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
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