Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Scene from Tirant lo Blanc [Photo courtesy of Festival Internacional Cervantino]
23 Oct 2008

Cervantino pays homage to Catalonia

Joanot Martorell’s 1490 “Tirant lo Blanc” isn’t on anyone’s reading list these days, and that’s rather a shame, for it — the first Catalan novel — was a favorite book of Miguel de Cervantes.

Festival Internacional Cervantino

Above: Scene from Tirant lo Blanc

All photos courtesy of Festival Internacional Cervantino

 

Indeed, when in “Don Quixote” the knight’s books are burned, a priest spots the volume and calls it “a treasure of enjoyment and a gold mine of recreation.”

That very quality placed the tale of the White Knight’s crusade against the Turks threatening Constantinople at the center of a constellation that made it the central event of the 2008 International Cervantino Festival in Mexico‘s historic Guanajuato. The 36th festival season subtitled — not coincidentally -“Cataluña in Cervantino.

The dramatic appeal of Martorell’s medieval novel was spotted by Calixto Bieito, the Catalan theater genius who has become the enfant terrible of European opera in recent seasons. Since Bieito’s impact has not yet been felt in the States, a sample of European critical reaction indicates just how radical a presence he is on a scene that has for years seemingly known no extreme.

“It’s one thing to set Macbeth in a mall from hell, with the secretaries drinking from that famous devilish cup, a Starbucks Grande,” a reviewer for Opera Chic writes. “And yeah, a nutty ‘Don Giovanni’ with Leporello in a red + blue azulgrana soccer jersey (for Calixto’s beloved Barcelona) & Don Ottavio in a Superman costume, OK, it’s a dramma giocoso so we’ll pretend it’s more giocoso than dramma anyway, and DaPonte was one horny bastard so the naughtier the better — maybe.

“Insane as he may look, Calixto has been blessed (by Satan, clearly) with an uncanny sense of dramatic tempi, and a great eye, and a quick mind.” Yes, like him or not, Bieito is here and he’s not going away. And he is a genius and his work fascinates, as was clear from the enthusiastic reaction to “Tirant” at the Cervantino.

In 2007 Bieito, relying on the immense talent of his Barcelona Companyia Teatre Romea turned the novel into an orgiastic three-hour music-theater spectacle, first seen in conjunction with Germany’s Frankfurt Book Fair in 2007. In October at the Cervantino Beito mounted the production on a runway that extended far beyond the stage of Guanajuato’s cavernous Auditorio del Estado.

CCC_0319.pngScene from Tirant lo Blanc

Bieito’s account of the White Knight’s heroic and amorous adventures makes the “Satyricon” look like Little Orphan Annie. It’s an exercise in excess that mixes Fellini and Pasolini, Wagner and Madonna in a raucous romp through nudity and nonsense, through seduction and seriousness.

“‘Tirant’ may be the greatest book ever written,” said Cervantino general director Gerardo Kleinburg. And Bieito has shown us another way of reading a classic. “The staging is rich in issues extremely sensitive today. It is totally non-conventional and somewhat risky, but that makes it healthy for the festival.” “It underscores the social relevance of art, which is essential to the mission of the festival.”

Bieito has made “Tirant” a panorama of a society torn by contradictions, obsessed with splendor and devoured by depravity and decadence. The contemporary relevance of the production was overwhelming. The musical score — performed partly on tape, but largely by an on-stage organist, is by Charles Santos and Bieito himself. It offers a hint of Michael Nyman, Orff and Messiaen.

Performed for an audience seated on stage on either side of the runway, the three Cervantino performances featured almost the entire 2007 original cast, an ensemble distinguished both as actors and singers headed by stellar — and handsome — Joan Negrie’. One reservation: True, the world is still peopled by prudes; nonetheless — well over a century after the Victorian age — a certain advance has been made in popular perceptions of human sexuality.

In “Tirant” it was almost a given that any character who appeared would be stripped to the skin within minutes, and one poor fellow played a great part of the three hours in the buff. It gets a trifle sophomoric after an hour or so. And, in addition, there’s a practical problem. “Tirant” was amplified throughout, and there’s no obvious solution regarding the placement of a body mike on a person wearing Jockey’s — or less.

“Catalonia is a region with a very strong cultural identity,” said Cervantino general director Gerardo Kleinburg regarding the theme of the ‘08 season. “The region is rich in incredible modern artists in all fields.”

He stressed further a strong feeling of kinship between Mexico and Catalonia, due to the thousands who fled to Mexico from that region between 1936 and 1939. “New generations have grown up here,” said Kleinburg, for a decade director of Mexico’s National Opera. “They strengthen the feeling that we are part of the Iberian peninsula.”


An opera in the intimate opulence of Guanajuato’s 1908 Teatro Juárez recalls scenes from long-ago films in which the aristocracy indulged itself in the arts. It’s an experience beyond the every day, and Cervantino made it special with a co-production with Mexico’s National Opera of “Manon Lescaut” that honored Puccini on his 150th birthday.

Vargas.pngRamón Vargas

The all Latin cast was headed by Chile’s Verónica Villarroel in the title role. Although too mature today to be convincing as the virginal, cloister-bound Manon of Act One, Villarroel is a formidable singing actress who was impressive and convincing in the remaining three acts of the work. Brasilian Richard Bauer as Des Grieux and Jesus Suaste as Brother Lescaut completed the cast.

Hero of the emotionally intense production, however, was veteran Italian conductor Guido Maria Guida, who brought rarely heard emotional intensity to Puccini’s score. Earlier in the day — October 12 — Guida conducted an expanded Sinfonietta Ventus, a Mexican chamber ensemble of international stature, in the gilded splendor of Guanajuato’s Templo de la Valenciana, the city’s handsome Baroque cathedral.

Guida, a key figure in the educational wing of Bayreuth’s Wagner Festival, offered a translucent reading of the “Siegfried Idyll,” follow by a spellbinding performance of Schoenberg’s early Chamber Symphony, No. l. Op. 9. The Schoenberg performance touchingly laid bare the deep Romantic roots of this first fully modern composer. Orchestra and chorus — both superb — came from the National Opera’s home bass in Mexico City.

Nothing makes a festival more festival than the return of a native son who has achieved fame beyond his country. All the joys of homecoming were felt when Ramón Vargas came on stage in the Teatro Juárez on October 9, the first full day of Cervantino ‘08. Vargas, one of the world’s leading tenors for 25 years, was given a hero’s welcome, and he responded with equal warmth.

Despite his excellence in both the bel canto and Italian repertory, it was in the music of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff that Vargas overwhelmed the audience in the packed theater. The emotion that he brought to “Kuda, kuda,” Lensky’s valedictory, pre-duel aria from Eugene Onegin,” touched the heart, and his work with two soul-searching Rachmaninoff songs was equally moving. Outstanding also was his accompanist of many years, Georgian-born Mzia Bakhtouridze.

The Cervantino remains the outstanding all-arts festival of Latin America. It remains — alas — yet to be discovered by Americans.

Wes Blomster

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):