Recently in Performances
It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by
the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
13 Jul 2008
Grant Park Music Festival: “20th-Century Masters.”
The concert “20th-Century Masters,” presented by the Grant Park Music Festival, Chicago on 27 and 28 June 2008 featured several pieces performed for the first time under the auspices of the Festival.
The first half of the
program was devoted to those very works new to this venue: The Fantasia
on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for Strings by Ralph Vaughan Williams was
followed by Les Illuminations by Benjamin Britten, here sung by
Karina Gauvin with accompanying string orchestra. Both works were given
thoughtful and well-focused performances under the direction of Carlos
Kalmar, Principal Conductor of the Grant Park Music Festival. After
intermission Béla Bártok’s Concerto for Orchestra added yet
another dimension to the variety encompassed in this program of innovative
works composed during the first five decades of the past century.
The soft beginning of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia indicated,
from the start, a controlled and sensitive performance by the string sections
under Kalmar’s leadership. The clarity of playing by individualized
segments emphasized the effect of groups within a larger composition. In the
first part of the piece the alternations between smaller string groups and
full orchestra were seamless. As an ensemble, the players succeeded in
emphasizing the harmonic complexity of Vaughan Williams’s own variations
balanced against the theme derived from Tallis. During the middle section of
the Fantasia the solo playing, especially by the lead violist and
principal violinist, achieved a thematic counterpoint and repetition as
echoed by other players with successive support from the whole orchestra.
Just as individual lines were varied leading into the final segment, one
could sense Kalmar’s shaping of the gradual descent into a distended
conclusion. A final flourish of melodic repeat by soloists as well as the
full orchestra moved with great effect toward the inexorable and fittingly
The following work in the program, Britten’s Les Illuminations,
was noteworthy for its committed performances by both vocal soloist and
accompanying players. From the first declaration of the repeated verse
“J’ai seul la clef de cette parade” (“I alone have the key to this
parade”) Karina Gauvin established a tone of authority and privileged
vision of the world about which she sang. Set to a selection of texts derived
from two poetic cycles by Arthur Rimbaud, Britten chose poems which move in
tone from that of an ecstatic visionary to a mood of dejected resignation.
Gauvin used her secure vocal range to stunning effect in order both to
comment with the ironic distance of an observer’s voice and to fill out
individual roles or types portrayed in the vision she narrated. After the
introductory “Fanfare,” distinguished by Gauvin’s memorable phrasing
and the violin’s solo, the extended section “Villes” (“Towns”)
depicted humanity caught up in both progress and decay as a symbol of the
contemporary city. As she intoned here the litany of contrasts between the
ancient and the modern, Gauvin accelerated in tempo to catch the near
breathless depiction of lyrical complexity. While hovering above society in
the poem “Phrase” (“Strophe”), the soprano’s quiet introductory
tones were capped by the impeccable high notes of the concluding “et je
danse” (“and now I dance”). Gauvin adapts her voice to the spirit of
each piece, so that she gave an, at times, bell-like rendition to the poem
“Antique” (“Antiquity”), whereas softer, more lyrical phrasing was
evident in “Royauté” (“Royalty”). The movements of a boat’s prow
rising and falling in “Marine” (“Seascape”) were effectively matched
by Gauvin’s effortless scales and runs, the piece ending with a single,
emphatic note on the last vowel of “tourbillons de lumière”
(“whirlpools of light”). The struggles between elemental nature and human
efforts, foolish and tawdry, come to a resolution in the final two poems,
“Parade” and “Départ” (“Departure”). In the first of these
pieces Gauvin’s communication of emotion through song was illustrated
repeatedly. Her skill at acting was also clear in a phrase such as “la
grimace enragée” (“the furious grimace”), in which rage seemed to
suffuse her glance. The song ended with Kalmar’s especially sensitive
direction of the strings supporting Gauvin in the last repetition of the
“key to this parade.” The concluding poem “Départ” gave the singer
yet further opportunity to display lyrical differentiation as tempos slowed
gradually toward a resigned statement of weariness in the phrase “Assez
connu” (“Enough known”). It should be noted here that Gauvin sang the
text of the entire work from memory.
The final piece of the evening, Bártok’s Concerto for
Orchestra, was given a masterful interpretation under Kalmar’s
direction. After a subdued start in the opening Andante, individual
sections of the orchestra blended effectively without sounding overly
controlled. The string section was brought to a shimmer before the dramatic
ending of the first movement. In the second movement, Allegretto
scherzando, the paired instruments played in skillful duets, the
bassoons standing out here especially. The final three movements, each shaped
in keeping with Bártoks’s markings, showcased individual groups of
instruments as punctuated by sweeping phrases from contrasting sections of
the orchestra. The intensification of the final movement was not only
credible, it also brought the individual sections back to a unified
orchestral force. The performance was a fitting conclusion to the evening as