Recently in Reviews
On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.
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.
02 Nov 2008
The Tsar’s Bride by OONY
What opera contains a terrific overture, a wedding sextet, two murderous magical potions, a mad scene for coloratura soprano, a magnificent a cappella aria for contralto, dozens of glorious melodies and lots of nifty choral writing?
If you read the heading of this review, you already know the answer:
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tsar’s Bride – one of
the most popular operas throughout Russia, but downright obscure in the West
– it has never been staged in New York (to my knowledge), despite a
huge Russian community who would eat it up and a dozen visits over the years
from three or four of Russia’s leading opera companies wasting our time
with Mlada or Macbeth or far too many Onegins.
Rimsky-Korsakov was in an Italianate mood when he composed
Tsar’s Bride, with its feast of plot complications and
consequent musical situations: licentious boyar Grisha Gryaznoi (heroic
baritone) lusts for Marfa (coloratura soprano), though she is about to wed
her truelove Lykov (romantic tenor). Grisha persuades the tsar’s
sinister German alchemist, Bomelii (character tenor), to concoct a potion
that will make Marfa fall for best man Grisha instead. Complication one:
Grisha’s jealous mistress Lyubasha (dynamite Slavic mezzo) switches the
potion with another one, intended to destroy Marfa’s good looks –
never mind how Lyubasha got the sleazy alchemist to run it up for her (think:
Tosca). Complication two: Just as Marfa drinks the potion on her
wedding day, news arrives that the tsar, Ivan the Terrible no less (sinister
offstage presence), has chosen Marfa as his bride! Too, the potion
– what was in it? – turns out to be poison that drives
her lyrically insane. At curtain’s fall, everyone is either miserable
or dead except the tsar, who remains off stage, singing (we may imagine),
“Next!” (Ivan married more wives than Henry VIII. He once
proposed to Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth.)
Bride is, thus, one of those operas (like Don Carlos or Don
Giovanni or L’Africaine) where no single character grabs
our attention all night; we are involved with the dilemmas and desires of
many, and follow them through to a general catastrophe. One reason the opera
may be rare over here may be the sheer number of great voices who are
required to sing beautiful arias and ensembles in the true, flavorful Russian
manner. Lyubasha calls for a grand low-voiced lady, with a voice from the
vaults of the earth; it has long been a signature role for Borodina, and she
graciously returned to sing it with Queler a second time. Marfa’s
father, Sobakin, is a Russian bass from the old church-trained tradition,
like Boris or Prince Igor or Prince Gremin. Marfa herself
is an all-stops-out coloratura, whose lovely final scene is one of
Rimsky’s handsomest tunes. And first and last there is the devilish
Grisha Gryaznoi, whose outward brashness conceals inner torment, selfishness,
crime and, finally, a (very Russian) orgy of guilt. Half a dozen minor roles
have major parts to sing in solos and ensembles.
The problem is that it’s hard to bring in a worthy performance (and
O.O.N.Y.’s was a very worthy performance) unless you have dozens of
great Russian singers at your disposal – but that doesn’t prevent
anyone in the West from staging Boris Godunov or even the far less
theatrically promising Khovanshchina or Prince Igor –
all three of which, by the way, might never have captured the stage at all
had it not been for Rimsky-Korsakov’s now discredited editing.
Happily, Eve Queler and her Opera Orchestra of New York threw caution to
the winds and brought this wonderful piece back to Carnegie Hall for the
first New York hearing in twenty years. Olga Borodina, new in town at that
previous performance, is now a grande dame and local favorite, but she
retains the plummy low notes that make Lyubasha appealing, her disastrous
passions touching. Borodina is one of the rare Russian singers (her husband,
Ildar Abdrazakov, is another) who has no trouble singing Italian music
idiomatically, without the voiced vowels and Slavic curlicues that make so
many Russian opera singers a little risible in western song, but back in her
native element there seem to be depths of tragic character lurking in the
rounded shadows of her singing.
Alexey Markov made an exciting impression chewing up the stage as the
narcissistic Grisha. He is a fine singing actor, with a plush, endearing
baritone – and it is necessary that this character make himself a
lovable scamp in the great narrations of the first act or his hideous
behavior for the rest of the evening will only depress you. Yeghishe
Manucharyan sang ardently and deft phrasing as Marfa’s hapless true
love, but John Easterlin nearly stole the tenor honors with a Bomelii at once
forceful and melodramatically harsh. You did not need a libretto to know
which of these men was the lover and which the villain, and Easterlin made a
villain it was a delight to hiss. Christophoros Stamboglis, as Marfa’s
understandably confused father, had a good time with one of those stirring,
from-the-depths-of-the-Russian-earth bass arias – only the last, very
lowest note eluded him. There were many excellent young singers in minor but
important roles (housekeeper, sister, mother – impossible to tell them
apart as the electric titles often broke down and there was no printed
libretto), and such poignant bits of music-making as the lovely wedding
sextet (the last happy moment before the potion is drunk and Tsar
Ivan’s messenger arrives) were revels in the bosom of vocal art.