Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
19 Aug 2008
Prom 18 — L’Incoronazione di Poppea
Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s annual appearance at the Proms is always an eagerly-awaited event, but there is a varying degree of success with which the productions adapt from a full staging at Glyndebourne to a semi-staging suitable for the small platform and cavernous space of the Royal Albert Hall.
Richard Jones’s production of Macbeth last year,
whose big blocks of set and full-chorus choreography didn’t made it to
the Proms, ended up a shell of its former self, and the voices that had
sounded impressively powerful in the intimate Sussex theatre were, if not
lost, then at least diminished in effect when transferred to the Hall.
The fact that Robert Carsen’s production of
L’incoronazione di Poppea was relatively austere to begin
with, starting off at Glyndebourne with little more on stage than a big red
curtain, meant that it was destined from the start to transfer successfully
to the Proms, in a semi-staging by Bruno Ravella.
Alice Coote as Nerone
The central relationship between Nerone and the upwardly-mobile sex kitten
Poppea was portrayed quite unconventionally. The two began the opera drunk
with lust and longing for one another, but as the drama progressed, it was
clear that Nerone was gradually becoming aware that Poppea’s lust for
power and position had overtaken any genuine love towards him. His resentment
grows to the point that as he promises to make her Empress, he barely stops
himself from striking her – and though he still cannot resist her, most
of the final duet was sung from opposite sides of the stage, with the two
hardly looking at one another. Poppea gets what she wanted, but for Nerone
it’s an empty celebration.
As thought-provoking as it was to see their relationship from that angle
it isn’t a concept that’s borne out by the music. From the very
beginning, we are told in no uncertain terms that it is going to be a victory
for Love over both Virtue and Fortune, and at the end the sinuous
intertwining lines of ‘Pur ti miro’ are clearly a musical
evocation of a couple united in erotic love. Though historical sources relate
that Nero later killed Poppaea by kicking her in the stomach while pregnant,
this is not something that casts a premonitionary shadow over
Monteverdi’s score. It is not even an idea which sits well within this
staging, given the constant presence of Cupid (Amy Freston) as a sort of
master of ceremonies.
In other respects it was a lively performance, with the comic episodes
brought off really sharply. The two Nurses were both sung by men in drag
– Poppea’s nurse Arnalta was the larger-than-life tenor Wolfgang
Ablinger-Sperrhacke, while Ottavia’s nurse, sung by counter-tenor
Dominique Visse, was a more subtle creation, all pursed lips and disdaining
looks. The interchange between the Page (Lucia Cirillo) and the Damigella
(Claire Ormshaw) was brought vividly to life.
Scene from L’Incoronazione di Poppea
Musically, Emmanuelle Haïm and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
never let the lengthy score drag, and the cast was very strong, with Alice
Coote’s smoky-voiced Nerone particularly striking. Besides Coote, the
other vocal highlight was Tamara Mumford’s warm-voiced, impassioned
Ottavia, even if Nerone’s complaint about her ‘barren
frigidity’ raised a laugh thanks to Mumford’s advanced stage of
pregnancy. The role of Poppea seems to lie well for Danielle de Niese’s
soft-grained soprano, and she looks wonderful although she does have a
tendency to overact. Only Paolo Battaglia, as Seneca, sounded dry and uneven,
though I did find myself wondering, given the forces – a chamber
orchestra and smallish voices – quite how successful I would have found
the performance if I’d been sitting up in the rear of the Circle or
standing in the Gallery.
Ruth Elleson © 2008