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

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.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

Handel's Brockes-Passion: The Academy of Ancient Music at the Barbican Hall

Perhaps it is too fanciful to suggest that the German poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) was the Metastasio of Hamburg?

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez
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.

Gaetano Donizetti: La Fille du Régiment
Metropolitan Opera, performance of April 29.

Marie: Natalie Dessay; Tonio: Juan Diego Florez; Marquise: Dame Felicity Palmer; Sulpice: Alessandro Corbelli. Conducted by Marco Armiliato.

Above: Natalie Dessay (Marie) and Juan Diego Florez (Tonio)

 

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 perfect performance.

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.

John Yohalem

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):