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

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.

Written on Skin at Lincoln Center

Three years ago I made what may have been my single worst decision in a half century of attending opera. I wasn’t paying close attention when some conference organizers in Aix-en-Provence offered me two tickets to the premiere of a new opera. I opted instead for what seemed like a sure thing: William Christie conducting some Charpentier.

La Púrpura de la Rosa

Advertised in the program as the first opera written in the New World, La Púrpura de la Rosa (PR) was premiered in 1701 in Lima (Peru), but more than the historical feat, true or not, accounts for the piece’s interest.

Pesaro’s Rossini Festival 2015

The 36th Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini’s Pesaro! La gazza ladra (1817), La gazzetta (1816) and L'inganno felice (1812) — the little opera that made Rossini famous.

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.

Airy and Bucolic Glimmerglass Flute

As part of a concerted effort to incorporate local color and resonance into its annual festival, Glimmerglass has re-imagined The Magic Flute in a transformative woodland setting.

Glimmerglass Conquers Cato

Bravura singing and vibrant instrumental playing were on ample display in Glimmerglass Festival’s riveting Cato in Utica.

Energetic Glimmerglass Candide

Bernstein’s Candide seems to have more performance versions than Tales of Hoffmann.

Die Eroberung von Mexico in Salzburg

That’s The Conquest of Mexico, an historical music drama composed in 1991 by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). But wait. Wolfgang Rihm construed a few sentences of Artaud’s La Conquête du Mexique (1932) mixed up with bits of Aztec chant and bits of poem(s) by Mexico’s Octavio Paz (d. 1998) to make a libretto.

Scottish Sensation at Glimmerglass

Glimmerglass is celebrating its 40th Festival season with a stylish new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.

Norma in Salzburg

This Salzburg Norma is not new news. This superb production was first seen at the Salzburg Festival’s springtime Whitsun Festival in 2013 with this same cast. It will now travel to a few major European cities.

The power of music: a young cast in a semi-stage account of Monteverdi’s first opera

John Eliot Gardiner conducted a much anticipated performance of Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo at the BBC Proms on 4 August 2015, with his own Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Scene from The Coronation of Poppea [Opera Omnia]
07 Sep 2008

The Coronation of Poppea

The startup of a new opera company is always cause for cheering; it is getting harder and harder (that is, more and more expensive) to do, especially in New York.

Claudio Monteverdi: The Coronation of Poppea

Nero (Cherry Duke); Poppea (Hai-Ting Chinn); Ottone (Jeffrey Mandelbaum); Drusilla (Molly Quinn); Octavia (Melissa Fogarty); Seneca (Steven Hrycelak); Fortune and Valet (Marie Mascari); Virtue and Maid (Melanie Russell); Love (Kathryn Aaron). Conducted by Avi Stein
Opera Omnia, performance of August 26.

All photos by Matthew Hensrud courtesy of Opera Omnia.

 

If the new company specializes in unfamiliar repertory – in this case the Italian seicento, terrific news if you’re a Cavalli or Scarlatti fan – and I am! – my cheers will be all the happier. If, on attending, one finds the house packed, the crowd excited, the dramatic values high and the voices exceptionally attractive, there is very little to do as a critic but spread the word and wish the company well.

For their opening production, Opera Omnia chose Monteverdi’s hardly unfamiliar swan song, The Coronation of Poppea (1641), choosing to perform it in a slangy English translation in order to make the stage activity (often complex, always highly motivated) more immediate as well as comprehensible to audiences who may not know the work.

I first heard the piece well over thirty years ago when the New York City Opera gave it a sumptuous staging with a large, nineteenth-century orchestra and large, nineteenth-century-style voices: a top-heavy bore, amidst which glamorous Carol Neblett distinguished herself with the first total nudity on a New York opera stage, and Barbara Hendricks distinguished herself in the tiny role of “Damigella” (the Maid) – the only memorable singing of the night. It has been thrilling to watch baroque performance style evolve over the years: today, young singers know what this sort of music is about, how to make a goat-bleat trill an effective piece of vocal acting, how to vary the pace of declaimed monologues, how to be sexy in the duets – and to hear performances like Opera Omnia’s, with a band of seven (two theorbos). (One of the best Poppeas I ever heard was sung over three strings and continuo.)

The staging was vaguely modern dress, with mixed gender assignments: Ottone was a male countertenor, Nerone a female alto, Arnalta – naturally – a campy tenor in drag (when has Arnalta ever failed to steal the show?), Valletto and Amore female sopranos in drag. None of this seemed to confuse anyone. Neither did the “allegorical” opening, the “bet” among Virtue, Fortune and Love over which one rules mankind – but the working out of the story confused the stage director: Ottone fails to murder Poppea not because the god of love appears and tells him to stop (as here), but because Ottone still loves the faithless Poppea and is therefore unable to kill her. This was the one major annoyance in the staging, which mercifully did not (as is often done nowadays) make a wild gay orgy of Nerone’s drunken carousing with the poet Lucano.

Poppea_OperaOmnia2.pngScene from The Coronation of Poppea

Not so long ago, filling so large a cast with young singers whose voices were beautiful enough to hold the modern ear through scenes of Monteverdian declamation would be highly unusual anywhere but in the finest music schools; Opera Omnia’s forces all sang with clear, grateful, seemingly effortless technique, appropriate to the music (no romantic vibratos), and were personable and ardent on the stage. I especially admired scene-stealing Marie Mascari as Fortune and the comic valet, Jeffrey Mandelbaum, who projected a very masculine countertenor, more tenor than alto, as Ottone, and John Young’s Arnalta, who got the laughs without falling into camp excess. Cherry Duke made a fine, unusually masculine Nerone, if not quite the adolescent punk the score implies (or is it just that I can’t forget David Daniels’ strutting, finger-snapping sex-lout in the role?). Steven Hrycelak held down the low end well – if not the very lowest notes – as the philosopher Seneca, whose gravity (in contrast to all the other characters’ frivolity) is underlined by his being the only really low voice; Molly Quinn, as the confused Drusilla, seemed to have two voices, a soubrette soprano and a darker alto; both fell pleasantly on the ear, but she should find a way to mix them in more suitable proportions. Melissa Fogarty was an insufficiently weighty figure as the bitter Empress Octavia – perhaps the suitcase she carried in her final scene distracted us from her tragedy. Hai-Ting Chinn sang the whorish Poppea elegantly, but without the deep sensual feeling that Poppeas like Troyanos have brought to this music. Still, her final duet with Ms. Duke’s Nerone was the perfect conclusion to waft us into the night in a cloud of erotic reverie: Ah yes, back in 1641, this is why opera caught on.

John Yohalem

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):