Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Cecilia Bartoli
08 Jun 2008

Zurich Has Malibran to Thank

If you are going to produce Jacques Fromental Halevy’s forgotten opera “Clari,” I urge you to first make sure you have a signature on the contact from a superstar with the firepower of Cecilia Bartoli.

Jacques Fromental Halévy: Clari

Above: Cecilia Bartoli

 

Ms. Bartoli is the raison d’etre for Zürich Opera’s colorfully mounted rarity, continuing in her celebration of the 200th anniversary of operatic legend Maria Malibran for whom the piece was written. But for our star’s committed interest, I am not sure it may have seen the light of day, nor certainly would it have scored such a big success with its public.

In case you have missed it, Ms. Bartoli has made a specialty of late unearthing little-known pieces and/or creating compilation albums around themes, or composers, or both. Witness the recent promo campaign attending the release of “Maria,” a CD in which she (quite spectacularly) covers all things Malibran. Happily, Ms. Bartoli’s unquenchable musical curiosity (and perhaps, marketing acumen) are wedded to a passionate artistry, unfailing musical and dramatic instincts, and a uniquely personal sound served by a reliably sure-fire technique.

Indeed, in “Clari” it seemed there was nothing our diva could not do. Complex arpeggiated licks, perfect trills, spot-on wide-ranging interval leaps, superb diction, secure tone in all gradations of volume, melting lyrical outpourings, and nuanced coloratura with fiery temperament — all were on display in La Bartoli’s bravura performance. An added plus is that the smallish Zürich house perfectly showcases her medium-sized voice. Oh, yeah, and she is simply a beautiful woman with an effortless star presence.

The company assembled a strong cast to partner one of the world’s most famous singers. As the “Duke,” tenor John Osborn displayed a very winning presence and lovely voice with a solid technique that allowed him to not only match Ms. Bartoli in their sizzling duets, but also to pin our ears back with some dandy climactic high notes. Mr. Osborn surely must be numbered among today’s top leggiero tenors.

Eva Liebau deployed her clean,sparkling soprano to good end as “Bettina” especially with a well-sung canzonetta. As the father “Alberto,” Carlos Chausson made every booming note count and offered a well-rounded, humorously self-pitying portrayal. Slightly less effective, although still eminently enjoyable, were Stefania Kaluza’s mother “Simonetta” and Oliver Widmer’s “Germano.” The former sometimes seemed short of voice at the break, and the latter sometimes disappeared into the orchestral textures in florid passages.

The well-tutored chorus sounded good, wore their succession of outlandish costumes well, and did every goofy piece of stage business and choreography (by Beate Vollack) that was asked of them with dedication and good humor. And now we arrive at the goods news/bad news part. But first, bear with me.

Clari_titel360.jpgSome years ago, before I really knew Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” at all well (or really, at all), I saw a dizzy Euro-putzy production of it based on the comic book “Asterix and Cleopatra.” Well, you can imagine what it was like, right? But not knowing any better, it was well sung, so I really sort of liked it. Never mind that it was entirely the wrong tone for the piece. I had fun, dammit, laughing in all the wrong places. And that is a bit how I felt as I was discovering this production of “Clari.”

For it seems that its gentle charms should be more akin to the sincere and sentimental village milieu of “Sonnambula” than Act I’s nutty Once-and-Future-Guggenheim of a drawing room. Brazenly colorful modern furniture provides a modest island of repose in a riot of modern art, not least of which is a huge bright red bust of a gorilla. Which our heroine mounts in an unhinged Fay Wray moment at Act One’s end. Not to impugn Christian Fenouillat’s witty and beautifully executed designs. Setting Act II in a very realistic modern hospital waiting room, into which the female chorus of nurses wheels the suffering “Clari” in a hospital bed, was brilliant. As was Act III’s shallow farmhouse kitchen and entry way (with soiled rubber farm boots lined up). The goof of having a drop with a valentine cut-out fly in to frame our heroine for her final solo as she pokes her head through the hole left for the bride’s head was a delight.

Too, Agostino Cavalca’s colorful costumes were perfectly calibrated to support the concept, notably the bumble-bee-black-and-yellow servants costumes, the outrageous “beautiful people” look at the birthday party, and the pseudo-Alpine dress for the peasants. It must be said that Ms. Bartoli was ravishingly attired. Her first entrance costume was an ice blue sequined suit, rivaled by her birthday party get-up as she pops out of a cake in a bugle-beaded pink strapless cocktail dress. Stunning. Even her peasant dress flattered and did not visually let us forget who was the star.

More Good News: Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier co-directed their principals exceedingly well. There was nice, varied blocking with good motivation and character interplay. They invented meaningful and clever business for the very long set pieces to inject variety and (yes) humor. The “Duke” as preening peacock (Liberace with a nod to Elvis) was a winning touch, and his vamping of “Clari” by slipping his robe off his shoulder (yeah, like that would inflame her) was a hoot.

Another brilliant device was the use of a framed “painting” in the opening location, which morphed into a succession of projected photos detailing the prequel to the opera’s action, namely “Clari’s” leaving home and being held captive by the “Duke.” Funny funny images that did, however distract from the long, well-played intro to the soprano’s opening aria. The bit of “Clari” hiding herself from her dad in the farm vestibule by putting a coat over her head to match the other similarly adorned coat hooks was another master stroke. And I loved “Duke’s” third act entrance in a roadster.

Bad News Part: I wish the directors had showed more care with their uses of the chorus. Often they were relegated to performing the most cliched and timeworn shtick, looking all the more obvious for having it amid so many other inventive goings-on. I mean, please, servants endlessly “polishing” the same spot on the chair/floor/wall/air/fill-in-the-blank? And doing ersatz Teutonic folk steps that would have been rejected from “The Producers”? We have seen it all before and these guys are too good to settle for that.

Things in the pit were under Adam Fischer’s sure hand. He elicited secure playing from the resident “La Scintilla” period instrument band. I am not sure that this sound made the best possible case for Halevy’s score, but, save for a few periodic stroppy moments in the horn section, they played with stylistic commitment. Side note: I have never ever in my life seen/heard an orchestra tune this much. They easily took five minutes to do just that after we were all ushered to our seats in a very hot auditorium. Maybe they could start tuning up before the house manager rings the bell?

“Clari” is not likely to show up in many (if any) other major houses, but it might be a good fit for smaller opera festivals looking for intriguing variety. Glimmerglass? St. Louis? The score is certainly pleasing enough, and true to its times and performance practices, Ms. Bartoli interpolated a Rossini aria as well as an Halevy aria from a different piece into the performance. (Hell, we would have listened to Cecilia do “Proud Mary” if she wanted!)

Quibbles aside, with “Clari,” Zürich Opera produced a solid success, well cast, with excellent production values, and an all-too-infrequent chance to revel in Cecilia Bartoli at the top of her game. Really, does opera get much better than that?

James Sohre

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):