09 Jun 2008
Star Power in Paris “Capuleti”
For Bellini’s “I Capuleti e i Montecchi,” Paris Opera peopled its revival with plenty of star power.
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
For Bellini’s “I Capuleti e i Montecchi,” Paris Opera peopled its revival with plenty of star power.
No question that soprano Anna Netrebko is one of opera’s most visible, most glamorous, and most sought-after marquee names. And the French are positively nutty for mezzo Joyce DiDonato (the rest of the world is catching up) who has scored several (deserved) major career successes in the French capital. Small wonder then that there was a profusion of musical thrill seekers brandishing “je cherche billets” placards outside the sold-out Bastille house.
To get it out of the way up front (as it were): in spite of being five months pregnant, Ms. Netrebko was a radiant and wholly successful “Giulietta.” She was beautifully costumed in a flowing white gown to minimize the modest protrusion of a tummy, and she moved with her usual freedom and grace, including carefully assisted kneeling and fainting moments as required by the plot. Only when she was flat on her “dead” back did her condition become more apparent.
Her full-bodied, creamy lyric voice not only rang out thrillingly in the hall, but she commanded several breathtaking high-flying pianissimi as well. In her current “condition” it seemed that she may have divided up a few of the longer phrases to maintain breath control, but nowhere was this disturbing to the overall line. She nailed all of the familiar set pieces, and the audience responded with predictably enthusiastic ovations.
For all her star quality, natural beauty, musical gifts, and attendant adulation, Ms. Netrebko seems to be a sincere and unaffected colleague, deferring the stage to her co-stars as the focus of the drama requires. A wonderful collaborator, a fine voice, alluring presence, Anna is the real deal without seeming to be a real diva.
To say that she was matched in star power by mezzo Joyce DiDonato’s “Romeo” would be an understatement. Ms. DiDonato has a wide-ranging, high-powered, personalized and slightly reedy voice that she deploys fearlessly to communicate every fine point of this complicated love-torn character. There is no nuance of this role that escapes her. The deeply felt cry when “Giulietta’s” corpse was unveiled broke my heart. She is a fine artist, with perfect diction and total understanding of the text and the internalized emotion behind it. For the record, she was given the final bow, after the more famous Anna (perhaps because the soprano has asked that Patrizia Ciofi spell her for three performances of the run?).
As if these two would not be enough cause for celebration, the entire show was cast from strength. Mathew Polenzani (“Tebaldo”) served notice right at the top that we were in for a sensational night, his refined lyric tenor ringing out in the house, and his first aria/cabaletta as fine as we could wish. “Lorenzo” was so well-voiced by Mikhail Petrenko, and “Capulet” by Giovanni Battista Parodi that it was a pity there was not more for them to do.
Joyce DiDonato and Anna Netrebko (Photo by Christian Leiber courtesy of Opéra national de Paris
Robert Carsen directed the original production and it is hard to know how much he participated in the revival. An assistant, Isabelle Cardin is also credited. Whoever, this was excellent work. Carsen knows how to place singers on the stage so we are hearing them to maximum advantage, and he knows how to move them logically to those positions through motivated blocking and well-considered character interaction. Good God, a director who knows how to tell the story!
He found an excellent partner in Michael Levine, whose handsome red-paneled walls provided a wonderful playing space with the simple addition of set pieces (stairs, bed, banquet table). The chapel was especially effective with a wide band of light emanating from up left and rows of chairs as pews providing all that was required. The tomb was no less effective, with one wall panel tellingly removed to create a tomb that was ready to accept “Giulietta,” who lay in a pool of light surrounded by flower petals, and was backed by back-lit choristers on a slightly akimbo staircase.
The team immediately established the important background of conflict by having swords stuck in the stage apron which were plucked up by the assembling “Capulets” during the overture. This visual theme was returned to at the end of Act One when the clans square off by advancing on each other and locking weapons in a group freeze center stage at curtain fall. And in a brilliant tweak, at work’s end the two forces assemble in the same aggressive tableau around and over the dead bodies, visually stating that no matter how profound the tragedy, we will walk over the corpses to have history repeat itself.
One other brilliant touch: Act Two opened to the same chapel as had closed One, but revealing dead bodies and over-turned chairs, the sad result of war. As “Giulietta” sank down to her “death,” the dead rose again in a chilling effect, as if on Judgment Day, to welcome her to their ranks. The sumptuous red velvet period costumes (black for the “Montagues”) were exactly right, and provided an elegant sense of time and place.
Conductor Evelino Pidò’s reading of this score was a revelation. I cannot ever remember being so persuaded by the music, or so engaged in, and moved by the drama of Bellini’s somewhat flawed version of the famous tale. The solo work from the clarinet, cello, harp, and horn was top drawer, and indeed the entire orchestra performed splendidly.
There are those who may have come to “I Capuleti e i Montecchi” because it was “the event” of the season, but they most certainly stayed to cheer it to the rafters because it was just so damn’ good. Make that “great.”