Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
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