Recently in Performances
‘Mack does bad things.’ The tabloid headline that convinces Rory
Kinnear’s surly, sharp-suited Macheath that it might be time to take a
short holiday epitomizes the cold, understated menace of Rufus Norris’s
production of Simon Stephens’ new adaptation of The Threepenny
Opera at the Olivier Theatre.
On May 25, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of the Herbert Ross production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La bohème. Stage director, Peter Kazaras, made use of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s wide stage by setting some scenes usually seen inside the garret on the surrounding roof instead.
On May 21, 2016, Ars Minerva presented The Amazons in the Fortunate Isles (Le Amazzoni nelle Isole Fortunate), an opera consisting of a prologue and three acts by seventeenth century Venetian composer Carlo Pallavicino.
While Pegida anti-refugee demonstrations have been taking place for a while
now in Dresden, there was something noble about the Semperoper with its banners
declaring all are welcome, listing Othello, the Turk, and the hedon Papageno as
Opera houses’ neglect of Leoš Janáček remains one
of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the
‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas
would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa,
Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely
hook most for life.
It’s not easy for critics to hit the right note when they write about musical collaborations between students and professionals. We have to allow for inevitable lack of polish and inexperience while maintaining an overall high standard of judgment.
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
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