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I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
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.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
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.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
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.
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.
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
Giorgio 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.
Alessandro 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.
A 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