir” I’ve ever heard). Merely
cast an eye on Florez for balance: yes, he gallivanted adorably, yes he sang
eighteen high C’s — pure, even, perfectly produced high C’s at that —
in order to provide an encore, and stepped out of character to bow when they
were done — but when it was his turn to be Tonio, the naïve and ardent
lover, and to be quietly sincere, then quiet sincerity is what he gave us. He
knows when to turn off the spigot of farce and still be present. Dessay does
not seem to know how to do this, and her constantly jokey performance in due
course tired me out. Perhaps if she’d put a little of that gag energy into
maintaining a bel canto line, we’d have real opera here.
When Florez first set foot on the Met stage a few years back, his rapture
at having an audience to delight was like an electric shock passing visibly
through his body and outwards to tingle everyone present, but though his
Rossini technique was surely the most extraordinary of any tenor in a hundred
years, the voice itself (as he admits) was gruff, unbeautiful, lacking
sensuality. The instrument has lately grown larger and more lyrical, more
capable of sustaining beautiful sound, with no noticeable decline in
flexibility and an ease at filling an enormous theater that can only thrill.
Too, he knows how to act like an oaf so as to win any and every heart. A
Felicity Palmer makes an elegant eldritch marquise (though why her German
schloss of Berkenfeld has added a letter to become the English
Berkenfield is a puzzle) and Alessandro Corbelli a stout, bald Sergeant
Sulpice. After a scrappy slog through the overture, Marco Armiliato shaped up
in the pit, and gave every sign of enjoying himself. Mention should be made
of choreographer Agathe Mélinand, whose four housemaids polishing furniture
while doing ballet exercises had us all in stitches, and who — I presume it
was her idea — had the soldiers keep waltz-time with their helmeted heads
to Florez’s encore.