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

Poliuto, Glyndebourne

Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne could well become one of of the great Glyndebourne classics.

Carmen by ENO

Dystopic vision of Carmen, brought to life by vibrantly gripping performances

Pacific Opera Project Presents Ariadne auf Naxos

Pacific Opera Project, a small Los Angeles company, presented a production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Ebell Club with an excellent group of young singers at the beginning of what should be good careers.

Varispeed pushes the possibilities of opera forward with Robert Ashley’s Crash

Six people, dressed in ordinary clothing, sitting in a row at desks adorned only with microphones and glasses of water, and talking for ninety minutes: is it opera?

Rising Stars in Concert, Lyric Opera of Chicago

The spring concert of Rising Stars in Concert, sponsored by and featuring current members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, showcased a number of talents that will no doubt continue to grace the stages of the world’s operatic theaters.

The Singers Sparkle in New York Opera Exchange’s Carmen

New York Opera Exchange’s production of Carmen from May 8th to 10th highlighted that which opera devotees have been saying for years: Opera, far from being dead, is vibrant and evolving.

‘Where’er You Walk’: Handel’s Favourite Tenor

I have sometimes lamented the preference of Ian Page’s Classical Opera for concert performances and recordings over staged productions, albeit that their renditions of eighteenth-century operas and vocal works are unfailingly stylish, illuminating and supported by worthy research.

The Pirates of Penzance, ENO

Topsy Turvy, Mike Leigh’s 1999 film starring Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent, dramatized the fraught working relationship of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan; it won four Oscar nominations (garnering two Academy Awards, for costume and make-up) and is a wonderful exploration of the creative process of bringing a theatrical work to life.

Manitoba Opera: Turandot

There’s little doubt that Puccini’s Turandot is a flawed, illogical fairytale. Yet it continues to resonate today with its undying “love shall conquer all” ethos, where even the most heinous crimes may be forgiven by that which makes the world go ‘round.

Mariachi Opera El Pasado Nunca se Termina Comes to San Diego

On April 25, 2015, San Diego Opera presented it’s second Mariachi opera: El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished) by Jose “Pepe” Martinez, Leonard Foglia and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

Antonio Pappano: Royal Opera House Orchestral Concerts

Ambition achieved! Antonio Pappano brought the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House out of the pit and onto the stage, the centre of attention in their own right.

Bedřich Smetana: Dalibor, Barbican Hall

Jiří Bělohlávek’s annual Czech opera series at the Barbican, London, with the BBC SO continued with Bedřich Smetana’s Dalibor.

Orlando Explores Art Without Boundaries

R.B. Schlather’s production of Handel’s Orlando asks the enigmatic question: Where do the boundaries of performance art begin, and where do they end?

The Virtues of Things

A good number of recent shorter operas, particularly those performed in this country, made a stronger impression with their libretti than their scores.

Król Roger, Royal Opera

It has taken almost 89 years for Karol Szymanowski’s Król Roger to reach the stage of Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing

San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.

Hercules vs Vampires: Film Becomes Opera!

In the early sixties, Italian film director Mario Bava was making pictures with male body builders whose well oiled physiques appeared spectacular on the screen.

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

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):