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

Glyndebourne's wartime Ariadne auf Naxos

It’s country-house opera season, and Glyndebourne have decided it’s time for a return of Katharina Thoma’s country-house-set Ariadne auf Naxos, first seen in 2013. Thoma locates Strauss’s opera-about-opera in a 1940s manor house which has been sequestered as a military hospital, neatly alluding to Glyndebourne’s own history when it transformed itself into a centre for evacuees from east London and the Christie children’s nursery became a sick bay.

On Trial in Saint Louis

That Opera Theatre of Saint Louis fearlessly embraces the cutting edge is once again evidenced by their compelling American premiere of The Trial.

A Traditional Rigoletto in Las Vegas

On June 9, 2017, Opera Las Vegas presented a traditional production of Verdi’s Rigoletto conducted by Music Director Gregory Buchalter with a cast headed by veteran baritone Michael Chioldi. A most convincing Rigoletto, Chioldi was a man in psychological pain from the begining of the opera. His fear and his vulnerability to the whims of the nobility were evident in every meaty, well-colored phrase he sang.

Thumbprint, An Amazing Woman Leaves an Indelible Mark

Thumbprint is the story of the young, innocent and illiterate Mukhtar Mai who was assaulted by a group of powerful men. Following the attack, Mukhtar, having supposedly been disgraced, was expected to commit suicide. Instead, she amazed everyone who knew her by going to the police and calling for the arrest of her attackers.

Kaufmann's first Otello: Royal Opera House, London

Out of the blackness, Keith Warner’s new production of Verdi’s Otello explodes into being with a violent gesture of fury. Not the tempest raging in the pit - though Antonio Pappano conjures a terrifying maelstrom from the ROH Orchestra and the enlarged ROH Chorus hurls a blood-curdling battering-ram of sound into the auditorium. Rather, Warner offers a spot-lit emblem of frustrated malice and wrath, as a lone soldier fiercely hurls a Venetian mask to the ground.

Don Carlo in Marseille

First mounted in 2015 at the Opéra National de Bordeaux this splendid Don Carlo production took stage just now at the Opéra de Marseille with a completely different cast and conductor. This Marseille edition achieved an artistic stature rarely found hereabouts, or anywhere.

Diamanda Galás: Savagery and Opulence

Unconventional to the last, Diamanda Galás tore through her Barbican concert on Monday evening with a torrential force that shattered the inertia and passivity of the modern song recital. This was operatic activism, pure and simple. Dressed in metallic, shimmering black she moved rather stately across the stage to her piano - but there was nothing stately about what unfolded during the next 90 minutes.

Schubert Wanderer Songs - Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

A summit reached at the end of a long journey: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, as the two-year Complete Schubert Song series draws to a close. Unmistakably a high point in the whole traverse. A well-planned programme of much-loved songs performed exceptionally well, with less well known repertoire presented with intelligent flourish.

La Bohème in San Francisco

In 2008 it was the electrifying conducting of Nicola Luisotti and the famed Mimì of Angela Gheorghiu, in 2014 it was the riveting portrayals of Michael Fabbiano’s Rodolfo and Alexey Markov’s Marcelo. Now, in 2017, it is the high Italian style of Erika Grimaldi’s Mimì — and just about everything else!

A heart-rending Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera

Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Janáček’s first mature opera, Jenůfa, is a good choice for Grange Park Opera’s first season at its new home, West Horsley Place. Revived by Robin Tebbutt, Mitchell and designer Vicki Mortimer’s 1930s urban setting emphasises the opera’s lack of sentimentality and subjectivism, and this stark realism is further enhanced by the narrow horseshoe design of architect Wasfi Kani’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ whose towering walls and narrow width seem to add further to the weight of oppression which constricts the lives of the inhabitants.

Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera

“I am nearer to the greatest secrets of the next world than I am to the smallest secrets of those eyes!” So despairs Golaud, enflamed by jealousy, suspicious of his mysterious wife Mélisande’s love for his half-brother Pelléas. Michael Boyd’s thought-provoking new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera certainly ponders plentiful secrets: of the conscience, of the subconscious, of the soul. But, with his designer Tom Piper, Boyd brings the opera’s dreams and mysteries into landscapes that are lit, symbolically and figuratively, with precision.

Carmen: The Grange Festival

The Grange Festival, artistic director Michael Chance, has opened at Northington Grange giving everyone a chance to see what changes have arisen from this change of festival at the old location. For our first visit we caught the opening night of Annabel Arden's new production of Bizet's Carmen on Sunday 11 June 2017. Conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the pit, the cast included Na'ama Goldman as Carmen, Leonardo Capalbo as Don Jose, Shelley Jackson as Micaela and Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo. There were also two extra characters, Aicha Kossoko and Tonderai Munyevu as Commere and Compere. Designs were by Joanna Parker (costume co-designer Ilona Karas) with video by Dick Straker, lighting by Peter Mumford. Thankfully, the opera comique version of the opera was used, with dialogue by Meredith Oakes.

Don Giovanni in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera revved up its 2011 production of Don Giovanni with a new directorial team and a new conductor. And a blue-chip cast.

Dutch National Opera puts on a spellbinding Marian Vespers

A body lies in half-shadow, surrounded by an expectant gathering. Our Father is intoned in Gregorian chant. The solo voices bloom into a chorus with a joyful flourish of brass.

Into the Wood: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows.’ In her new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Netia Jones takes us deep into the canopied groves of Oberon’s forest, luring us into the nocturnal embrace of the wood with a heady ‘physick’ of disorientating visual charms.

Rigoletto in San Francisco

Every once in a while a warhorse redefines itself. This happened last night in San Francisco when Rigoletto propelled itself into the ranks of the great masterpieces of opera as theater — the likes of Falstaff and Tristan and Rossini’s Otello.

My Fair Lady at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In its spring musical production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady Lyric Opera of Chicago has put together an ensemble which does ample justice to the wit and lyrical beauty of the well-known score.

Henze: Elegie für junge Liebende

Hans Werner Henze’s compositions include ten fine symphonies, various large choral and religious works, fourteen ballets (among them one, Undine, that ranks the greatest of modern times), numerous prominent film scores, and hundreds of additional works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instruments or voice. Yet he considered himself, above all, a composer of opera.

Werther at Manitoba Opera

If opera ultimately is about bel canto, then one need not look any further than Manitoba Opera’s company premiere of Massenet’s Werther, its lushly scored portrait of an artist as a young man that also showcased a particularly strong cast of principal artists. Notably, all were also marking their own role debuts, as well as this production being the first Massenet opera staged by organization in its 44-year history.

Seattle: A seamlessly symphonic L’enfant

Seattle Symphony’s “semi-staged” presentation of L’enfant et les sortilèges was my third encounter with Ravel’s 1925 one-act “opera.” It was incomparably the most theatrical, though the least elaborate by far.

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):