Recently in Performances
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
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.
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.