Recently in Performances
It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
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.
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.
Maureen 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