Recently in Performances
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
26 Aug 2008
Prom 34 — Puccini's Il Tabarro; Rachmaninov's Symphony no. 1
In a nod to the 150th anniversary of Puccini's birth, the Manchester-based BBC Philharmonic Orchestra visited the Proms with their chief conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, for a performance of the first opera of Il trittico.
Although it's often labelled as a melodrama, Tabarro is more subtle than that – a study of unfulfilled, rootless people – and even besides the obvious orchestral sound-effects like the boats' horns and out-of-tune barrel-organ, the musical scene-setting has an impressionistic colour palette unmatched anywhere else in Puccini's canon. This strong and richly evocative raw material gives the opera an advantage in holding its own when scenery and costumes are stripped away and the piece is presented in concert form, as it was here.
Lado Ataneli's Michele was a bit stiff – the traditional concert dress of white tie and tails really doesn't encourage dramatic verisimilitude – but if anything this added to his portrayal of a man who has found himself the wrong side of an emotional barrier in his marriage. Barbara Frittoli conveyed youth more readily than the heavier lirico-spinto sopranos conventionally cast as Giorgetta, and she made a beautiful sound, remaining fully in character even when not singing. There was a warmth to her portrayal which gave a real sense of how out of place this young and passionate city girl is in her life of drudgery in the harsh world of the stevedores. Together, their vocal partnership was ideal; Ataneli's baritone had a dry darkness which only blossomed into warmer lyricism during his plea for Giorgetta to spend the evening with him as in days gone by, while at the same moment, Frittoli's expansive lyricism gave way to a colder, harsher delivery.
The Slovakian tenor Miroslav Dvorsky's full-force singing – sometimes to the extent that he cracked fortissimo high notes – had a brittleness which suited the embittered Luigi.
The smaller, 'character' roles were luxuriously cast, with Jane Henschel as Frugola, Barry Banks as Tinca (hamming up the waltz scene for all it was worth) and Alistair Miles as Talpa. The programme notes gave the names in their literal English translations – Ferret, Tench and Mole. Allan Clayton as the Ballad-Seller and Edgaras Montvidas and Katherine Broderick as the young lovers all gave good lyrical value.
Prior to the interval, the curtain-raiser – which, although it is perhaps unfair to refer to it so dismissively, is how it felt – was Rachmaninov's first symphony, a work which the 22-year-old composer considered a disaster at its premiere, and of which he remained deeply critical throughout his life. Here, after some fluffs and ensemble problems at the start of the opening movement, the BBC Philharmonic made a persuasive case for it; it had a propulsive energy and drive, and it is difficult to imagine any of the BBC's other orchestras producing such a forceful and rich brass sound in the cross-rhythmed fanfares of the last movement.
We had Gianni Schicchi at the Proms in 2004, also paired with a Rachmaninov piece – his opera The Miserly Knight (both performed by Glyndebourne Festival Opera). Is it too much to hope that Suor Angelica – which has never been performed at a Prom – might complete the triptych before too long? Perhaps, knowing the Proms' preoccupation with anniversaries, we will have to wait another ten years until its centenary.
Ruth Elleson © 2008