Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.



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):