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

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

Expressive Monteverdi from Les Talens Lyriques at Wigmore Hall

This was an engaging concert of madrigals and dramatic pieces from (largely) Claudio Monteverdi’s Venetian years, a time during which his quest to find the ‘natural way of imitation’ - musical embodiment of textual form, meaning and affect - took the form not primarily of solo declamation but of varied vocal ensembles of two or more voices with rich instrumental accompaniments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Giacomo Puccini
21 Aug 2008

Torre - Torre - Torre

I hoped it was not an omen of the evening to come at Torre del Lago’s Puccini Festival, when the audience was made to wait at the closed gates until about twenty minutes before curtain rise, listening to the orchestra and chorus a hundred yards away rehearse chunks of that night’s Edgar.

Giacomo Puccini: Edgar

Edgar (Marco Berti), Fidelia (Cristina Gallardo- Domas), Tigrana (Rossana Rinaldi), Frank (Luca Salsi), Gualtiero (Rafal Siwek). Fondazione Festival Pucciniano. Pier Giorgio Morandi (cond.)

 

Oh, sure, once before I cooled my heels at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw while Gergiev pushed that orchestra through some Shostakovich piece or another, imparting his last minute thoughts while we inadvertently watched it all on the closed circuitry meant for late-comers. But that was, well, Gergiev being Gergiev in a one-off, and this was the renowned annual festival dedicated solely to celebrating beloved local son Giacomo Puccini’s operatic output. Plus, the piece had been performed just the week prior. Hey, and at festival prices, shouldn’t they have “had it down” well before curtain time?

Happily, the performance turned out to be quite an unexpected delight, an old-fashioned confection in the very best sense. Nothing ground-breaking, no real once-in-a-lifetime performances, but Edgar was nevertheless solidly sung, handsomely mounted, and unfussily directed. If it smacked a bit (and just a bit) of “instant opera,” say like in the old start-up days of smaller American companies, never you mind. The audience was there to enjoy the show, “mille grazie,” in this season celebrating the 150th anniversary of Giacomo’s birth, and enjoy it they did.

We had reason to celebrate from the git-go, for once we got into the grounds we were able to fully appreciate the new open air theatre that opened just this summer. The raked seats were comfortable enough as these venues go, the sight lines are very good, the open-backed stage (shades of Santa Fe) reveals the lovely lake behind it, the large pit could seemingly fit in a Wagner band, and the public areas are well lit, uncrowded, and accommodating.

Future seasons will probably see some fine tuning of the acoustics, particularly as regards the orchestra. From my seat, the winds seemed muted and occasionally undefined, and the strings just a little dry. Even in this early opus, there was some lush Puccini string work that didn’t soar and throb the way it might have. The brass certainly had ample presence and prominence, although marked by several (mercifully) brief sections of rhythmic imprecision (if only they had had five more minutes of rehearsal!).

Pier Giorgio Morandi conducted very cleanly with excellent stage balance, though sometimes sacrificing the infectious youthful brashness of the score for tidiness of ensemble. At phrase ends here and there he was not always emoting in sync with his soloists, among whom Marco Berti gets pride of place for his consistently well sung title role. Mr. Berti has a true spinto sound, clearly focused and ringing, and he caressed his phrases with insightful musicality and a pleasing sense of Italianate line. Sustained high notes rang out with secure abandon. He is a large man, and was not always flattered by the schmatte-like tunic-’n’-tights outfit, nor by the long tangle of hair, eerily making him look at times like Mama Cass with a mustache. But, “Dio mio,” did he sing well.

He was almost matched in vocal excitement by the dark-hued mezzo of Rossana Rinaldi as “Tigrana.” She not only served up all the fireworks in the writing, but also encompassed highly affecting legato singing. “Tigrana” is a rather improbable dramatic entity, but Ms. Rinaldi got by with a brazen combination of selective elements of “Carmen” and “Jezibaba,” with a nod to Wicked’s Witch en route to “Baba the Turk.” The extensive tenor-mezzo duet that comprises most of Act II was arguably the high point of the night.

I was especially interested in finally hearing Cristina Gallardo-Domas, who has been singing all over the map, most notably in the Met’s much discussed Madama Butterfly. She is a lovely woman; petite, poised, and appealing, and she maintained a star presence throughout. Her pretty lyric voice was capable of some ravishing piano effects above the staff, every bit as good as the kind that Sills and Scotto used to do so remarkably well.

But while those two divas found a way to manufacture the impression of a bit more heft in their instruments, Ms. Gallardo-Domas seemed to be really stretching to meet “Fidelia’s” demands. Perhaps at the Met, with more grateful acoustics (?) she can fill the place, but in this open air theatre she was pushing her smallish tone to the limit, which at times induced an unwelcome wobble on arching lines that came perilously close to sounding like a musical saw. Pity. I suppose she is now on an irrevocable career path of her (and the major houses’) choosing, but I really hope that her lovely and considerable gifts don’t get burned out by spinto roles that are best left to larger voices. We do need her. But as “Manon.” Not as “Manon Lescaut.”

Strapping Luca Salsi was really all one could wish for as “Frank,” possessed of a ringing, easily-produced baritone of fine presence, that was passionately deployed. His famous aria gave much pleasure. The small role of “Gualtiero” was essayed with dignity and a rolling bass by Rafal Siwek, who looked too young, however to be father to “Frank” and “Fidelia.”

The new production featured an appealing and wholly functional set design by internationally-known artist Roger Dean. A large unit on a turntable is first seen as a quasi half-timbered fairy-tale house. The green-tinged roof that sort of puffs out over the gables is a Gaudi-meets-Grimm affair, a fanciful structure that would not be out of place in Munchkin land. The delightful playing space is further defined by moss- and vine-covered stone stairs stage right and left.

The unit revolved to reveal Act II’s love palace get-away, a playful blue-walled, orange- domed fantasy abode of that lust nest monster “Tigrana.” Turning once again, the Act I house had been removed to reveal Act III’s handsome rocky promontory with caves and stairs. It was visually interesting and afforded good levels for such things as the placement of two banks of trumpets for impressive on-stage fanfares. By adjusting and re-dressing the stairs, Dean came up with a very effective look for “Edgar” and gave the Festival an attractive and practical set that will serve the opera very well for years to come.

An amazingly effective lighting design was achieved with nothing but side lighting (save very sparing use of follow spotlights). It is puzzling why the new theatre did not include a lighting batten or two up front, but as of yet, it offers the challenge of getting an even wash and some appropriate effects with the resources at hand, a challenge that was met quite nicely.

Mr. Dean’s daughter Freyja Dean created the costume design. While the attractive garb for the principals (excepting that previously mentioned tunic), the colorful peasant dress, and the appropriate military outfits looked just fine, they seemed a little anonymous, as though they had been picked off the rack at a good rental house. One unfortunately funny costume moment occurred when our tenor tore open his monk’s robe disguise to reveal himself as the very-much-alive “Edgar,” unintentionally framing his generous belly unflatteringly just as “Fidelia” must scream a high note in shock. (Aw c’mon girlfriend, it’s not that big. . .)

Vivien A. Hewitt’s direction told the story clearly, if mostly uninventively. The movement and character interaction wanted specificity, and all soloists seemed to be left to wandering improvisation at times. “Tigrana” in particular had little to do but pace and act endlessly “trapped” when she was apprehended by the mob in Act III. The dumb-show of “Frank” and “Edgar” jousting on stylized rolling horse sculptures in the same act did not so much suggest “Edgar’s” (false) death, as it served to confuse us in an already squishy dramatic through line. The dagger play both on- and off-horseback was some of the least effective and most tentative I have ever encountered this side of a children’s playground. Still, the massive cast was impressively moved on and off with well-considered precision, and the stage pictures were appealing and dramatically informative.

And just how often does one get a chance to see the minor Edgar given such a major treatment with such an honest effort from a talented production team, a first-rate set of principles, and a well-led professional orchestra? Also deserving mention was the full-throated, precise singing from the Festival Chorus under the direction of Stefano Visconti.

The Puccini Festival offered up a very satisfying rendition of the master’s piece, and the partisan audience was still cheering it long after I made my way to the hotel shuttle van. They may be cheering it still.

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):