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

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Isabel Bayrakdarian as Mélisande (Photo: Michael Cooper)
27 May 2008

Masterpiece Masterfully Rendered in Toronto

I can still remember my first ever “Pelleas et Melisande” in my first ever outing at San Francisco Opera during my first ever visit to that beautiful town.

Claude Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

Golaud, King Arkel’s grandson (Pavlo Hunka), Mélisande (Isabel Bayrakdarian), Geneviève, mother of Pelléas and Golaud (Barbara Dever), Arkel, King of Allemonde (Richard Wiegold), Pelléas, King Arkel’s grandson (Russell Braun), Yniold, Golaud’s son by his first marriage (Erin Fisher), The Doctor (Alain Coulombe). Conductor: Jan Latham-Koenig. Director: Nicholas Muni. Canadian Opera Company.

Above: Isabel Bayrakdarian as Mélisande
All photos by Michael Cooper courtesy of Canadian Opera Company

 

Having run into a local friend unexpectedly at intermission, and having related the above information, he hurriedly said, “ohhhhhhh, you should come back sometime for a real opera.”

Judging from intermission comments recently in Toronto, and some empty seats for part two, the piece apparently remains caviar for the gourmand, rather than bread and butter for the masses. I am hard pressed to quite understand why, especially when the work is treated to such a world class performance as mounted here by Canadian Opera Company.

Dany Lyne’s gorgeous design — ethereal, timeless and haunting — provided the perfect backdrop and playing environment for Debussy’s masterpiece. While the basic construction featured a girdered bridge which elevated actors about ten feet off the stage floor, visual variety was introduced through the addition of well-chosen set pieces (throne, bed, rickshaw, etc.), and the revelation of fold out features such as a hidden stairway and door leading from above to the “depths” of the debris-strewn floor in which “Pelleas” dwelt during much of the first act.

The stage left third of the structure was able to be raised and lowered, creating “Melisande’s” bedroom tower, a beautiful evocation of a depth to the well, and a final descent to the grave for our heroine’s remains, even while her spirit (in the form of a diaphanous bed canopy) ascended to the heavens.

Scrims, opaque spun fiberglass drops, and a cyclorama fronted by expressive filigreed tree branches, were inventively lit by Thomas C. Hase with his perfectly judged special effects and a highly creative design. He was assisted by John Prautschy. A glowing blue moon, passing torchlight, silhouette imagery, the up-lit fountain, and the down lit bed and stairs were among the superbly calculated effects. A passionate orb of a sun called to mind Stephen Crane’s “the red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer.”

Ms. Lyne’s vibrant Asian-influenced costumes could also hardly have been bettered, and the choice to put “Melisande” in vivid reds proved to be inspired, completely playing against the usual wispy “type” for this mysterious character. Indeed, our heroine’s first appearance behind a scrim, in a rich Chinese red dress with an impossibly long train, and draped in an over-sized off-white veil was a triumph of character statement, making her at once irresistibly alluring and impossibly indefinite. The minute attention to each and every technical detail created true theatrical magic.

pelleas07.png(l – r) Alain Coulombe as the Doctor, Barbara Dever as Geneviève (behind Golaud), Pavlo Hunka as Golaud, Isabel Bayrakdarian as Mélisande and Richard Wiegold as Arkel

Such a top notch design would go for nothing, of course, without a cast up to the musical challenges, and COC came up with winners all around. At any given period there is always a dream team for the title roles, and on the basis of this visit, I would have to say the mantle has been passed to stars Russell Braun and Isabel Bayrakdarian, Canadians both. Although Mr. Braun has more experience with his well-known “Pelleas” (including a memorable Robert Wilson version in Salzburg with Dawn Upshaw), there is nothing in these fearsomely demanding roles that eludes either one of these superb interpreters.

Ms. Bayrakdarian offered a most compelling take on “Melisande” with a bit more starch than some. She displayed a wonderful technique, an even production, fine projection with a pleasing point to the tone, and thorough attention to each quicksilver shift of mood and subtext. Mr. Braun now pretty much owns his role, and he negotiates “Pelleas’“ highest reaches with seasoned perfection, singing with a robust and responsive baritone that has mastered every nuance of his tortured attraction to his brother’s wife.

Pavlo Hunka’s compelling “Golaud” was every inch the powerful linchpin central to the drama, as it needs to be. He managed more variety than other interpreters that I have seen, and his obsession with finding confirmation of the betraying physical act was well-balanced between heartsick introspection and macho bluster.

pelleas09.pngRussell Braun as Pelléas and Isabel Bayrakdarian as Mélisande

Richard Wiegold used his dark imposing bass to etch an unusually detailed portrait of “Arkel,” and he was well rewarded at curtain call for his efforts. Barbara Dever offered dramatic power and a steady outpouring of her rich mezzo for a fine assumption of “Genevieve.” The small role of the “Physician” was fleshed out with wonderful stage business, and the few rolling phrases required were well intoned by Alain Coulombe.” Only Erin Fisher’s attractive if light-voiced “Yniold” seemed one size too small to ride the occasional dense orchestrations.

Director Nicholas Muni made masterful use of every playing space and level available to him; he created memorable, chills-inducing stage pictures and groupings through well-motivated blocking; and he could give a masters class on effective character development and interaction. My God, here is a director who not only understands the work, but serves it! Let’s hope his creative philosophy starts an epidemic in the opera world. For this is decidedly a brilliant mounting of Debussy’s “Pelleas,” rather than Muni’s. Would that all directors “got” that difference.

The superb playing from the pit was diligently led by Jan Latham-Koenig. The acoustic of the house seemed very grateful to this impressionist work, even if I did think that it favored the orchestra slightly more than the singers. This richly detailed reading not only had the wispy, blurry succession of solo lines flawlessly interwoven, but the blocks of woodwinds, strings, and horns were individually and collectively well-knit into a clean ensemble. The passionate outbursts were all the more effective for the placid churnings that came before, and the inner life and forward thrust of the rhythmic pulse was never lost.

The beautiful “new” house in the Four Seasons Center would be an architectural pride of any world city, and it is perfectly complemented on stage by a stunning “Pelleas et Melisande” that makes the best possible case for this elusive work. Will this opus ever become a bread-and-butter opera? Perhaps not.

But for those of us who occasionally relish the highest quality caviar on our musical menu, this totally winning production was a very rich feast.

James Sohre © 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):