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.
28 Sep 2008
Cool Cavalli at Covent Garden — La Calisto
Planet Earth laid waste by forces beyond our control, hunger and drought squeezing humanity out of existence whilst those in charge look on, laughing, lusting and concerned only with their own power struggles – does this sound familiar?
No, this is not Berg or Birtwistle, nor some contemporary operatic essay on The Crunch, but the cool, clever and calculating Mr Cavalli and his “La Calisto”, first shown to the discerning and politically savvy public of Venice in 1651. Without a doubt, this production at the Royal Opera (Cavalli’s somewhat overdue debut) is a sizzling success, and shows that Covent Garden could and should embrace the genre of early opera (not to mention “mainstream” baroque) more whole-heartedly in future. If opening night audiences were on the thin side, especially in the more expensive seats, this was no longer true come the second and third performances – word of mouth (and print) has seen to that.
Véronique Gens as Eternity
One of only two operas that Cavalli wrote with a mythological storyline, it is perhaps the best known today and has been revived several times, most notably by Raymond Leppard back in the 60’s at Glyndebourne. But since then early opera – or rather its interpreters – have galloped on, sometimes like a riderless horse, plunging on and off the track, but always seeking to find a permanent home in the stable of current repertoire. One of its greatest advocates on the stage is David Alden, director of many Handelian successes but new to Covent Garden, and with this “Calisto”, first shown in Munich, he has cemented his reputation for melding old music with modern sensibilities.
First and foremost, Alden is a collaborator. Not for him the roughshod riding of some European directors over text and musical line; rather, he works closely with his musical director (here the redoubtable Ivor Bolton renewing his acquaintance from Munich with the Torrente edition of the original threadbare score) , his long-time scenic associates Paul Steinberg (striking, colourful sets) and Buki Shiff (shimmering cat-walk quality costumes) and his rock-solid cast of experienced period performers led by Sally Matthews in the title role. This Calisto is sexy, cynical, funny and sad – you leave the theatre feeling both uplifted and a little wiser.
Ovid’s recounting of the story of innocent nymph Calisto’s seduction, abandonment, and final metamorphosis from a bear into a heavenly star system is well known, but Cavalli and his librettist Faustini brought in a whole raft of supporting mythic characters – mainly comic - and a secondary plot involving the apparently chaste goddess Diana and her earthly lover Endimione. The music is a roller-coaster of almost-speech, scatter-gun recitative alive with wit, tender ariosi and dramatic, textually replete song, all supported by and entwined with the artistry of the OAE and Monteverdi Continuo Ensemble, led by a visibly-involved Bolton on the podium. This is opera as complete team-work, from early rehearsal through to performance, and it shows.
The vocalists were period-perfect, all real actor-singers. Sally Matthews has an individual, robust yet light-footed soprano that was in wonderful form as Calisto. Her sparkling top was matched with a warm and agile middle voice, occasionally let loose in the second half with real depth of tone and volume to reflect her anguish and incomprehension – a totally human sound in contrast to her god-like tormentors. Chief of these is the eternally-lascivious super-god, Giove (Jove) sung by the very experienced baroque baritone Umberto Chiummo who uses his warm tone and natural agility to great effect. His long-suffering wife, Giunone (Juno) is a smaller part but sung with panache and aplomb by Veronique Gens, whilst the supposedly “chaste” Diana of Monica Bacelli is sung with a scampering delight in both text and music, shading her voice intelligently to reflect her inner conflicts. The only other human character besides Calisto is the rather dopey shepherd Endimione, love-lorn and languishing on various hillsides, and he is sung accurately but rather four-squarely by Lawrence Zazzo who doesn’t quite capture the elegiac elegance of what is Cavalli’s loveliest long-lined music.
Dominique Visse as Satirino & Guy De Mey as Linfea
Unlike the later Handel, Cavalli’s characters have strength in depth right down to the supporting minor roles and it is here that this production really rises above the merely good and becomes excellent – not to mention downright salacious and sexy. Marcus Werba as Giove’s oily side-kick Mercurio, Guy de Mey in hilarious drag as the sex-mad overweight nymph Linfea, Ed Lyon as a stomping Pane, and probably the delight of the evening, the ever-green Dominique Visse hilarious and repulsive as the randy half-goat Satirino, his athleticism and mellifluous braying (do goats bray? they certainly trill) a remarkable tour-de-force that had us in stitches. A whole raft of actor/dancers filled out the scenes, each beautifully and intriguingly costumed as mythological creatures – the eye was filled in a way that was matched by the interwoven magic of the words and music. If you’re tired of grey and empty sets, dark spaces lit by bare bulbs, come and enjoy opera as it should be – Messrs Alden and Bolton and their team will see to that.
Sue Loder © 2008
“La Calisto” at ROH, Covent Garden, continues on 1st, 3rd and 10th October.