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

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

A double dose of Don Quixote at the Wigmore Hall

Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.

Bampton Classical Opera: A double bill of divine comedies

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2016 double-bill ‘touched down’ at St John’s Smith Square last night, following performances in The Deanery Garden at Bampton and The Orangery of Westonbirt School earlier this summer.

Mahler’s Second, Concertgebouw

Daniele Gatti opened the first series of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s season with a slightly uneven performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. With four planned, this staple repertoire for the RCO meant to introduce Gatti to the RCO subscribers.

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.

ROH, Norma

The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.

The Changing of the Guard

Last June, Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion for his last concert as Principal Conductor.

Morgen und Abend at Berlin

After its world premiere at Royal Opera House in London last year, the German première of Georg Friedrich Haas’s Morgen und Abend took place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Der Freischütz at Unter den Linden

Rarely have I experienced such fabulous singing in such a dreadful production. With magnificent voices, Andreas Schager and Dorothea Röschmann rescued Michael Thalheimer’s grotesque staging of von Weber’s Der Freischütz. At Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Alexander Soddy led a richly detailed, transparent and brilliantly glowing Berliner Staatskapelle.

Prom 74: Verdi's Requiem

For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.

British Youth Opera: English Eccentrics

“Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.”

Prom 68: a wonderful Semiramide

When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.

Double Bill by Oper am Rhein

Of all the places in Germany, Oper am Rhein at Theater Duisburg staged an intriguing American double bill of rarities. An experience that was well worth the trip to this desolate ghost town, remnant of industrial West Germany.

Prom 60: Bach and Bruckner

Bruckner, Bruckner, wherever one goes; From Salzburg to London, he is with us, he is with us indeed, and will be next week too. (I shall even be given the Third Symphony another try, on my birthday: the things I do for Daniel Barenboim…) Still, at least it seems to mean that fewer unnecessary Mahler-as-showpiece performances are being foisted upon us. Moreover, in this case, it was good, indeed great Bruckner, rather than one of the interminable number of ‘versions’ of interminable earlier works.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Sierva Maria (Allison Bell) and Father Caytano Delaura (Nathan Gunn) in the 2008 Festival production of <em>Love and Other Demons</em>. (Photo: Mike Hoban)
17 Aug 2008

At Glyndbourne, more "Other Demons" than "Love"

The haunting, unsettling opening moments of the Glyndebourne premiere of Peter Eötvös’ “Love and Other Demons” promised much, with sensitive playing by the solo celesta and harp, flutter-tongued flutes, and jarring bass stings.

Peter Eötvös: Love and Other Demons

Above: Sierva Maria (Allison Bell) and Father Caytano Delaura (Nathan Gunn) in the 2008 Festival production of Love and Other Demons. (Photo: Mike Hoban)

 

Another plus: the piece is based on Pulitzer prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s compact novella of (almost) the same name. Alas, for me the promise was not completely fulfilled. To go straight to the heart(burn) of my problem with it, I found the libretto sorely lacking focus.

For in the process of reducing the emotionally complex 170-some-page story to a stage piece, librettist Kornel Hamvai (dramaturgy by Edward Kemp) lost sight of the heart of the story: the personal journey, obsession, and damnation of the young priest “Father Cayetano Delaura.” And the creators have compacted to the point of incomprehension, the rich combination of personal experiences that inform our understanding of the 12-year old child-victim “Sierva Maria,” and fail to engage our sympathies for her misunderstood erratic behavior.

The importance of the rabies scare after the girl is bitten by a mad dog, her deeply internalized immersion in two different theological worlds (one accepted, one condemned), the fatal effect of paternal neglect, the misinterpretation of pagan/folk ritual influences as “possession,” the controlling hypocrisy of the church -- all of this is compacted to the point of trivialization, giving our heroine precious little to do in Act I, save being perfunctorily committed to a nunnery-cum-asylum.

The creators seem to have been tempted to devise diversions with other secondary characters. “Don Ygnacio,” the un-engaged father, is given a long, ranting monologue which summons up shades of “Psycho” when he mournfully dons his long-dead, beloved wife’s bridal (?) dress. Tenor Robert Brubaker gave 110% to this angular, leaping vocal display, when 100% might have been better, as the tone sometimes spread or frayed.

It is easy to see why the writers would want to give “Josefa Miranda, the Mother Abbess” a disproportionate amount of stage time, since they had luxury casting of the always wonderful Felicity Palmer who typically offered firm, rich tone at all volumes, and supreme musicality even in jagged writing. But the “Abbess” arrived too early in the story, and stayed too late, upstaging the eye-popping exorcism scene of the heroine with an extended Mama-Abbess-Mad-Meltdown (no kidding) where she tears off her wimpel and veil and is backed by five non-singing, masked dancing goons straight out of the bar scene in “Star Wars.” The “Abbess”! Right, like it’s all about her? Huh?

Far better scaled, and more subtly drawn was the (truly) mad character of “Martina Laborde.” Veteran Jean Rigby was full-voiced, and compelling in her acting. Almost half of her role was spoken. While “Martina” was not drawn as the complete helpmate she was in the book, Rigby made the most of every moment and had scarily complete concentration as this nut case. Also satisfying was Marietta Simpson as “Dominga de Adviento,” the servant woman who abets “Sierva’s” immersion in the folk world. Ms. Simpson’s rich, focussed chest voice spoiled us. Her lower middle range and the softer tones in upper reaches got a bit grainy and diffuse, but never mind, as all this suited the character of the indigenous native servant.

Mats Almgren as the bishop “Don Toribio” had many powerfully booming moments, especially in the exorcism, although he also had some momentary phrases when his bass turned a tad woolly. If the agnostic doctor “Abrenuncio” was under-developed, John Graham-Hall made the most of what he was given to do.

That leaves our two principals. Remember them? I wouldn’t blame you if you lost sight of them. We did. For while their relationship unfolded slowly in the book, with great nuance and tragic inevitability, this adaptation transformed the pair’s plight into big, clumsy unmotivated chunks, with too little set-up dramatically or musically.

Nathan Gunn sang the demanding role of the tortured priest beautifully (including well modulated head voice phrases), and acted the part with abandon. After an overall restless, somewhat relentlessly twitching and declamatory Act I, suddenly Gunn was given a scena to close the act with the first real arioso singing of the night and he rewarded us handsomely. Introspective and soaring by turns, the baritone was at the top of his game. And yes, the familiar chiseled pecs were on full display as he peeled off his jacket in a sultry fantasy scene with “Sierva” above on a balcony, visually dominating him. Although the character peters out (as it were) halfway to the end after their illicit love is discovered, Mr. Gunn had made such a significant contribution to the piece that he was the most cheered singer at the call.

The talented Allison Bell had her work cut out for her as “Sierva,” challenged both by the supposed youth and dichotomy of the character, and the often ungrateful staccato shrieking she was required to execute. Indeed, two unintentional laughs came at her expense, first when her father declares her to be only 12 years old which (the nevertheless attractive and youthful) Ms. Bell clearly is not. And the other after “Sierva” has had a musical tantrum of unholy moans and high pitched yelps, to which the “Abbess” comments: “What a lovely voice.”

The soprano worked hard, very hard, and I had nothing but admiration for her pluck, her technique, the underlying sweet tone, and her willingness to do just about anything to make an effect. Still, I found the musicalization of the role to be defeating, and the unpleasant sounds that were required of her to be alienating. Maybe a wholly unique performer, say the waif-like Teresa Stratas could really embody this strange role and make it “work.” At the end of the day, in spite of Ms. Bell’s conscientious and professional best effort, I was unmoved. Not her fault.

Designer Helmut Stuermer’s physical production counted for a lot and really, I doubt it could be bettered. The unit set of a religious institution interior was complete with tomb floor plates that could be removed, allowing charcters to appear, descend, or wallow in them. A trough running from up center to down center first suggested a source of water, and later turned into a river of fire as “Father Delaura’s” passions were ignited.

The addition of well-chosen set pieces worked wonders in creating the right sense of place and mood. For example, the opening folk ritual was augmented by a primitive chandelier dressed with wild animals, monkeys, etc. A cubicle dressed with white drapes descended to enclose the lovers until looming shadows of approaching nuns appeared on the cloth, which they then tore away, aborting the affair, and turning the safe haven into a cage. The Hieronymous Bosch-like exorcism was a visual tour-de-force, culminating with “Sierva’s” mock crucifixion. This was stunning stuff.

Stuermer’s lighting design was equally exceptional, witness such effects as the “cells” of light for “Sierva” and “Martina Laborde,” the spot from the upstage “porthole,” the sudden dramatic down-lighting of a headless statue, the tasteful back-lighting of the love-making scene, and the important “solar eclipse” effect, to name but a few.

Love_Demons_Glyndebourne.pngFather Cayetano Delaura (Nathan Gunn) and Sierva Maria (Allison Bell) with the Glyndebourne Chorus in the 2008 Festival Prodction. (Photo: Mike Hoban)

Also making a notable contribution were the still and video projections designed by Andu Dumitrescu. The larger than life dog, the pagan symbols, the lavish jungle, were all wonderful contributions. The titular demons were well suggested with unsettling video projections of a naked man and woman who were separately writhing and rolling in tortured contemplation each time the forbiddne fruit was mentioned.

Silviu Purcaretes’ superb direction perfectly complemented the design and worked mightly and well in clarifying the story. Purcaretes elicited finely etched, honest performances from his first rate cast, and he managed the group scenes with imagination and efficiency. From the simple finger-snapping of the dance scene, to the complex gyrations of a Fellini-esque religious ritual, to the freeze-frame exit of the nuns evading the recently arrived possessed child, he infused the problematic adaptation with clarity, meaning, movement, and interest.

Not to say that the music was wanting or uninteresting. Emphatically not! There was much to enjoy, and some fantastic orchestral moments. While there were some familiar “modern” effects like lots of glissandi in the string writing, there were many unique touches such as the wind noises created aurally by the players. There was excellent variety within the various banks of instrumenets, and solos were well deployed. A prominent tuba solo late in Act II was phenomenal. The London Philharmonic Orchestra, who played remarkably the entire performance under Vladimir Jurowski’s inspired command, got the largest ovation of the night.

All told, there was some truly beautiful vocal and instrumental writing that fell easily and melodically on the ear. And then there were some miscalculations. Witness the high-high-high singing often asked of “Sierva.” Probably intententionally written to be sung as high as humanly possible, but why? And some of those leaps and plummets were just plain, well, gratuitous, unnecessarily ugly, and more instrumental than vocal in their conception.

There is so much that was so fine about “Lovers and Other Demons” that I would hope the team would re-visit it. I would encourage them to re-look the exposition and invest more in the development of the complex circumstances and develpoment of the priest-girl liaison so that it does not appear to be merely male physical lust, as it does now. I would ask that they take a critical look at the over-represented minor roles that are distracting us from the central tragedy. And I would hope that the vocal personailty of the girl could be tempered to make her more sympathetic to an opera audience that, like it or not, enjoys a good tune or two with their dissonances. I would also look forward to seeing the work in a performance with a normal intermission as I thought the hour and twenty-five minute dinner pause really took the steam out of the momentum that had finally just started building.

Still the excellent cast, the flawless design, the compelling playing, imaginative direction, seriousness of purpose, glorious musical moments, and sense of “event” seemed to combine powerfully enough to sweep aside my reservations, as the composer was roundly cheered for his efforts. “Lovers and Other Demons” is already a supremely interesting work. But I would enjoy seeing it become a great one.

James Sohre

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):