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

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

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):