Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

A disappointing Prom from Nathalie Stutzmann and BBCNOW

Nathalie Stutzmann really is an impressive conductor. The sheer elegance she brings to her formidable technique, the effortless drive towards making much of the music she conducts sound so passionate and the ability to shock us into hearing something quite new in music we think we know is really rather refreshing. Why then did this Prom sometimes feel weary, even disappointing at times?

Merola’s Striking If I Were You

Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer have become an indispensable presence in the contemporary opera world, and their latest premiere, If I Were You, found the duo at the very top of their game.

The Thirteenth Child: When She Was Good…

Santa Fe Opera continues its remarkable record for producing World (and American) Premieres with The Thirteenth Child, music by Poul Ruders, libretto by Becky and David Starobin.

The Sopranos at Tanglewood

Among classical music lovers, Wagner inspires equal measures of devotion and disdain. Some travel far and sit for hours to hear his operas live. Others eschew them completely.

Agrippina at the Bavarian State Opera

And still they come. The opera world’s obsession with Handel’s operas shows no sign of abating. The Bavarian State Opera has, since Peter Jonas’s Intendancy, stood at the forefront of Handel staging; this new production of Agrippina was dedicated to him. As ever, I was pleased to see one of these operas for the first time in the theatre – how could I not be pleased to see almost anything in Munich’s wonderful Prinzregententheater – but again, as ever, I was left unable ever quite to put to one side the dramaturgical difficulties/problems/flaws/inadequacies. (Call them what you will.)

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Tiziana Caruso as Tosca [Photo by Alfredo Tabocchini]
29 Aug 2008

A Muse for the Masses: Two Operatic Arenas in Review

With the revival of a 1876 Cleopatra by the local composer Lauro Rossi, a couple of world premieres in chamber opera and sacred oratorio (by Marco Tutino and Alberto Colla, respectively) and Verdi’s Attila canceled because of budget constraints, the 44th installment of the Macerata Festival will nevertheless be remembered as a bumper season, if one not particularly friendly to mainstream taste.

Georges Bizet: Carmen
Macerata, Arena Sferisterio, July 31 (new production)
Verona, L’Arena, July 25

Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
Macerata, Arena Sferisterio, August 1st (new production)
Verona, L’Arena, July 24

Above: Tiziana Caruso as Tosca in Macerata
Photo by Alfredo Tabocchini

 

Some popular fare was indeed provided in the Arena Sferisterio, the mid-19th-century building originally hosting a local variety of the pelota game. That destination accounts for the immoderate length of its 100-meter stage, a tough challenge to directors and set designers. The acoustics are miraculous, anyway, and the seating capacity, after the latest downsizing out of safety reasons, still amounts to a respectable 2,500, second only to Verona’s awe-inspiring 14,000. Yet even such huge venues are regularly sold out for Carmen and Tosca - those typical evergreens for outdoors arenas - as proved this Summer by their competing productions in Macerata and Verona, just days apart.

I-Komlosi_Carmen.pngIldiko Komlosi as Carmen in Verona (Photo by Tabocchini e Gironella)
Macerata’s new Carmen marked the debut in opera direction for the home-child Dante Ferretti, the set designer who scored no less than nine nominations and two Oscar Prizes from the American Academy (he is currently collaborating with Martin Scorsese on a film called Shutters Island, from Dennis Lehane’s novel, due to be released within 2008). Despite his involvement with Hollywood pageantry, Ferretti devised a minimalist set drawing from Francoist Spain during the 1930s-40s, as depicted, among others, by Luís Buñuel’s movies and Ernest Hemingway’s novels. A dusty square, a humble fountain in cast iron, two period lorries in various degrees of dilapidation, a few bicycles, two posters announcing a bullfight: that was nearly all. No colorful dragoons were around, only Guardia Civil policemen donning their ominous black monteras; therefore, with handguns instead of sabers, the duel between José and Zuniga was confined to a soon-aborted drawing. Lilas Pastia’s tavern in Act 2 was portrayed as a pretentious bordello for the lower middle-class, where whiskey was sipped instead of manzanilla and stylish French tango danced instead of flamenco or habanera. Too bad, however, that some shabbiness cascaded from the stage into the pit, where Carlo Montanaro’s conducting sounded weak, almost defeatist. The singing cast fared well overall, with Irina Lungu a sexier and more assertive Micaëla than usually expected and Nino Surguladze vocally perfect but arguably too demure, even lady-like, as Carmencita. If both ladies could exchange bodies or voices, as in Thomas Mann’s The Transposed Heads, it would fare even better. As a passionate and lightweight Don José, Philippe Do from Vietnam ventured a high D in his “La fleur”. If not perfect throughout, his unconventional performance was stimulating. Alexandra Zabala as a warbling Frasquita and Simone Alberghini an Escamillo of funereal distinction rounded up the company. To all that, Sergio Rossi’s clever lighting and prima ballerina Anbeta Toromani from Albania contributed a touch of class. Toromani’s amazingly long-limbed body seems a display of pinnacles and acute-angled forms. Whether in a traditional pas de deux or in modern free style, she can entice with serpentine motions of a very intimate character, then suddenly whirl through the air like a winged flower.

Carmen-Ballo.pngCarmen in Macerata, start of Act II [left: prima ballerina Anbeta Toromani + right: Nino Surguladze as Carmen] (Photo by Alfredo Tabocchini)

At Verona, with Daniel Oren on the podium, Zeffirelli’s Disneyesque reconstruction of Spain after Bizet found a show-stopping protagonist in Ildiko Komlosi. The Hungarian mezzo sang with great precision and feeling: her capricious rubato was compelling for sensualism, as was the stubbornly dark sound of her lower register. Her presence seemed to inhabit the extra-large stage despite the presence of a distant snow-covered Sierra and the terrific overflow of side-action involving children, soldiers, toreadors and hosts of socially-coded extras, flamenco dancers, live animals. I counted no less than five horses and four donkeys of diverse breed and size, whose unplanned contribution to the stage props caused a thrill when Don José, holding a navaja in his hand during the duel scene in Act 3, barely avoided a slippery spot. With the only exceptions of a fresh Elena Mosuc as Micaëla and the bustling participation of El Camborio, a Verona-based company specializing in Spanish folk dance, the rest was just routine. Thumbs down for the male principals, regretfully. Portraying Escamillo, baritone Marco Di Felice lacked the macho appeal of the toreador who would lure Carmen away from Don José. His low pitches wobbled since his very entrance, thus spoiling his Toreador Song and making his appearance among the smugglers rather unmemorable. Early during his performance as Don José, Mario Malagnini showed intonation problems both in the lower and upper registers. Eventually, his voice opened up and acquired firmness during Act 3 (pretty late, indeed), which allowed him to build a respectable finale, when he poured out his murderous passion with some more convincing accents and a correct stabbing technique - i.e. with his knife moving upwards. In the end, the day was saved by Oren’s deftly balanced conducting, flexible enough to keep together the boisterous and the exotic with the lyrical in the overture and the entr’actes, while aptly emphasizing dance rhythms, shivers of tragedy, and even those finely-wrought ensembles (such as the dizzyingly counterpoint-ish quintet “Nous avons en tête une affaire” in Act 2) which easy-going conductors tend to treat as mere showpieces or perfunctory comic relief.


That a first-rate conductor may make the difference also in large arenas, where the patrons are supposedly more interested in lavish stagings and muscular voices, was equally proved true by Daniele Callegari at Macerata. Under his energetic and nuanced baton, the resident ensembles Orchestra Regionale delle Marche and Coro Bellini delivered a fine rendering of Tosca. Tutti bravi in the company, despite a cold start for both Tiziana Caruso in the title-role and Luca Lombardo as Cavaradossi. Besides singing bravely, Riccardo Massi (Spoletta) and Noris Borgogelli (Sciarrone) looked like a consummate duo of rogues, virtually indistinguishable from each other. But the biggest sensation was Claudio Sgura in the role of Scarpia. Still in his early thirties, the Apulia-born baritone couples firm tone, crisp utterance and dark fascination in the way he stares around or dons his silvery costume as the loveliest villain ever since Ruggero Raimondi’s heydays. Is he the next Raimondi, as his fans keep claiming? Time will tell. Massimo Gasparon’s integrated reconstruction of clerical Rome’s architecture and customs, if not faithful to the least detail, was fascinating and duly oppressive. Despite some controversial precedents, Pier Luigi Pizzi’s pupil (and freshly adopted son) seems to have reached the conclusion that, pace many a self-styled directorial genius, there is nothing wrong in trying to meet the librettists’ and the composers’ stipulations for any given opera as to its setting in time and space.

This is certainly the case with Tosca. “In Tosca, history is definitely in the foreground”, declared Hugo de Ana earlier in 2006. “Therefore I wouldn’t feel happy about making the soldiers wear Nazi uniforms, as is the fashion today, because the atmosphere I want to project is that of the early 19th century at war”. His sober statement strikes a dissonant note within the choir of his European colleagues, who usually delight in peppering their productions with dismissive arguments about “trashy [original] dramaturgy”, boring historical background, clumsy librettos, and so on. Actually, the plot of Tosca is firmly embedded in history: June 15, 1800, in the aftermath of Napoleon’s victory at Marengo, and against the backdrop of three extant landmarks in downtown Rome: Sant’Andrea della Valle, Palazzo Farnese and Castel Sant’Angelo. However, De Ana pushes his ‘provocation’ further: “I don’t think [Puccini] wished to convey a particular interpretation of the Church, the Vatican, or to project a negative idea of religion itself. It’s simply there, creating a background to history”. Good news is that, while giving up with fashionable ego-trips, a director needs not abjure his or her creative knack.

Tosca_ActI.pngTosca, Act I/ sc 4, in Verona (Photo by Tabocchini e Gironella)

Being in total control of the Arena production of Tosca, revived this season with ever-growing acclaim, De Ana strikes the winning move by placing on the center-stage a clone of Rome’s Angelo di Castello, an 18th-century bronze statue of the archangel Michael towering on the top of Castel Sant’Angelo. Between the open arms of that gigantic lad from heaven, who is holding a drawn sword in his right hand and a rosary in the left, most of the action develops amidst a turmoil of Correggio, Giotto and Bernini masterpieces, while period artillery shoots scented salvos from the outer wings, and a backdrop resembling a bronze wall opens now and then, displaying faceless bishops (Roger Bacon-style), a jail and more. Without time machines or sundry brainwave, the outcome looks as surrealistic, avant-garde and disturbing as one could wish. As Cavaradossi, Marcelo Alvarez conquered once more through hyperdramatic singing and acting, granting the traditional encore of his climactic “E lucevan le stelle”. China’s Hui He delivered a vibrant Tosca. She lacks neither good looks, nor soft-grained lyrical tones, nor generous utterance, but appeared sometimes at loss with an unwieldy velvet cloak and did not concede an equally sought-for encore for her “Vissi d’arte”. Sensitive conducting from Giuliano Carella and ovations for everybody. Fifteen minutes of roaring applause, stamping and yelling in several languages from an audience of 14,000 suggest that opera can still count as a muse for the masses.

Carlo Vitali

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):