Recently in Performances
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
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