07 Nov 2008
The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago
The current revival of Georges Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago (seen 25 October) brings together an exceptionally strong cast.
Wigmore Hall has announced the 25 young singer and pianist duos from around the world who have been shortlisted for this prestigious competition, which takes place at Wigmore Hall in September with the generous support of the Kohn Foundation. Details were announced on 27 April during a recital by Milan Siljanov, who won top prize in the 2015 Competition.
Garsington Opera's thrilling new commission for the 2017 Season, Silver Birch, will feature over 180 participants from the local community aged 8-80, including students from primary and secondary schools, members of the local military community, student Foley artists under the guidance of Pinewood Studios and members of Wycombe Women’s Aid.
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments: “I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
The current revival of Georges Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago (seen 25 October) brings together an exceptionally strong cast.
Each of the four principals in this production demonstrates a strong sense of character portrayal and interpersonal emotional involvement in both singing and acting. The talents of this cast are essential to the success of the music and drama, since the solo and duet pieces are interwoven by Bizet to highlight individuals interacting with each other or with the chorus throughout the opera. The work is set in ancient Ceylon with Lyric Opera’s staging showing a mixture of images from Eastern religions. The virgin priestess Leïla, who pays a ceremonial visit of several days to the region of the pearl fishers, is sung by soprano Nicole Cabell. The long-standing friendship of two members of this community will be tested again during the course of the action. As the friends with a variable past, marked by loyalty as well as jealousy, Nadir and Zurga are sung, respectively, by tenor Eric Cutler and baritone Nathan Gunn. Finally, the spiritual leader of this society, identified as the high priest of Brahma, is sung by the bass baritone Christian Van Horn. The Lyric Opera Orchestra is conducted by John Mauceri.
Zurga (baritone Nathan Gunn) is furious to discover the priestess Leïla (soprano Nicole Cabell) violating her sacred vows with his friend Nadir (tenor Eric Cutler). Act II, The Pearl Fishers. [Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago]
From the start of the first act, the tensions that will mark a constant shift between peaceful friendship and rivalry in love are established already in the opening music and staging. A scrim covering the stage during the overture suggests a placid tropical setting whereas the initial music, as emphasized skillfully under Mauceri’s direction, contains a multi-layered projection of forthcoming oppositions. As the assembled fishers are reminded by Zurga, they are obligated to choose a new leader. Nathan Gunn, in the role of Zurga, urges the reveling dancers with his supple and convincing vocal lines, just as he accepts their decision to make him their king with a lyrical expression of dignity. Immediately after this choice is settled, the figure of Nadir reappears following a long absence from the fishermen in search of adventure “des savanes et des forêts” (“in savannas and forests”). The role of Nadir is ideally suited to the musical sensibilities of Eric Cutler. From the first notes of his entrance, Cutler’s voice soared in Nadir’s emotional scene of recognition: the challenging upper range of the part was sung consistently on pitch and without a hint of strain. More importantly, the voice communicated at once an exciting narrative of a wandering and curious spirit. Once Nadir is welcomed back into the society of pearl fishers, he finds himself alone with his former friend. As they reminisce on the priestess whom they had both seen years before in a temple at Candi, the emotions of rival attraction vs. renunciation for the sake of friendship are poured into the justly famous duet for tenor and baritone. In both declamation and poetic singing the voices of Cutler and Gunn melded yet remained distinct in exquisite lyrical effect. As Cutler pronounced “Voyez” (“Look”), one sensed that he truly could see the priestess still in his mind’s eye. Gunn’s evocation “O vision, o rêve” (“Oh vision, oh dream”) was equally effective as memory through song. After concluding the duet with the mutual assurance of sacred friendship, the announcement of a vessel landing at shore introduces the remaining two principal figures. In a ceremonial procession the unnamed virgin, whose identity must be concealed by a veil, is led into the community under the protection of Nourabad the high priest. Her duties and the promise she must swear are detailed by Zurga as newly chosen leader. Here the impressive effect of Gunn’s seamless lyrical line was paired with the rapt attention of the assembled chorus of fishers. Leïla the veiled priestess recognizes Nadir; by the same token, Nadir is reminded of his past love, when he hears now the voice of the veiled woman assenting to the conditions of chaste anonymity. The priestess is led into the temple by Nourabad, the community disperses, and Zurga leaves his friend to conclude the day in solitary reflection. The second most familiar number of the opera occurs at this point in the score. Nadir has been greatly moved by the reminder of a voice so similar to that of his beloved Leïla. He recalls the vision of the woman from the past in his “Je crois entendre encore” (“I believe I still hear”), an aria in which Cutler demonstrates not only scrupulous legato and attention to text but also high notes imbued with feeling and sung with a remarkable piano effect. His intonation of the line “O souvenir charmante” (“Oh charming souvenir”) remains in one’s memory long afterward. As Nadir falls asleep, Nourabad returns with the priestess and gives instruction for her continued prayers on an exposed rock. In the concluding scene of the first act, Leïla begins her prayer to the god, “O Dieu Brahma,” and continues, urged on by the alternating voice of the chorus, with her lines “Esprits de l’air” (“Spirits of the air”) and “Dans le ciel sans voile” (“In the cloudless sky”). In the role of the priestess Nicole Cabell sings with beauty of tone and flexibility, her range secure in all the scales and coloratura required at this point of the score. One senses her creation of a character with voice, since she remains stationary at first during her prayer. As Nadir awakens and hears again the once familiar voice, he moves toward the base of the rock. Leïla reveals her identity by lifting momentarily the veil: the mutual recognition — and Nadir’s fervent request — prompts Leïla to continue her song. Here Cabell’s performance excels in varying and decorating the repeated lines, her effortless coloratura including several skillfully executed trills. Before the final chords of the orchestra in the act the listener senses, in this performance, that both characters have been able to use their voices to sing of and to communicate their feelings for the other, yet they must still maintain distance because of oaths sworn by each to Zurga.
The high priest Nourabad (bass-baritone Christian Van Horn, left) prepares for the execution of Nadir (Eric Cutler) and Leïla (Nicole Cabell) in Act III of The Pearl Fishers. [Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago]
In the second, shorter act of The Pearl Fishers the anticipation and tension established already from the first act develops into both reunion and crisis for the lovers. The priest Nourabad leads Leïla to her shelter for nightly rest. Christian Van Horn sings imposingly and is able to inject a truly credible spirit of authority into his rich and flexible bass baritone. He warns Leïla to remain faithful to her vow and to eschew the temptation of earthly love. When she is alone, Leïla senses that Nadir must be in the immediate area, and she begins her cavatina “Comme autrefois” (“As in the past”). In this piece Cabell exhibits ravishing lyrical control as she combines memories of the past with hints of an imminent reunion. Her song is answered from outside the temple by Nadir so that music serves fittingly as their reintroduction to physical contact. Once they embrace, their duet is a confession of love and loyalty as well as a realization of the conflicts that will follow on their renewed bond. Both Cabell and Cutler give full expression to the complexity of emotion and commitment awaiting them. As a storm begins at the shore, Nourabad enters and sees that a man has defiled the temple by his presence. He sends for guards who capture the fleeing Nadir. Upon Leïla’s surrender in the temple, the fishers return and demand that both lovers be killed. This final scene introduces the dramatic conflicts of the following act once Zurga enters and attempts to mediate. He counsels leniency, which the crowd is prepared to accept until the identity of the priestess is revealed. Zurga’s mood shifts rapidly to rage as he sees that Nadir and Leïla have broken their separate oaths sworn to him.
The final act of the opera is neatly divided into two scenes. At the opening Zurga remains alone in his tent, where he is torn by guilt. Now that his fury has subsided, he regrets that Nadir, his cherished friend, must die at sunrise. In this scene Nathan Gunn sings the aria “Nadir, ami de mon jeune âge” (“Nadir, friend of my youth”) as a dramatically wrenching showpiece. Although the aria is not as interesting musically as other parts of Bizet’s score, Gunn performs it as a telling moment for the character of Zurga. Leïla now enters the tent to ask that he pardon Nadir, yet the rage of Zurga returns when he realizes that she still loves his rival. The exchange here between Cabell and Gunn becomes one of the dramatic highlights of the performance. She leaves the text prepared to die and deposits with a guard a necklace that she has worn since her youth. Zurga recognizes the necklace as one that he had given to a child who had saved his life by hiding him years before. In the final scene Nadir is surrounded by fishers, who prepare for the execution. Leïla is brought in to join him in death, as both sing of their happiness in remaining together. When Zurga declares that fire has broken out in the camp of the fishers, the latter rush off to save their families. Zurga announces to Nadir and Leïla that he himself has started the blaze: he frees the lovers and urges them to escape, returning the generosity that he had experienced from Leïla long before. Although he will surely pay in sacrifice for this act, Zurga has redeemed his friendship.
This production of The Pearl Fishers by Lyric Opera is a revival of the original design and staging from the 1997-98 season. Both sets and costumes have been redesigned under the direction of Scott Marr. This production argues convincingly for more frequent revivals of Bizet’s early opera, with the cast and direction of these performances serving as a model for future productions as well.