Recently in Reviews
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
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