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

An English Winter Journey

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.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

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.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

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’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

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.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Mary Wilson as Queen Isabella (Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis)
22 Jun 2008

A rare treasure in Saint Louis. . .

Pink flamingos, sheep on wheels, and a queen crowned with giant antlers all inhabit the zany world of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s Una cosa rara, where the artificial 18th century pastoral commingles with cutesy country colors and 1950s yard art.

Vincent Martín y Soler: Una cosa rara o sia Belleza ed onestá [A Rare Treasure, or Beauty and Honesty]

Queen Isabella (Mary Wilson); Prince Giovanni (Alek Schrader); Corrado, (Paul Appleby); Lilla (Maureen McKay); Lubino (Keith Phares); Tita (Matthew Burns); Ghita (Kiera Duffy); Lisargo (David Kravitz). Musicians of the Saint Louis Symphony, conducted by Corrado Rovaris. Directed by Chas Rader-Shieber, with sets by David Zinn and costumes by Clint Ramos.

Above: Mary Wilson as Queen Isabella
All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

 

Although Cosa rara’s eponymous rare treasure concerns the honesty of a beautiful woman, Opera Theatre surely enjoyed the play on words in presenting this rarely performed but once-treasured opera. The company has successfully contextualized Mozart in its last few seasons by presenting works of his contemporaries, including Grétry’s Beauty and the Beast (1771) and Cimarosa’s The Secret Marriage (1792). Vincent Martín y Soler’s opera continues this trend, since nearly everything about Una cosa rara reminds us of its more familiar Mozartian brethren.

Born in Spain two years before Mozart, Martín lacked his contemporary’s astonishing precocity, though by his early twenties he had composed comic operas for many important Italian towns. He moved to Vienna in 1785, four years after Mozart’s own arrival. The following year each man composed an opera for Emperor Joseph II’s Italian theater. Mozart inaugurated his partnership with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, culminating in Le nozze di Figaro. Martín likewise collaborated with da Ponte on his comic opera, Una cosa rara. Figaro’s modest success in May 1786 was overshadowed by Una cosa rara’s triumphant debut eight months later. In October 1787 Martín penned a follow-up hit with the immensely popular pastoral work L’arbore di Diana. Less than a month later, Don Giovanni opened in Prague. In it, Mozart acknowledged his peer’s popularity by quoting a tune from Cosa rara during the Act II dinner entertainment. These textual and musical links to Mozart are not just historical happenstance, but structurally important in Cosa rara. Da Ponte’s influence weighs heavily, with both the plot and the characters echoing Figaro and Così fan tutte. Although Martín’s musical style lacks the spice of Mozart at his best, Cosa rara is perfectly passable as good 18th century opera. For us just as for the Viennese, Martín’s pleasant pastoral ditties digest easily.

Stage director Chas Rader-Schieber conceived Opera Theatre’s Cosa rara as a farcical world of warped whimsy, albeit with a rather friendly touch. His vision was amply fulfilled by the aforementioned sheep on wheels, pink flamingos, garden gnomes, etc. These flamingos extended beyond mere props, even decorating the outdoor gardens at intermission. The set and the costumes seemed to get as much or more attention than the music, since each character’s entrance was accompanied by applause or laughter. The costumes continued to get more and more outlandish, culminating in the high (or low?) point of the Queen’s Act II hunting outfit, which featured giant pink glittering antlers affixed to her head. It was all extremely silly, but the cast (and audience by extension) seemed to have a ball.

Although the visual spectacle of this production dominated at times, the vocal performances were solid as well, with some truly excellent moments. Soprano Mary Wilson was both impressive and endearing as the dotty Queen of Spain, and she certainly seemed to enjoy her silly onstage shenanigans. She wowed the audience during many of her numbers, particularly the virtuoso rondo in Act II. A great example of Cosa rara’s more elevated musical style for the noble characters, Wilson nailed the difficult technical passages in this aria with finesse and good taste in ornamentation. Her son the Prince was interpreted in a delightfully hammy manner by tenor Alek Schrader. With his over the top pink and black sequined costume, his platinum blond wig a cross between Madame Pompadour and rockabilly à la Jerry Lee Lewis, Schrader titillated the audience throughout. His difficult Act II recitative and aria was very nicely sung, although perhaps one might desire a little more power in the finish. Corrado’s part, sung by Paul Appleby, was much less substantial, with only short solos.

Cosa_rara02.pngMaureen McKay and Alek Schrader

On to the peasants! Soprano Maureen McKay was absolutely delightful as the ingenuous shepherdess Lilla, and had the audience in stitches from her first entrance, running frantically onto stage and literally throwing herself at the Queen’s feet. Though this particular performance had a few isolated strained notes in the higher register, McKay has a lovely clear voice, and her perfect acting really helped make the production. Lilla’s lover Lubino, a rather dimwitted impetuous shepherd, was well-served by Keith Phares’ rich baritone voice and excellent diction. Phares particularly amused the audience with his ridiculous Act I parody of a vengeance aria. If Lilla and Lubino represent the perfect shepherd couple, their counterparts Ghita and Tita offer (still more) comic relief. Ghita was saucily interpreted by soprano Kiera Duffy, while Matthew Burns took the bass role of Tita. The two bickered impressively, interspersing their arguments with hilarious make-out sessions. Both singers had some of the more difficult patter singing in Cosa rara, which they managed with aplomb. Matthew Burns’s voice was especially impressive, as was his stellar diction.

The orchestra members, drawn from the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, were well conducted by Corrado Rovaris. They performed the 18th century style cleanly and followed the singers sensitively, with the only minor shortcoming being the occasional trampling of forte-piano alternations.

Hugh Macdonald’s new English singing translation certainly added to the hilarity of it all. He clearly reveled in fashioning silly rhymes such as mooning and spooning and swooning, and even alerted the audience to the arrival of the melody famously quoted in Don Giovanni. His new translation played a major role in the successfully slapstick comedy of this Cosa rara, cramming in jokes, puns, wink-wink references, and general silliness by the handful.

Opera Theatre’s rare treasure in this performance seemed to lie not in the revitalization of some forgotten masterpiece, but in presenting an opera completely without pretensions, a perfectly frivolous summer treat.

Erin Brooks © 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):