Recently in Performances
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
30 Jul 2008
Grant Park Music Festival: Sibelius, Szymanowski, Tchaikovsky
For its ninth program of the Summer 2008 season the Grant Park Music Festival offered a balance of vocal, choral, and orchestral works from the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries.
The concert of
both familiar and lesser known works was led by guest conductor Hannu Lintu.
In the first half of the program the Grant Park Chorus was showcased in a
performance of The Captive Queen, a cantata for mixed chorus and
orchestra by Jean Sibelius. Also in this half of the evening the soloists
Jonita Lattimore, Susan Platts, and Quinn Kelsey were featured along with the
Chorus and Orchestra in a moving performance of Karol Szymanowski’s
Stabat Mater. The program continued after intermission with Lintu
conducting a sensitive and appropriately energetic reading of Tchaikovsky’s
Both vocal works during the first half of the concert were being performed
for the first time at the Grant Park Festival; indeed both are works that can
be described as worthy of further discovery, here or at other concert venues,
for they are featured infrequently in such programs. In Sibelius’s
Captive Queen the political or national is wedded to both the
dramatic and the lyrical through the media of text and music. Based on verses
by the Finnish poet Cajander, the queen of the title symbolizes the Finnish
language which had been suppressed under Russian domination. In the first of
three parts as set by Sibelius the queen is portrayed as prisoner in a dreary
and near lifeless castle. Ironically, only in the “calm of night,” when
no daylight is perceived, can the plaintive song of the queen be heard in
which she laments the loss of beauty and of freedom. Sibelius scored this
part of the ballad, as termed in the Fesitval’s program, for an intricate
sequence of full alternating with female chorus. Under Lintu’s direction
the orchestra and mixed chorus established a believable mood of sadness
punctuated by female voices recalling in somber tomes a happier past, when
freedom and hope predominated.
Here the interplay of dramatic and lyric effects by the Grant Park Chorus
was especially poignant, just as it set the tone for the narrative of the
following two parts. At the same time orchestral solos enhanced the message
of a yearning for earlier beauty, strings and flutes standing out especially.
The second and third poetic divisions of the work give details of a wandering
singer, a “prince of poets,” who heard the queen’s lament as he passed
by the castle; the minstrel is inspired to take up his singing again and to
create emotion through poetry. In the third part a hero, armed for action,
arrives to liberate the queen and to begin a new phase of freedom in the life
of the people. As possibilities of hope emerged in these latter two narrative
sections, the Grant Park Orchestra gave an appropriately lush accompaniment
to the chorus, night giving way to morning and to the future.
The evening’s second work, the Stabat Mater of Szymanowski, was
indeed based on the medieval Latin sequence but set by the composer to a
Polish adaptation by Josef Jankowski. Szymanowski worked on the setting
during 1925-26, the piece having its first public performance in 1929. The
soloists in the Grant Park performance stood out for their attention to
textual detail and skill at presenting a unified approach in this
twentieth-century adaptation of an ageless set of motifs. Each singer
fulfilled a demanding vocal part while blending with the others to
communicate a synthesis of religious dignity inherent in the text. After the
slow, almost eerie, beginning in the strings Jonita Lattimore used her voice
to great effect in order to establish the mood of the piece in the first
part. Ms. Lattimore’s voice softened tenderly at the words indicating
“where her Son was hanging,” while her expressive high notes stood out
against a choral background in the text equivalent to the verse “Mother of
the only-begotten Son.” In each of the six parts the soloists interacted
seamlessly both with the chorus and with each other in depicting the Virgin
Mother’s sorrow as well as the reaction of those in empathy with her grief.
In the second and fifth parts Quinn Kelsey’s flexible baritone described
the emotions of others who could not help but weep together with the Mother
at her loss. While making use of a declamatory effect, Mr. Kelsey maintained
a firm lyrical control, so that his lines remained both supple and highly
dramatic. The mezzo-soprano Susan Platts sang together in alternating parts
with Ms. Lattimore in the third and fourth divisions of the Stabat
Mater. The rich and burnished tones achieved by Ms. Platts lent an
appropriate contrast to the soprano part, and both voices merged effectively
when accompanied by the chorus. In much the same way, the sixth and
concluding part of the work allowed each soloist to give a final plea, upon
individual death, to reach the “glory of heaven.” Ms. Lattimore’s
heart-rending piano line was varied in equally moving performance by
Ms. Platts and Mr. Kelsey as the piece came to an end.
In contrast to the first half of the program, the Sixth Symphony of
Tchaikovsky has been part of this Festival’s repertoire for some seventy
odd years. In the performance under Hannu Lintu the transitions between
adagio and allegro in the first movement gave a natural and
convincing impression. The effect of small melodic units interweaving and
alternating with the full orchestra suggested a recurrent sense of
melancholy. The middle two movements were led by a light touch where
appropriate with sprightly rhythms punctuated by longer and carefully shaped
phrases. In approaching the well-known finale of the third movement Lintu
paced the orchestra with crisp tempos and growing intensity. The final
movement recalled effectively the melancholic mood of the first part, its
performance giving a sense of closure to both the Symphony and to the