Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House - a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems. On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.

Tosca in San Francisco

Yet another Tosca is hardly exciting news, if news at all. The current five performances have come just two years after SFO alternated divas Angela Gheorghiu and Patricia Racette in the title role.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Alessandro Scarlatti
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”.

Alessandro Scarlatti: Il Trionfo della Santissima Vergine Assunta in Cielo

A Festival Contemporaneamente Barocco production
Chiesa di Sant’Agostino, Siena, October 11, 2008

Above: Alessandro Scarlatti

 

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 large.

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.

Martellacci-(Eternita')_Vaj.pngAlto 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 music’s pace.

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 throughout.

Trionfo-SSma-Vergine-Assunt.pngFinal scene

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 on his.

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 Papal chapel…

Carlo Vitali

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):