Recently in Performances
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
21 Oct 2008
Alessandro Scarlatti: Il Trionfo della Santissima Vergine Assunta in Cielo
“One can easily imagine -- Berkeley professor Donald J. Grout wrote in 1979 -- a Scarlatti oratorio occasionally being sung in church or in concert […], but it is more difficult (though perhaps not quite impossible) to imagine a Scarlatti opera being staged at a modern opera house”.
Indeed, among the giants of Baroque music immediately prior to
Bach and Handel, Alessandro Scarlatti has long been the most appreciated
composer in the academia, although his works were performed less than his
successors’. Now the pendulum, largely thanks to Grout himself, has
swung so far that even Alessandro Scarlatti’s lovely oratorios are
staged both at opera houses and in churches.
Despite the lamentable shutdown, half a decade ago, of the Scarlatti
Festival in the composer’s native Palermo, interest in digging up his
forgotten vocal works remains strong in Italy. One spearhead in the process
is Fabio Biondi and his ensemble Europa Galante, whose 2004 recording of the
Oratorio per la Santissima Trinità (Oratorio for the Most Holy
Trinity) is a must for Baroque collectors. Another is the Siena-based
ensemble Il Rossignolo, which this year chose Il Trionfo della Santissima
Vergine Assunta in Cielo (The Triumph of the Most Holy Virgin Received
into Heaven) as the centerpiece for the first instalment of “Festival
Contemporaneamente Barocco”, a much promising series featuring a
variety of events connected to music, drama and cultural heritage at
The church of Sant’Agostino, among the innumerable historic
landmarks in downtown Siena, enjoys the distinction of an 18th-century
interior redesign by Luigi Vanvitelli, the same architect who projected the
royal palace at Caserta by Naples, the Italian response to Versailles.
Vanvitelli’s grand style provided the proper framework for
Scarlatti’s Trionfo, a sacred drama which had no less than
five productions between 1703 and 1710, in Rome and elsewhere, each time with
a different title and changing contents. Such a success was probably due to
the high social standing of its librettist -- none less than cardinal Pietro
Ottoboni, a distinguished patron of the arts who counted Scarlatti, Corelli
and Handel among his many protégés.
The libretto he wrote for Scarlatti, however, is a rather dreary one. Not
much happens other than a clever discussion among the disembodied principals
(The Bride and The Bridegroom, Love and Eternity) on Catholic dogma about the
Blessed Virgin. A sparse touch of drama is provided by allusions to the
then-ongoing War of Spanish Succession and the general yearning for peace.
Alto Gabriella Martellacci as Eternity (left) and soprano Silvia Vajente as the Virgin Mary
It took director Alessio Rosati a good deal of imagination to sexy-up the
script for the benefit of a contemporary audience, hardly conversant with
either theology or early-modern history. Rosati’s flamboyant costumes
for Love and Eternity, inspired by the French engraver Nicolas de
Largillière, were a major resource. The mesmerizing body language of their
characters conveyed by turns hope, thoughtfulness, mourning and pride, up to
armed confrontation with overlong swords tainted with blood. It was all on a
hyperbolic scale, more godly than human.
In contrast, the Bride and the Bridegroom (both played by women) wore
timeless white robes and enacted the tender gestures of any married couple,
even as they were symbols of the Almighty and the Virgin Mary. When asked
about the rationale for that, Rosati ruled out any allusions to same-sex
marriages, maintaining instead that he had in mind such a time-honored
theological concept as God’s Motherhood. Fascinating, if a bit
esoteric. A swarm of silent buth otherwise extremely active kids (God’s
children?) added a touch of innocence; very few antics -- such as a throne, a
spring mattress, some floating veils and little else -- rounded up the
minimalist staging, which, in the end, was balanced and attuned to the
The score actually contains in its scarce hour-and-a-half duration a real
bel canto treasure chest, with many up-tempo major-key arias and an
astounding variety of formal devices: siciliano and tarantella rhythms,
ostinato bass lines, chromaticism, ubiquitous obbligato string solos and a
finely wrought duet for the finale. Not less impressive is the instrumental
writing. An unusually rich orchestral palette, including trumpets, oboes and
a flute, enhances the concise but compelling introductions to both acts in
the abridged form of concerto grosso, as well as a number of martial
flourishes (quite predictable for this oratorio in times of war) and brief
incidental ritornellos, to end up with several of Scarlatti’s signature
showstoppers: arias featuring voice-and-trumpet or voice-and-cello runaways.
The mercurial cellist Jean-Marie Quint and gentle Marica Testi at the flute
provided moments of virtuoso panache in the many obbligato passages
stipulated by Scarlatti for their instruments. Both as a whole and in
separate sections, the orchestra bravely accompanied the singers under the
joint lead of its founder, virtuoso harpsichordist Ottaviano Tenerani, and of
its young first violin Luca Giardini. The latter’s energetic bowing,
combined with rapid embellishments and sensitive phrasing, was admirable
In the singing company, sopranos Maria Costanza Nocentini as an
authoritative Bridegroom and Silvia Vajente as a shy and passionate Bride
displayed elaborate coloratura, firm intonation, clarion tones easily
piercing the church’s immense space. The rocky female alto Gabriella
Martellacci (Eternity) and her male counterpart Francesco Ghelardini (Love)
built an equally delectable contrast of vocal personalities: majesty and
dignified disdain on her side, sensuous mellowness with a shade of effeminacy
Before it comes to some postmodern arguing about gender bending, it should
be noted that the original cast was entirely made up of castrati from the