Recently in Performances
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
21 Oct 2008
Idomeneo in San Francisco
Munich in 1781 was hardly the big city, not an enlightened Paris where Gluck had recently turned the opera world on its ear, not a European capital like Vienna where Italian operatic imperialism was unassailable.
was certainly aware of operatic life in the big city, and did its best to
compete, doing so by the commission of an opera called Idomeneo to a
bright young composer, an ascending star, W.A. Mozart.
Alice Coote as Idamante
No one would know then that this little opera with its big aspirations
could become a mainstay of current big house repertory, though truth to tell
it sits there a little uncomfortably. While it has the big chorus scenes
Paris loved, even the sine qua non ballet that opera companies do not even
attempt these days, not to mention the scenic spectacular that universally
wows, it inevitably also has the Mozart genius that goes well beyond these
old opera stories and their splendid vocalism. It is music that heads
straight for the heart and the mind. The Marriage of Figaro is just
beyond the horizon (five years away) as immediately after Idomeneo
Mozart begins exploring the more nuanced world of comedy first with a
singspiel and then two small, unfinished buffa’s.
But meanwhile the serious Idomeneo is built on an already dead operatic
irony. To save his own life Idomeneo must sacrifice another life,
and to save his people he really has to do so, even though Idamante, his son
and his victim, has saved the people from the terrible sea monster that
Neptune unleashed when Idomeneo was reluctant. Opera seria is big
and bold and improbable. Rossini would again make it so only a few years later, but not the Mozart of Idomeneo, a valiant child of the Enlightenment.
This early Mozart indulges the women who love Idamante in delicate and
passionate personal expressions of their love. Mozart places his father in
quiet, deep torment, and even his son (in Mozart’s Munich the castrato
Vicenzo dal Prato) voices real grief in his often above-the-staff,
male-soprano showpiece. And these are only the seeds of discovery for the
exposition of human souls in his greatest masterpieces, the Da Ponte comedies
— these Idomeneo creations soon enough will become his Countess and
Elvira, his Count and his tongue-in-cheek castrato, Cherubino.
Kurt Streit (Idomeneo) and Alek Shrader (Arbace)
San Francisco is no longer the big city operatically speaking, certainly
not the New York of the renewed Met, or even Munich for that matter, and in
the case of the current edition of Idomeneo, San Francisco does not
even try to compete with big operatic thinkers, as it did in the 1977 when
Jean Pierre Ponnelle made the first San Francisco Idomeneo. Instead
San Francisco Opera dusted off its twenty year-old John Copley production,
cast it with relatively unknown stars-in-the-making, and entrusted it to the
broad musicality of its music director, Donald Runnicles.
The Copley production does indeed provide a comfortable background for
this minor Mozart masterpiece. Its settings designed by John Conklin
delicately reference antiquity, its costumes coolly incorporate tunics and
togas for its choruses with rich, courtly seventeenth century dress for its
protagonists. Mr. Copley makes his actors’ movements flow with the music in
naturalistic ways, motions that are continuously choreographed, that echo the
naturalness of the music rather than illustrate or impose the artificiality
of the opera seria genre. Mr. Conklin’s visual images flow in
the same fashion, seemingly in continuous movement as the aria follows aria.
The entirety of the staging was like a beautiful wallpaper that surrounds
voice and music.
Maestro Runnicles brought the entire second act to a timeless, sublime
musicality, the departure trio dangling its hopes and fears, the arias
melting with emotion. The great third act quartet unfolded grandly, then four
graphically magnificent horses rose gracefully from the sea (masking any sort
of terrifying sea monster). And the music never faltered. Well, only once — a
small moment of real drama when the cue for the deus ex machina was
a trifle late and we all had a fleeting moment to laugh at the ridiculousness
of such things. This evening in toto was like a perfect recording,
we knew the music need never end.
Tenor Kurt Streit provided a fine Idomeneo, his well-produced, clear voice
able to encompass the huge range of emotions inherent in this difficult role.
The Idamante of mezzo-soprano Alice Coote amply filled the musical, vocal and
even histrionic needs of this complex role, a perfect Idamante for this
Copley exercise in musical flow. Genia Kühmeier sang beautifully as Ilia,
glorious pianissimos flowing into passionate outpourings. Even the smaller
scale of the spurned Electra of Iano Tamar seemed perfectly at home in the
calm flow of this production. Bass Robert MacNeil was adequate as the High
Priest of Neptune, less so the Arbace of Adler fellow Alek Shrader.