Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Les Indes galantes, Bavarian State Opera

Baroque opera has long been an important part of the Bavarian State Opera’s programming. And beyond the company itself, Munich’s tradition stretches back many years indeed: Kubelík’s Handel with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, for instance.

Don Giovanni, Bavarian State Opera

All told, this was probably the best Don Giovanni I have seen and heard. Judging opera performances - perhaps we should not be ‘judging’ at all, but let us leave that on one side - is a difficult task: there are so many variables, at least as many as in a play and a concert combined, but then there is the issue of that ‘combination’ too.

A dance to life in Munich’s Indes galantes

Can one justly “review” a streamed performance? Probably not. But however different or diminished such a performance, one can—and must—bear witness to such an event when it represents a landmark in the evolution of an art form.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Susan Graham as Ariodante (Photo: Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera)
06 Jul 2008

San Francisco Opera summer season, 2008

David Gockley heard the cries of many an opera fan that Pamela Rosenberg had denied them their 'stars,' so for his summer season, 2008, he brought them Natalie Dessay, Susan Graham, Ruth Ann Swenson, and Stefan Margita.

San Francisco Opera Summer 2008
Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold
Gaetano Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor
G. F. Handel: Ariodante

Above: Susan Graham as Ariodante (Photo: Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera)

 

Stefan Margita? Well he may not be a household name, even in the dwellings of opera lovers, but he dominated the production of Wagner's Das Rheingold, seen in the last performance of its run on Saturday, June 28th. Francesca Zambello's concept, first seen in Washington D.C., supposedly centers on an "American" perspective. Much more of what that might entail appeared in the program essay than on stage. Alberich carried a pickax, so he might have been a prospector. Since his discovery of the gold actually comes by accident, that profile made little sense. The Rheinmaidens looked much as they usually do, and the first stage set of ramps swamped by mist made an amorphous impression. Zambello resorted to rather trite imagery for the film screen back drop, including a mountain stream and space imagery right out of any number of corny science fiction films for the opera's prelude. The prospective tenants of Valhalla came dressed as Gatsby-era upper crust types, with gentlemen in pale linen (Donner carried a croquet mallet). For once, Wotan actually was dozing as Fricka woke him, but since she did it with a TV sitcom swap across the head, Wotan started diminished and really never showed any of the character's grandeur or strength. Mark Delevan, however, gave evidence that he has the voice for the role, and could well grow into a more impressive interpretation.

But the opera became Loge's once the elegant, obsequious figure of Stefan Margita slank on stage. Although his voice failed to carry well anytime he turned away from the audience, he had absolute command of the stage otherwise. And conductor Donald Runnicles sooner or later let the orchestra flood over all the singers. The best of Zambello's invention went to the giants, superbly sung and acted by Andrea Silvestrelli (Fasolt) and Günther Groissböck (Fafner). In an interesting twist, the Freia of Tamara Wapinsky apparently found, as Madeline Kahn did in Young Frankenstein, the "sweet mystery of life" with Fasolt, as she clung to him amorously after her abduction, returned reluctantly to her family, and then was inconsolable when Fafner went in for a little fratricide.

Zambello may yet fully develop the "American" perspective as the cycle continues in future seasons. On Saturday night, the production took a lower profile while the singers and orchestra carried the night.

The Sunday matinee audience for Lucia Di Lammermoor basked in the radiant star power of Natalie Dessay, and at least for the first act, her Edgardo, Giuseppe Filianoti, shone as bright. However, after singing with brilliant tone and force through the sextet, the tenor started to wane in the second act. By his great climatic scene, the voice had grown husky and strained at the top. Nonetheless, he was rewarded for the passion of his efforts with a healthy ovation at curtain.

But Dessay brought the crowd to their collective feet. She did not overplay the character's neurosis, and her mad scene truly put the emphasis on the music's depiction of the breakdown, rather than histrionics. The high notes carried a hint of scratchiness, otherwise, the performance almost appeared effortless. Not so that of Gabriele Viviani, the Enrico, whose stout baritone carried well but without any distinctive qualities.

The production, co-directed by Graham Vick and Marco Gandini, gave an atmospheric sense of the moors, especially in the final scene. Brooding skies and a single blasted, twisted tree served most of the other scenes, with sliding panels quickly establishing new locations. The most effective moment came with Lucia's appearance for the mad scene, a "slow reveal" that frankly acknowledged the central place this scene has in the opera's staying power. Conductor Jean-Yves Ossonce provided efficient, if characterless, support.

Unfortunately, OperaToday reviewers are not immune to transportation difficulties, and a slow leak (which should not a problem for a typical gasbag critic) from a tire prevented your reviewer from making the curtain for Tuesday's night's Ariodante . The last half of act one was caught from orchestra standing room, and then, exhausted, your reviewer slipped out of the War Memorial after act two. The conducting of Patrick Summers, routine to a fault, had not helped matters.

No blame for this whatsoever goes to the excellent cast. Susan Graham and Ruth Ann Swenson both sang exquisitely, with admirable support from Richard Croft and Eric Owens. As the villain of the piece, Sonia Prina hammed it up enthusiastically enough but looked fairly ridiculous. The sets and costumes came from Dallas Opera (direction by John Copley and design by John Conklin ). Tall marble columns slid into different formations for each scene, but it always seemed to be the same set. The lavish costumes only emphasized the barrenness of the staging. Some years ago a video appeared of an ENO production of the opera, featuring Ann Murray, which had much more wit and eroticism than this lame affair. Sadly, as your reviewer left after act two so did quite a few other audience members. Maybe they had tire problems to attend to as well...

So ends the 2007-08 SFO season. But the 2008-09 season premieres in just a matter of weeks, with stars such as Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Anna Netrebko lined up. Gockley should perhaps look into bringing back Stefan Margita soon as well.

Chris Mullins

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):