Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
08 Oct 2008
Cavalleria rusticana/Pagliacci — English National Opera, London Coliseum
For the opening of the 2008/09 season at ENO, Richard Jones has teamed up with two separate theatrical writers, Sean O'Brien and Lee Hall, to create unique new versions of the repertoire's most famous double bill.
Cavalleria rusticana, or 'Sicilian Revenge' in Sean O'Brien's
translation, was psychologically insightful and dramatically compelling. The
whole piece took place sometime in the 1940s inside a tiny village hall, with
murky walls and an oppressive low ceiling, an uncomfortably intimate
microcosm of a community in which everybody knows each other's business. All
human life was here, from the illicit out-of-hours assignation between
Turiddu (Peter Auty) and Lola (Fiona Murphy) to the village women preparing
an Easter dinner. The importance of this central space was underlined by the
centre-stage presentation of the Siciliana at the start and Turiddu's
graphically brutal murder at the end, both of which Mascagni envisaged
occuring in the distance. Only Jane Dutton's rejected Santuzza, fidgety and
obsessive, remained on the periphery, coming into the central space for her
pivotal scene with Roland Wood's threateningly masculine Alfio.
Ed Gardner's punchy conducting complemented Auty's red-blooded ardent
tenor especially well, and brought out the opera's almost constant sense of
raw heightened emotion which the piety of the Easter Hymn and the calm
respite of the Intermezzo serve only to accentuate.
The addition of a mentally-disabled brother for Turiddu could so easily
have come across as a cheap theatrical cliché, but his one line announcing
Turiddu's murder, normally reserved for an offstage woman's voice, had
The English translation was somewhat hit-and-miss, but the only real
problem — and it was a big one — was the incongruity of the drab
indoor setting with Mascagni's lush Mediterranean score. Jones's production
was a riveting piece of theatre in its own right, but the music seemed almost
incidental to it.
After the interval, a surreal repeat of the 'Cav' curtain call heralded
the descent of a new, bright orange curtain. We were thrown into the environs
of a British provincial theatre sometime in the 1970s, about to welcome the
stars of a TV sitcom for a week-long run of a cheesy bedroom farce.
This ingenious production was The Comedians, a genuine and
coherent contemporary take on Leoncavallo's opera, a behind-the-scenes
portrait of a clutch of outdated entertainers whose popularity is based on a
façade of cheap laughs and in-jokes. With the exception of the bird aria,
which didn't make a lot of sense out of its natural context, the whole affair
worked extremely well and was in a completely different class from your
average half-hearted opera 'modernisation' which tends to be riddled with
inconsistencies. Lee Hall's English-language version was again more a
reinvention than a translation, designed specifically in conjunction with
this staging, renaming the characters to suit the context. These were
recognisable characters, in equally recognisable sordid liaisons and public
breakdowns against the backdrop of an impeccably-realised backstage
environment by the set designer Ultz.
Peter Auty as Turiddu
Although the characterisation was uniformly excellent, the singing, it has
to be said, was variable; Geraint Dodd's Kenny (Canio) had a softer-grained,
less focused tenor than is ideal in this role, while Christopher Purves's
Tony (Tonio) was put under some vocal strain in the Prologue. Mary Plazas's
Nelly (Nedda) and Mark Stone's Woody (Silvio) were far more vocally
consistent, with strong support from Christopher Turner as Brian (Beppe).
Trevor Goldstein as policeman, Mary Plazas as Nelly
In a stroke of genius the final scene was given on a split stage, as if
the on-stage theatre had been spliced at the proscenium arch and opened out
like a book. Thus we got to focus on the audience's reactions as much as the
on-stage action. The sense of unease and horror was expertly ratcheted up,
and when Kenny had killed Woody and Nelly and turned his gun towards the
audience, the onstage audience's collective dive for cover kept much of the
real audience laughing right up to the last moment, until Kenny delivered his
devastating closing line and turned the gun on himself. Suddenly, nobody was
laughing any more. Absolutely brilliant.
Ruth Elleson © 2008
Mary Plazas as Nelly, Christopher Purves as Tony