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
Partenope — English National Opera, London Coliseum
In this new staging of Handel's comic rarity for English National Opera, director Christopher Alden has chosen to tell the classical tale of amorous and political intrigue through the world of the artistic elite of the 1920s/30s.
The costumes and settings are directly inspired by specific
examples of art photography from the period, with the programme illustrating
a number of iconic photographic works which are clearly recognisable in the
John Mark Ainsley as Emilio
The opera is set in a devastatingly chic salon (realised by Andrew
Lieberman, with costumes by Jon Morrell), all cream walls and curved lines,
the home of Rosemary Joshua's glacially glamorous socialite Partenope (done
up, as illustrated by a Man Ray photograph in the programme, as Nancy
Cunard). It is a place where the idle and moneyed artistic intelligentsia
gather for a spot of highbrow theorising over a cocktail or two, and where
the great realities of love and war are relegated to the rank of
insignificant little playthings. It is not an obvious breeding-ground for
Neither, to be fair, is the libretto, cribbed by an anonymous writer for
Handel from an original book by Silvio Stampiglia, and here delivered in a
coarsely colloquial translation by Amanda Holden. Though the opera is named
for Partenope, she is a character to whom one does not easily warm; though
her enemy/rejected lover Emilio (John Mark Ainsley) is clearly supposed to be
the primo uomo, he is drawn so sketchily, and takes such small part in the
opera's core emotional intrigue, that he fades into the background. Alden's
production seizes upon this, resolving the issue of what to do with him by
giving him more of an observer role. In the context of the production's arty
milieu, Emilio is characterised as Man Ray, with the often bizarre situations
between the characters being set up and captured by him on film. At the start
of the opera, the production exacerbates the problems caused by this detached
characterisation; at the first interval I was dreading the prospect of a
further two hours of empty posturing and artistic pretension, with any
inconsistencies in the dramatic development being explained away with the
blanket excuse that it's all in the cause of surrealism.
Fortunately, there are also characters we really care about, and it is
they who sustain the story long enough for the development of dramatic
interest and a bit more emotional realism in the second and third acts. First
there's Arsace (Christine Rice), the spoilt cad who has won Partenope's
heart, having conveniently forgotten to mention the lover whom he abandoned
and still hankers after. Then there's Rosmira (Patricia Bardon), the
abandoned lover in question, who (despite having been instantly recognised by
Arsace) has disguised herself as a warrior by the name of Eurimene and
followed him to a foreign land in search of both reconciliation and
retribution. She is, by some margin, the most complex and sympathetic of the
protagonists, and her central obsession with the feckless and unworthy Arsace
is the source of some of the opera's most rewarding music. Finally there's
Armindo, the diffident bumbling youth who is Partenope's best prospect for
genuine happiness but who doesn't have the guts to say so.
As John Mark Ainsley's role contained some thanklessly unmemorable music,
and Rosemary Joshua's coloratura and intonation were wayward at times, the
three subsidiary characters also supplied the best value in terms of musical
satisfaction. Rice's all-guns-blazing revenge aria at the close of Act 2 was
delivered with pinpoint accuracy and a gutsy warmth of tone, and her puppyish
arrogance was thoroughly convincing. What the score lacks in grand Handelian
tragic arias, it attempts to compensate with some shorter episodes of
heartfelt and honest music for Rosmira and occasionally as well as for
Arsace; their third-act duet is one of the musical high points. Bardon
suffered a glitch of some sort at the start of her Act 1 aria, but otherwise
gave a well-rounded and musically sensitive performance. And it was fitting
that Iestyn Davies gave the best and most memorable (if not the flashiest)
vocal performance of the evening; it is his clarity, assurance and
straightforwardness which at last succeed in winning Partenope.
It was a decent ensemble cast, in a score which contains more
multiple-voice numbers than are normally found in Handel, and all was held
tautly together in the pit by ENO débutant Christian Curnyn, more usually
found at the artistic helm of the Early Opera Company.
As hit-and-miss as the production concept is, it underlines the
inexplicable and bizarre ways in which seemingly poised and sophisticated
people are driven to act in the pursuit of love.
Ruth Elleson © 2008