Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Domenico Cimarosa
04 Jun 2008

Il Matrimonio Segreto in Brooklyn

Opera producers in quest of headlines, unable to make them from the limited number of Mozart operas available (all of them far too familiar) but equipped with the flood of attractive young singers trained to sing Mozart in conservatories (because singing Mozart does not harm young voices, and singing Verdi and Wagner before 30 — better yet, 40 — often will), sometimes turn to Mozart’s contemporary, Cimarosa, and his Il Matrimonio Segreto, to get attention.

Domenico Cimarosa: Il Matrimonio Segreto
BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) Harvey Theater, performance of May 30.

Carolina: Heidi Stober, Elisetta: Georgia Jarman, Fidalma: Fredrika Brillembourg, Paolino: Chad A. Johnson, Il conte Robinson: Jonathan Best, Geronimo: Conal Coad. Members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic conducted by Paul Goodwin. Directed by Jonathan Miller.

 

The piece is obscure enough to be news (outside music schools, it’s rarely given more than once in twenty years). None of its arias or ensembles are especially well known (or worthy of that distinction), but all are pleasant enough to pass the time, and the whole piece is so sprightly that at the world premiere, after a celebratory banquet, the emperor said, “Sing me an encore. In fact, do the whole piece again” — and they did. (This is the same emperor who hadn’t much cared for Clemenza di Tito a few months before.)

Myself, still unable to hum any of Matrimonio after four exposures over the years, I’d prefer a bolder choice: Paisiello, Martin y Soler, Salieri, Simone Mayr. They all wrote light operas (and not so light operas) for the same discriminating audience as Mozart and Cimarosa, and their works, famous then, are far less well known today. I’ve heard several, all worthy. Too, like Cimarosa, they tell us interesting things about why Mozart stands out from the pack, and where Rossini and the future of Italian opera came from.

Matrimonio Segreto is a cross between the buffo tradition (its characters are traditional commedia dell’ arte figures) and the comedy of manners — the libretto was derived from Garrick’s play The Clandestine Marriage. When, in Jonathan Miller’s production (devised for Glyndebourne in 1992, but cheap to revive), Colin Coad as Girolamo, with his buffo belly, confronts Simon Best as Lord Robinson, with his aristocratic English slouch, we know just where we are: that feature of both genres, two pompous fellows fiercely at cross purposes. Mozart had set such moments; Rossini and Donizetti would make capital of them as well. Money, honor, snobbery and love contend for victory, and honor gets the worst of it, as usual. That might be the difference between tragedy and comedy: in the former, affronts to honor end in bloodshed; in the latter, they produce laughter. Only a genius like Mozart could mix these genres and produce delight.

Miller’s production has the virtue of simplicity — taken to excess, in that a unit set (in a highly unattractive color for the residence of a wealthy man hoping to catch a noble son-in-law) does not really serve the plot’s situations well. Miller has chosen to go for knockabout comedy (lustful lady jokes, burp jokes) at the expense of other considerations, and far too much of the laughter was due to the excessive colloquialism of the surtitles — but the purpose is to entertain, and the time goes swiftly. (I did enjoy the moment — at the height of the plot’s confusion, with all the characters yelling at once — when the English milord peeped up at the titles to find out what on earth was going on.)

In brief: A wealthy old merchant, Girolamo, has two daughters; his secretary, Paolino, hopes to arrange an aristocratic marriage for the elder, snobby Elisetta, so that the old man will be pleased enough to approve Paolino’s marriage to the younger, pretty Carolina — which marriage has already taken place, secretly. But when Lord Robinson arrives, he falls for Carolina himself and refuses to take Elisetta, even offering to forgo a dowry. Adding to the confusion, Girolamo’s rich, widowed sister, Fidalma, has a thing for Paolino. The confusion is somehow drawn out for two melodious acts (you can see just where Desi and Lucy would put the commercials), whereupon Lord R, checking the surtitles, declares he so loves Carolina that, to ensure her happiness, he will marry her sister. As you can see: many opportunities for duets and trios at cross-purposes are present. But Rossini had not yet invented the grand buffo concertato, so Cimarosa’s scenes do not conclude with those satisfying explosions of mutual confusion and recrimination that seem so typically buffo to us.

The experienced but little known cast of the BAM performances gave pleasure as both singers and actors. Heidi Stober’s was the only name familiar to me — her sweet soprano (and face and figure) were all that a Carolina requires, but her voice also has a velvet, caressing quality that could take her places. Georgia Jarman sang the more bravura role of Elisetta, whose jilted hopes produce flights of parody-heroic coloratura in the manner of Donna Elvira. The voice is pretty, the flounces effective, but her ornamentation was not as precise as I’d have liked. Fredrika Brillembourg sang the thankless part of Aunt Fidalma, but her attractive and easy mezzo and stately figure suggest she would be impressive as Handel’s Cornelia or Mozart’s Sesto.

The comedians — whose lengthy resumes suggest long but insular careers — expertly inhabited the pretensions and asininities required of buffo clowns. Coad’s Girolamo, a father only a buffo heroine could love (and no one could obey), bristled and strutted and held down the bass line. Jonathan Best seemed — appropriately for an English milord in an Italian opera — to have strayed out of his natural element, tossing bits of stage Brit slang into the recitative and even the duets, and staring about the theater bemused as if he couldn’t imagine where he was. His Briticisms were well received, as was the sheer fun he seemed to be having, whether he was flirting with the right girl or the wrong. Chad A. Johnson, the Paolino, listed quite an array of lead roles in his program bio, but his wispy tenor did not seem worthy of any of them. Happily his role is the least important in the opera, and he may have been suffering from the pollen-ridden atmosphere.

Paul Goodwin got a pick-up bunch of musicians from the Brooklyn Philharmonic into unflaggingly lively shape for a pit band. The only awkwardness came from the timpani, off pitch and far too assertive (had there been no time to test balances in the tiny Harvey Theater?) during the opera’s delicious overture. This was most regrettable but, happily, the drums are not heard again after the curtain rises: they proclaim a portentous evening and then do not take part in it.

John Yohalem

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):