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 Performances

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Kurt Streit as Idomeneo [Photo by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
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.

W. A. Mozart: Idomeneo

Idomeneo: Kurt Streit; Idamante: Alice Coote; Ilia: Genia Kühmeier; Elettra: Iano Tamar; Arbace: Alek Shrader; The High Priest of Neptune: Robert MacNeil; The Voice of the Oracle: Kenneth Kellogg. San Francisco Opera. Conductor: Donald Runnicles. Director: John Copley.

Above: Kurt Streit as Idomeneo

All photos by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera

 

But Munich 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.

Idamante1.pngAlice 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.

IdomeneoArbace.pngKurt 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.

Michael Milenski

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):