Recently in Performances
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
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