Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Orlando Explores Art Without Boundaries

R.B. Schlather’s production of Handel’s Orlando asks the enigmatic question: Where do the boundaries of performance art begin, and where do they end?

Smetana : Dalibor, Bělohlávek, London

Jiří Bělohlávek's annual Czech opera series at the Barbican, London, with the BBC SO continiued with Bedřich Smetana's Dalibor. Bělohlávek has done more than anyone to bring authentic Czech music to Britain, and to the BBC Symphony Orchestra, where he was Chief Conductor for many years. They've got the idiom under their skin, now, and for Bělohlávek they played with expressive vigour.

The Virtues of Things

A good number of recent shorter operas, particularly those performed in this country, made a stronger impression with their libretti than their scores.

Król Roger, Royal Opera

It has taken almost 89 years for Karol Szymanowski’s Król Roger to reach the stage of Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing

San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.

Hercules vs Vampires: Film Becomes Opera!

In the early sixties, Italian film director Mario Bava was making pictures with male body builders whose well oiled physiques appeared spectacular on the screen.

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

Arizona Opera Ends Season in Fine Style with Fille du Régiment

On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.

Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera

This second revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2005 production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia seems to have every going for it: excellent principals comprising experienced old-hands and exciting new voices, infinite gags and japes, and the visual éclat of Agostino Cavalca’s colour-bursting costumes and Christian Fenouillat’s sunny sets which evoke the style, glamour and ease of La Dolce Vita.

The Siege of Calais
——
The Wild Man of the West Indies

English Touring Opera’s 2015 Spring Tour is audacious and thought-provoking. Alongside La Bohème the company have programmed a revival of their acclaimed 2013 production of Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and the composer’s equally rare The Wild Man of the West Indies (Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Mary Zimmerman’s still-fresh production is made fresher still by Shagimuratova’s glimmering voice, but the acting disappoints

Voices, voices in space, and spaces: Thoughts on 50 years of Meredith Monk

When WNYC’s John Schaefer introduced Meredith Monk’s beloved Panda Chant II, which concluded the four-and-a-half hour Meredith Monk & Friends celebration at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, he described it as “an expression of joy and musicality” before lamenting the fact that playing it on his radio show could never quite compete with a live performance.

St. John Passion by Soli Deo Gloria, Chicago

This year’s concert of the Chicago Bach Project, under the aegis of the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation, was a presentation of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

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.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

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.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Joyce DiDonato as Beatrice in HGO's production of Berlioz's Beatrice and Benedict [Photo by Andrew Cloud]
07 Nov 2008

Houston brushes up its Shakespeare

In 1830, three years after the death of Beethoven and two after Schubert’s untimely demise, Berlioz, 27, dazzled the world with his phantasmagoric — perhaps drug-inspired — Symphonie fantastique.

Hector Berlioz: Beatrice and Benedict

Joyce DiDonato (Beatrice), Norman Reinhardt (Benedict), Ailish Tynan (Hero), Leann Sandel-Pantaleo (Ursule), Ryan McKinny (Don Pedro), Liam Bonner (Claudio), Donald Maxwell (Somarone), Charles Krohn (Leonato). Houston Grand Opera Chorus and Orchestra. Michael Hofstetter: Conductor. Elijah Moshinsky: Original Production. Robin Tebbutt: Director.

Above: Joyce DiDonato as Beatrice in HGO's production of Berlioz's Beatrice and Benedict [Photo by Andrew Cloud]

 

With it, he opened the gates through which the monumental programmatic scores of the 19th century would soon flood the musical scene. In 1862- Berlioz wrapped up his career with the opéra comique Beatrice and Benedict, a brief and understated score of such grace and delicacy that the composer saw it as one of his loveliest and most original works — indeed, “as a caprice written with the point of a needle.”

The Houston Grand Opera, founded in 1955, kicked off its 2008 season with the work, for which Berlioz extracted the libretto from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. In its first staging of any Berlioz work, the HGO made the Australian Opera production a delight, further underscoring the high quality that Anthony Freud in his second full year as its general director, insists upon with this company.

Australia apparently offers escape from the excesses of European Regieoper, for this production, the work of Elijah Moshinsky, recreated for Houston by Robin Tebbutt, is simple and straightforward and set realistically in the middle of Berlioz’ own 19th century. It is beautiful and enchanting. Michael Yeargan’s single outdoors set, rich in autumnal hues, is magically lighted by Howard Harrison, whose twilight is of a perfection that outdoes Nature herself, and the very full moon that rises through an arched entrance is astonishingly unhackneyed. It’s a fine touch that Moshinsky has the happy ending of the opera — a huge double wedding — caught by a period photographer. The curtain falls as his light flashes.

The performance heard on November 2, was as impressive vocally as it was visually. Joyce DiDonato and Norman Reinhardt sang the spunky title figures, two young people, proud and individually minded, fighting the fact that they are madly in love with each other. In DiDonato, now an international star, one experiences magnificent growth with each encounter; it is hardly surprising that she walks a path already strewn with awards. And Reinhardt, tall, handsome and virile of voice, is a perfect partner for her.

It is, however, Ireland’s Ailish Tynan who almost steals the show as Hero, the gentle and steadfast female of the story’s second couple. Tynan, celebrated both in Europe and the US as Susanna, Papagena and Zerlina, is a petite woman who sings with shimmering ease. And one wished that Berlioz had provided her partner Claudio, baritone Lian Bronner, with more to sing.

fsanchez102708_8838.pngNorman Reinhardt (Benedict) and Joyce DiDonato (Beatrice) in Berlioz's Beatrice and Benedict [Photo by Felix Sanchez]

Yet a third female brought splendor to the cast: Leann Sandel-Pantaleo, who was stellar as Hero’s lady-in-waiting Ursule. Hers is a voice of such melting gentleness that it is difficult to imagine that Amneris and Siegrune are among her signature roles. The duet with which Tynan and Sandel-Pantaleo concluded Act One, was a masterpiece of refined singing.

Indeed, so overwhelming were the three sopranos in the HGO cast that one wondered whether Strauss might have taken cues from Berlioz in composing Rosenkavalier. Rarely does one hear female voices so touchingly combined. The cast further documented the excellent training offered by the HGO studio, for DiDonato, Reinhardt and Bronner are all alumni of the program.

True to the conventions of opéra comique, Berlioz included a good bit of spoken dialogue in his libretto and — concerned about its delivery — instructed singers at the Baden-Baden premiere to “speak like human beings,” and that is exactly what this cast did, allowing speech and music to flow easily into each other.

fsanchez102708_9123.pngAilish Tynan (Hero) in HGO's production of Berlioz's Beatrice and Benedict [Photo by Felix Sanchez]

An unfortunate exception was veteran actor Donald Maxwell as alcoholic choirmaster Somarone, a role that is largely ad-libbed. Although a great hit with the audience, Maxwell sadly overplayed his hand, speaking further in an overblown British that conflicted sadly with the American English of the remaining cast.

Young German conductor Michael Hofstetter, now maestro of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, showed his understanding of the unique and transparent reserve of this score, while bringing to the surface the melancholy undercurrent of the work. Richard Bado did his usually exemplary work with the HGO chorus.

The HGO performed the musical portion of Beatrice and Benedict in Geoffrey Dunn’s English translation, while Moshinsky, rather than translating Berlioz’ spoken text into English, went directly to Shakespeare for much of that dialogue. It was a fine touch that elevated the stature of the work. Despite its many merits Beatrice and Benedict is an uneven score, which makes the well-rounded coherence of the HGO staging even more admirable.

Wes Blomster

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):