Recently in Performances
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
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.