Recently in Performances
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
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