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

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

A double dose of Don Quixote at the Wigmore Hall

Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.

Bampton Classical Opera: A double bill of divine comedies

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2016 double-bill ‘touched down’ at St John’s Smith Square last night, following performances in The Deanery Garden at Bampton and The Orangery of Westonbirt School earlier this summer.

Mahler’s Second, Concertgebouw

Daniele Gatti opened the first series of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s season with a slightly uneven performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. With four planned, this staple repertoire for the RCO meant to introduce Gatti to the RCO subscribers.

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.

ROH, Norma

The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.

The Changing of the Guard

Last June, Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion for his last concert as Principal Conductor.

Morgen und Abend at Berlin

After its world premiere at Royal Opera House in London last year, the German première of Georg Friedrich Haas’s Morgen und Abend took place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Der Freischütz at Unter den Linden

Rarely have I experienced such fabulous singing in such a dreadful production. With magnificent voices, Andreas Schager and Dorothea Röschmann rescued Michael Thalheimer’s grotesque staging of von Weber’s Der Freischütz. At Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Alexander Soddy led a richly detailed, transparent and brilliantly glowing Berliner Staatskapelle.

Prom 74: Verdi's Requiem

For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.

British Youth Opera: English Eccentrics

“Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.”

Prom 68: a wonderful Semiramide

When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.

Double Bill by Oper am Rhein

Of all the places in Germany, Oper am Rhein at Theater Duisburg staged an intriguing American double bill of rarities. An experience that was well worth the trip to this desolate ghost town, remnant of industrial West Germany.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Olga Borodina as Laura in Ponchielli's
21 Oct 2008

La Gioconda at the MET

It probably wasn’t intended as a symbol of anything in particular, but at the end of Act II, midway through the October 6 performance of La Gioconda, Enzo’s ship failed to burst into flames, thereby letting the curtain down most unsatisfactorily on what is usually one of the liveliest act finales in grand opera.

Amilcare Ponchielli: La Gioconda

La Gioconda: Deborah Voigt; Laura: Olga Borodina; La Cieca: Ewa Podleś; Enzo: Aquiles Machado; Barnaba: Carlo Guelfi; Alvise Badoero: Orlin Anastassov; Dance of the Hours choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and danced by Letizia Giuliani and Angel Corella. Conducted by Daniele Callegari. Metropolitan Opera.

Above: Olga Borodina as Laura in Ponchielli's "La Gioconda." [Photo: Beatriz Schiller/Metropolitan Opera]

 

You recall the plot of La Gioconda, I’m sure: Barnaba (hateful spy of the Ten) lusts for Gioconda (street singer), who loves Enzo (prince in exile), who carries a torch – literally, in Act II – for Laura, unhappily married to Duke Alvise, capo of the Ten, secret dictators of Venice. Barnaba persuades an incendiary mob that Gioconda’s mother, La Cieca (the blind woman), is a witch, but she is saved by a mysterious masked lady (Laura, of course), who has noticed La Cieca muttering to her rosary. In gratitude, La Cieca gives her the beads. Therefore (in Act II), Gioconda is flummoxed when she corners Enzo’s secret inamorata, only to have the hussy pull out – yes! – that very rosary! Gioconda then saves Laura (who saved her mother from burning), and confronts Enzo. But Duke Alvise, warned by Barnaba, is heading their way with a small, fast fleet. Desperate, Enzo tosses that torch he’s been carrying into his Dalmatian pirate vessel, which should go up in smoky, fiery fury as the curtain falls, with two whole acts of this foolishness still to come. In previous seasons, over forty years of the Met’s splendid, old-fashioned and scenic production, the exploding ship was always a hit, even when Enzo forgot to hurl the torch. But on October 6, at the Met, the ship merely glowed slightly red, as if embarrassed to be presenting such a farrago in the present day and age without the full-blooded singing and intense performing that alone can justify it. (Dear irate Ponchielli fans: I agree it’s a wonderful score – but you have to really do the thing, hurl yourself in the mouth of the wolf, to put it across.)

GIOCONDA_Anastassov_0668_MS.pngOrlin Anastassov as Alvise in Ponchielli's "La Gioconda." Photo: Beatriz Schiller courtesy of Metropolitan Opera

The fizzling ship may or may not have been intentional, but those of us who love La Gioconda and think it embodies the grandest operatic traditions if given half a chance (which is to say, with at least three of its six principals sung by impassioned and technically competent individuals), could hardly help but see the misfiring yacht as emblematic of the state of what used to be basic Italian rep: Aida, Norma, Trovatore, Forza, Cavalleria Rusticana, Tosca, Ernani, Butterfly, Chenier – how do you cast these once necessary operas, when hardly anyone around can sing the parts, much less four to six stars at a go? Like Laura on her catafalque in Act III, the corpse may still be breathing, but you can understand why so many visitors are quietly leaving flowers, their thoughts on better days.

My ever-declining tale of variably unsatisfactory Giocondas since this production was new has included Tebaldi, Bumbry, Arroyo, Marton, Dimitrova, Millo, Urmana and now Voigt. Tebaldi, past her heyday, knew how to wallow in distinguished misery; Bumbry could flirt with suicide, and commit it with menace hissing in her tongue; Arroyo floated those high notes and give them an edge of despair; Dimitrova was loud; Marton could act for six, as she proved on the disastrous – but thrilling! – night of Carlo Bini’s unscheduled debut and Patané’s unscheduled farewell.

GIOCONDA_Machado_1906.pngAquiles Machado as Enzo in Ponchielli's "La Gioconda." Photo: Cory Weaver courtesy of Metropolitan Opera

Urmana made beautiful sounds, but was duller than Debbie Voigt – however Voigt has never been an Italianate singer (her Aida was stiff), though she occasionally turned out phrases in the later scenes of Gioconda that implied some notion of what the part ought to contain. Her “Suicidio” was an effort in the right direction, if hardly draped in foreboding shadow. Instead of floating, her “Enzo adorato” wobbled like a balloon on a windy day. Her higher voice – the voice that used to sing Ariadne – is now seldom to be relied upon; her lower range is passably supported but without much depth or character, even if that had ever been her gift. I don’t know what – temperament or surgery or fach – is Miss Voigt’s problem, but as her Isoldes last year suggested, she may soon pass the point of getting through major parts effectively. Like Millo, who also failed of great initial promise, she will become a fallback singer, nobody’s first choice.

Olga Borodina has a golden age voice, dark and plummy, and the rare gift (among Russians) of singing French and Italian roles beautifully, in something resembling proper style. Not only individual phrases of her Laura but her duets with Voigt and Machado (and the lovely trio with both) were happy times for everyone present.

GIOCONDA_Scene_9328_MS.pngA scene from Ponchielli's "La Gioconda." Photo: Beatriz Schiller courtesy of Metropolitan Opera

No one has ever publicly explained why Ewa Podleś, who made an outstanding Met debut in Handel’s Rinaldo (a killer role) a quarter century ago, and who has been an international star ever since, was ignored here throughout the Volpe era. Madame Podleś is a contralto of striking idiosyncrasy – this is not a voice to blend in or be ignored, but one that sticks out, that must lead or be cut dead. In the embarrassingly small role of La Cieca, she was not only audible over the great Act III ensemble (usually, who even notices La Cieca is on stage at that moment, much less hears her?), she convincingly acted a blind woman throughout the evening (in marked contrast to the singer who strolled through the part two years ago), and her solos were weird, booming, echoes from the pre-digital age of untamed sound. That she would triumph was a foregone conclusion; that she would shame the house that has scorned her uniqueness was breathtaking.

Aquiles Machado looks like a Velasquez dwarf but struts and frets as if he were tall and lordly – an illusion Mesdames Voigt and Borodina did all they could to enhance, standing two steps down, leaning on his shoulder to sing, like the colleagues they are – but his pretty tenor has little passion in it, and when he pushes it, a wobble makes an unwelcome appearance.

Barnaba’s disgusting desires are the engine that drives the crazy plot. Carlo Guelfi’s Barnaba, however, is more bureaucrat than demon – his singing is dry, without gloat or drool, much less sharpened fangs. His final cry of exasperation (Gioconda having stabbed herself to escape his lusts) was – a cry of exasperation: “You filled in the wrong form, you fool!” (is not the proper text). When Cornell MacNeil sang Barnaba, even in nearly voiceless old age, his naturally ugly voice was filled with contempt and oily intimacy, his final frustrated snarl expressed four acts of desperate lechery. He was like an exploding ship.

Orlin Anastassov made a stolid Alvise, more worried about his hair-do than his wife’s betrayal, and he shrugged when one of his party guests turned out to be an enemy bent on vengeance.

GIOCONDA_Voigt_Podles_Borod.png(Left to Right) Deborah Voigt as Gioconda, Ewa Podles as La Cieca, and Olga Borodina as Laura in Ponchielli's "La Gioconda." Photo: Beatriz Schiller courtesy of Metropolitan Opera

Under Daniele Callegari, the Met orchestra often reminded us of the score’s many felicities, but one couldn’t help thinking that if the tuba player is too bored by the oom-pah, oom-pah of his part in the ballet to stay in tune, he may have chosen the wrong instrument for his career. The chorus seemed unusually cardboard in their movements – can they simply not be persuaded that Gioconda matters? – and the revised stage direction, if it avoids some confusions (the correct characters are masked in the proper scenes, as has not always been the case), creates others: Act III now ends with the blind woman taking a pratfall center stage, Gioconda having disappeared – traditionally, it should end with Barnaba driving the old woman off (to drown her, we learn later), while the music underscores the tragic isolation of Gioconda, unloved and now orphaned, front and center, searching desperately. (How many other operas have mother-daughter duets? I can only think of I Lombardi, Mazeppa, Elektra and The Medium.)

And what happened, you are wondering, to the Dance of the Hours? Or did Walt Disney make that up? No – it’s here all right – in Act III, scene 2, at Duke Alvise’s party, appetizer for the pièce de resistance, croque madame (or, hostess in aspic). (Laura, like the opera, isn’t really dead – Gioconda has slipped her a potion – in Act IV, she runs off with Enzo to Dubrovnik. I’m not making all this up, you know.) At the Met, Christopher Wheeldon has devised a winsome extended pas de deux for Letizia Giuliani and Angel Corella, based on clock hands stiffly telling the hours while Letizia and Angel, anything but stiff, whirl and leap and sizzle between tick-tocks. They got the biggest hand of the night. They were on fire.

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):