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

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

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):