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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.



Alessandro Scarlatti
30 Jul 2008

Baroque Oratorio Premieres in New Jersey

For two years, the subdued rumble of anticipation had been building to a forte.

Alessandro Scarlatti: Giuditta
Dolan Performance Hall, The Annunciation Center, the College of St Elizabeth, Morrsistown, New Jersey on Sunday, June 22.

Marjorie Berg (soprano), Daniel Foran (tenor), John Lamb (bass), Mark Hewitt (baritone) and Teresa Giardina (mezzo-soprano), Harmonium Choral Society
The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey, Robert W. Butts (cond.)


Finally, on June 22, at the College of St Elizabeth in Morristown, New Jersey, the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey presented the modern day premiere of Alessandro Scarlatti’s brilliantly operatic oratorio La Giuditta, here in its earliest and most complete form. Maestro Robert W. Butts edited Scarlatti’s masterpiece from the original 1693 manuscript which is currently in the collection of the National Park Service in Morristown, New Jersey.

Scarlatti’s La Giuditta exists in at least two other versions and has been performed and recorded based on a later abridged manuscript. The more extensive March 1693 manuscript used for Sunday’s performance, was brought to the attention of Maestro Butts by Dr. Jude Phister, Chief of Cultural Resources at the Washington’s Headquarters offices.

Maestro Butts brought the score he edited to life, conducting with sensuality and passion while directing the fluid sounding orchestra through the magical ritornelli which concluded each aria. Soloists from within the orchestra were, in places, almost as memorable as the vocal stars. Most notable was concertmaster Michael Avagliano who played a duet with soprano Marjorie Berg on the work’s most extensive aria ma so ben. He performed several other solo parts in collaboration with other musicians of the ensemble.

Providing poignant and moving melodic interest was Nancy Vanderslice who soloed on oboe and English Horn. Bassoonist Andrew Pecota was also solid both in continuo parts and his few solo moments. Harpsichordist John Pivarnik, too, added much to the success of the performance, constantly on deck and supporting the singers perfectly.

Baritone Mark Hewitt filled in at the last minute after two previous singers pulled out. While it is true that Mr. Hewitt had some problems in voice projection of the lowest tones required of his role as Oloferne, he still delivered a performance of notable dramatic intensity. His interaction with Marjorie Berg (Giuditta) was passionate and believeable. The result was something to be genuinely greatly appreciated.

Marjorie Berg gripped the audience with an emotionally involved portrayal of the title role. Have memorized her entire part, she sang with authority and character, conveying equally well the seductive nature and determination inherent in the part.

Bass John Lamb is a familiar face to early music audiences in the area. He executed the relatively small role of Sacerdote in solid vocal form, displaying an even tone appropriate to the gravity that infuses the character. Both arias and recitatives were sung with conviction and style.

Mezzo Teresa Giardina made her debut with the orchestra as Ozia, the beleaguered prince of Bettulia. Recently graduated from Ithica, Ms. Giardina sang with clarity and emotional beauty in arias of great depth. She was especially memorable in the moving addio libertai of the second act.

Tenor Daniel Foran sang the role of the Captain. His voice produced grace and an elegant warm beauty which was especially winning. Mr Foran has been a frequent performer with the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey and this performance showed how he’s blossomed in his art. His rendition of dalla patria at the end of Act I was truly unforgettable. Hopefully, he will make the aria a part of his concert and recital repertoire!

Harmonium Choral Society, directed by Anne Matlack, joined in for the final celebratory choruses, adding luster and power to create a rousing finale.

Hearing this deeply moving performance, one can only hope that other singers and ensembles will take this marvelous work into their concert repertoire. The work is filled with beautiful music and is deeply dramatic, practically crying out for a staged interpretation. It was presented here for the first time complete in the modern era. One can only hope it won’t take another three hundred years to hear it completely performed again.

Peter Stevens

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