Recently in Performances
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of
Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a
Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).
The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.
On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).
For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.
The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.
On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.
During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.
A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.
Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.
On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.
There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.
With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia
Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory
mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola,
whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the
Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.
Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
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