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

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

Handel's Brockes-Passion: The Academy of Ancient Music at the Barbican Hall

Perhaps it is too fanciful to suggest that the German poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) was the Metastasio of Hamburg?

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

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):