Recently in Performances
On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“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.
04 Jun 2008
Handel's Rodrigo — Ensemble San Felice, St John’s Smith Square, London
Handel’s Rodrigo, subtitled ‘Vincer se stesso è la maggior vittoria’ (Self-conquest is the greater victory) is one of the composer’s earliest operatic works, and rarely heard.
It was extensively revised between
the completion of the autograph score and its 1707 première in Florence, and
large sections of both versions were subsequently lost. It would appear that
the revisions for the Florence production were to the detriment of the piece,
and thanks to the discovery in 1983 of a substantial amount of lost material
from the autograph (as well as a certain amount of editorial license to
recreate missing recitatives, and the loan of a couple of numbers from
Handel’s other operas) Alan Curtis’s performing edition — given here in
London by a Florentine ensemble as part of the Lufthansa Baroque Festival —
is based on Handel’s original intentions.
The story is loosely based on that of an actual 8th-century Spanish king
and conqueror, whose political victories were complicated by his apparent
inability to be faithful to his wife. In the libretto (by Silvani, and
originally set a few years earlier by Marc’Antonio Ziani) Rodrigo has
seduced the impressionable young Florinda with the promise of a throne,
consequently fathered her a child, and then reneged on his offer. She is left
furious, disgraced and bent on revenge, while Rodrigo goes back to his
rightful queen, the saintly but childless Esilena, who understandably is
deeply distressed by the whole situation. Esilena’s constancy in the face
of marital wrongdoing is, in the end, the salvation of all concerned (along
with a convenient eleventh-hour plot development whereby Florinda gets a
better offer and gives Rodrigo up for good).
Acts 2 and 3 contain some interesting and original numbers — a lovely
lute serenade for the soprano secondo uomo, Evanco, and a fragment of a tenor
aria (for Giuliano, Florinda’s brother) with a quirky bassoon obbligato,
which is cut off by an advance in the plot just as it reaches the B section.
The same cannot be said for the first act, where nearly every aria is one of
anger, vengeance or war — each individual aria certainly gives the singer
scope to demonstrate mettlesome coloratura technique, but an entire act full
of identical numbers is rather tiresome, especially when there’s little
variety in tessitura (the lowest voice in the cast being a tenor) and when
only a couple of the voices were really worth such extended display.
The finest vocal performer by a long way was the soprano Laura Cherici who
sang Esilena; her soft-grained tone had a liquid beauty which portrayed the
wronged queen ideally, and her one fast aria was sung with exceptional flare.
In the title role, the mezzo Gloria Banditelli was disappointing — her
singing was accurate and attractive, but it was not a heroic voice. Here in
London we are so blessed with regular access to good heroic Handelian mezzos
that I fear we take them for granted.
Other than that, not a great deal of the singing was to be recommended;
Annamaria dell’Oste’s Florinda was impressive in her agility and force of
delivery, but she had a tendency to go sharp. In fact, there were intonation
problems from the majority, and the contralto Caterina Calvi (in the
virtually unnecessary role of Fernando) sounded as though she should have
been at home with laryngitis, though no announcement was made to this effect.
There was some exceptionally fine instrumental playing, however —
especially from the continuo cellist and lutenist. Federico Bardazzi was the
Though Luciano Alberti’s semi-staging — against a backdrop of
projected line-drawings of the original 1707 production — was fairly
rudimentary, a fair amount of (dare I say somewhat misplaced) effort had
obviously been made with Enrico Coveri Maison’s costume designs, which
attempted to replicate the styles and shapes shown in the projected images.
They were a typically early-18th-century take on costumes for an opera set in
the 8th century, but coloured in a lurid array of much more modern cerises,
turquoises and oranges.
Ruth Elleson © 2008