Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May 1594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Ramón Vargas (Nemorino) and Inva Mula (Adina) [Photo by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
09 Nov 2008

L’elisir d’amore in San Francisco

There are remnants of snobbery in San Francisco that are happiest when San Francisco Opera associates itself with the likes of Vienna State Opera and Covent Garden, and left positively frightened at the idea of a production from Opera Colorado/Fort Worth Opera/et al. on the War Memorial Opera House stage.

G. Donizetti: The Elixir of Love

Adina (Inva Mula), Nemorino (Ramón Vargas), Belcore (Giorgio Caoduro), Dulcamara (Alessandro Corbelli), Giannetta (Ji Young Yang). San Francisco Opera. Bruno Campanella, conductor. James Robinson, director.

Above: Ramón Vargas (Nemorino) and Inva Mula (Adina)

All photos by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera

 

Our worst fears came true at the opening of L’elisir d’amore when the curtain rose to reveal a bandstand right out of a Kansas farm town sitting center stage, instilling the dread that it was going to sit there all night. It did.

The joke was on us. The singers, looking like they were stepping out of a retro production of Oklahoma, were absolutely dripping with the credits that comfort all opera snobs. In fact you asked yourself how all this high operatic horsepower could find itself in the middle of Republican, mid-western America. But a Mexican tenor, an Albanian soprano, two Italian buffos, even a Korean soubrette stepped right out onto that bandstand and made Oklahoma or Nebraska their own.

Elixir_SFO_068.pngGiorgio Caoduro (Belcore)
It was a perfect fit. This edition of Donizetti’s one hundred seventy five year old opera about rustics in Northern Spain had all the trappings of pre-World War I rural America as envisioned by American stage director Jim Robinson. What we saw was was not the Midwest as illustrated by this scenery for earlier versions of the Robinson production, but a special San Francisco version. In fact it was “Harvest Day” celebration in Napa Valley. Albanian soprano Inva Mula was “Crush Queen,” and we were quickly swept into the wine country flow.

The Elixir of Love (as it was named in San Francisco even though it was sung in Italian and should have been called L’elisir d’amore) is a perfectly constructed little “numbers” opera. The plot is carefully made so that the succession of arias, duets and trios is foremost an opportunity for singers to show their stuff and then coincidentally a means by which to move this nineteenth century sentimental opera buffa story along. All this happened with the utmost ease, the grace of bel canto echoed in the grace by which sight gag after sight gag flowed throughout the evening, footballs sailing in great arches across the back of the stage during the first act finale.

Life was good in those old days, pleasures were simple — apple pies, layer cakes and ice cream sundaes. Bel canto is a downright delicious confection too, so all this went into the same pot. Nemorino and Adina were as interested in ice cream as they were in each other, Belcore devoured an entire apple pie, Dr. Dulcamara picked at leftover tidbits of fried chicken and potato salad from the potluck. And through all of this gourmandaise, Italian conductor Bruno Campanella, another star of bel canto, never missed a beat, keeping the singers in musical rapture from the first note to the last.

Elixir_SFO_134.pngAlessandro Corbelli (Dulcamara)

These were the really old days when even simple country folk could afford (almost) a Napa cabernet. Nemorino, Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas, downed his two bottles and never faltered from consummate Italian tenorial schooling, even while dancing the two step, a tango or the doing the Lindy. Not to mention the consummate charm he exuded while catching a flying piece of apple in his open mouth.

Soprano Inva Mula is no shrinking violet. With her girlish figure and full scale vocalism she easily took center stage as the town diva, relentlessly teasing Nemorino while being swept off her feet (literally) by the irresistible Belcore. The pleasures she brought to the bandstand were as much her fine, rich, very stylish singing as was her warm, natural presence. This Adina was never coy, she was always intensely vocal as a bel canto diva should be.

The role of the lady killer Sargent Belcore was an easy fit for young Italian baritone Giorgio Caoduro, his swagger a natural one, his fluid baritone breaking into Donizetti’s giddy coloratura with utmost ease, communicating an inborn sense of fun, a strong dedication to Italianate high style, and a go-for-broke physicality when he ended up tackled under a pile of his recruits (the high-school football team) or doubled over, punched in the nuts by Nemorino.

Too often San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows are thrown into important roles before they are mature enough to take them on. Not so the Gianetta of Ji Young Yang. Here is a charming, finished singer who will soon be an Adina in her own right.

Elixir_SFO_494.pngA scene from Act II

The purple suited shyster Dr. Dulcamara, bass-baritone Alessandro Corbelli, exploited his native Italian to the fullest, every syllable flying across the pit into the house, making his Italian so understandable that it seemed to pass for real American. The lively, inventive San Francisco Opera Chorus that eagerly lined up to buy the elixir seemed as delighted and gullible as was the audience, clearly eating up every nuance of bel canto and Americana. And finally it dawned on Dr. Dulcamara, as Robert Mondavi was just then learning and we all now know, that he had the best elixir around — a Napa cabernet.

It is all to rare that productions by American directors find there way onto major American stages. James Robinson gave San Francisco audiences enjoyment that was specifically American, designer Allen Moyer provided brilliant, minimalist scenery with subtle detail that was as delicious as Donizetti’s coloratura. Yet another American, costume designer Martin Pakledinaz, though no stranger to big-time international opera, gave us costumes worthy of Broadway. Central to the success of this fine production were the supertitles written by Jerry Sherk and Francesca Zambello.

Michael Milenski

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):