Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Probing Bernstein and MacMillan double bill in Amsterdam

The Opera Forward Festival (OFF) in Amsterdam is about new things: new compositions, rediscovered works and new faces. This year’s program included a double bill produced by Dutch National Opera’s talent development wing. Leonard Bernstein’s portrait of a miserable marriage in affluent suburbia, Trouble in Tahiti, was the contrasting companion piece to James McMillan’s Clemency, a study of the sinister side of religious belief.

Macbeth in Lyon

A revival of the Opéra de Lyon’s 2012 Occupy Wall St. production of Verdi’s 1865 Macbeth, transforming naive commentary into strange irony, some high art included.

Barber of Seville Is Fun in Tucson

On March 4, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in Tucson. Allen Moyer designed the bright and happy scenery for performances at Minnesota Opera,

Moody, Mysterious Morel

Long Beach Opera often takes willing audiences on an unexpected journey and such is undeniably the case with its fascinating traversal of The Invention of Morel.

Acis and Galatea: 2018 London Handel Festival

Katie Hawks makes quite a claim for Handel’s Acis and Galatea when, in her programme article, she describes it as the composer’s ‘most perfect work’. Surely, one might feel, this is a somewhat hyperbolic evaluation of a 90-minute pastoral masque, or serenade, based on an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which has its origins in a private entertainment?

Oriana, Fairest Queen: Stile Antico celebrate the life and times of Elizabeth I

Stile Antico’s lunchtime play-list, celebrating the Virgin Queen’s long reign, shuffled between sacred and secular works, from penitential to patriotic, from sensual to celebratory.

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.



Lauren Flanigan (Cleopatra) [Photo by Carol Rosegg courtesy of New York City Opera]
19 Jan 2009

Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra by NYCO

The two performances of Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra given at Carnegie Hall — the New York City Opera’s only performances this year while the State Theater is in rehab and the company is in flux — may or may not prove to be swan song of New York’s gallant number two company, whose succession of identity crises have been so fascinating to observe — and hear — over the decades.

Samuel Barber: Antony and Cleopatra (Op. 40, revised version)

Cleopatra: Lauren Flanigan; Iras: Laura Vlasak Nolen; Charmian: Sandra Piques Eddy; Antony: Teddy Tahu Rhodes; Octavius Caesar: Simon O’Neill; Enobarbus: David Pittsinger; Eros: Kevin Massey. New York City Opera orchestra and chorus conducted by George Manahan. Peformance of January 16.

Above: Lauren Flanigan (Cleopatra) [Photo by Carol Rosegg courtesy of New York City Opera]


Is this a company for American singers or American composers? Or bel canto and Handel rarities? Or neglected twentieth century masterpieces? Or the urban extension of Glimmerglass? Or outrageous modern staging experiments?

If this was the end (and we all hope it’s not), they went out with a major league bang: spectacular singing of an unfamiliar and worthy American work by an enormous cast, spectacular playing of an intricate and rewarding score, a joy in performing on all sides, and in hearing it on our part. This was grand opera excitement at a feverish pitch.

It was certainly an Antony to rank with any — not that there has been much in the way of competition. (I believe you can count the number of stagings the work has had on two hands.) Commissioned to open the new Met in 1966 in the full unflattering light of worldwide publicity, designed to display the acoustic and scenic glories of the new house, Antony fell victim to confusion and overweening ambition on nearly all sides. Zeffirelli’s excessively grandiose production called for full operational capability of brand new machinery that, predictably, malfunctioned in every possible way. Rudolf Bing had resolved to present four new productions in that very first week. Barber’s idiom was troubling to the conservative Met audience (which had heard Wozzeck and Peter Grimes and Jenufa, but had not yet taken them to its heart). The complex orchestration and the choral parts demanded more rehearsal time than they could possibly get in the confusion of that autumn. And Barber’s setting of Zeffirelli’s libretto, derived from one of Shakespeare’s longest and most elaborate tragedies, was anything but taut. It was a world-famous fiasco, and nearly everyone blamed the least offending party: the opera itself.

But even shorn of an hour of music in the revision superintended by Barber himself with Giancarlo Menotti, Antony and Cleopatra is still very much what it was designed to be at its 1966 premiere: the grandest grand opera ever composed by an American. Good as it often is, remarkable as it always is, it cannot become a repertory item because it would fail to make its point at less than gala pitch. (It would be ideal for summer festival performance, such as are given by the opera companies of Seattle or San Francisco.) Lovable and memorable tunes might give us something to hang on to if the cast is less than top notch (as with, say, Verdi’s Don Carlos), but this dramatic, declamatory score has few lovable tunes: even at its grandest, the opera demands concentration of us. Still, with familiarity, an audience cannot fail to grow for this work, and in fifty years or so (following the Don Carlos precedent), I foresee Antony will be so popular there will arise a demand for a return to the original full-length work. (I want to hear it now.)

Our concentration was amply rewarded at the NYCO/Carnegie Hall performances thrillingly led by NYCO’s music director, George Manahan. Subtitles helped us when the chorus was obliged to sing “O Antony, leave thy lascivious wassails” — as they do, repeatedly, but solo lines were comprehensible by themselves. The orchestration, which might have been muddled in a pit, was crystalline and full of intriguing effects. There was first of all a distinction between scenes, primarily martial in character, set in Rome or in Roman camps: Trumpets and other brasses sounded a bit like a Hollywood toga epic. These were contrasted with wonderful sinuous figures and tinkling percussion for scenes of Egypt and Cleopatra’s corrupt, intrigue-ridden court. Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra incarnate these two male and female manners of orchestration and vocal melody, and their encounter leads inexorably to his destruction. (Caesar, in contrast, encounters Cleopatra but never ceases to “orate” with brass support: Love conquers almost all, but Rome conquers love.)

Especially imaginative was Antony's death scene, when, deceived by a false report of Cleopatra’s suicide, he orders his valet to kill him, and the valet kills himself instead: Antony’s fatal resolve emerges over a drum solo, then a keening melody for s solo flute enters for the interchange between Antony and the valet (brightly sung by Kevin Massey), and as the actual suicides approach, cellos and basses pluck the same rhythmic figure as the drum ... ominous and magical and somehow very Roman in the heroic, Plutarchian sense.

The enormous cast were strong to the last guardsman. Lauren Flanigan, a major singing actress who has sometimes had difficulties (as Verdi’s Lady Macbeth, Strauss’s Christine Storch, Thomson’s Susan B. Anthony and Barber’s Vanessa) penetrating a large orchestra in the unfriendly acoustic of the New York State Theater, had no trouble filling Carnegie Hall in this soaring, Strauss-like part, and seemed especially to enjoy her whimsical, flirtatious exchanges with Antony, with the messenger who announces Antony’s marriage to Octavia, with her ladies in waiting. I could have used a more voluptuous, insinuating sound for her love music, such as the young Leontyne Price surely brought to it, but Flanigan was assured and effective. Her ladies were sung superbly by mezzos on the verge of major careers: Linda Vlasek Nolan, forthrightly dramatic, and Sandra Piques Eddy, luscious and dark-hued.

Teddy Tahu Rhodes, whose Met debut last winter as Ned Keene in Peter Grimes was striking even when surrounded by a huge, excellent cast, was just as impressive in this Shakespearean colossus of a leading role. If the City Opera still has its glorious production of Mefistofele, this is the man to renew it; if it hasn’t, some company should present one. He has the presence and the range, the power and the legato for it. His Antony was both leader of men and pensive, even depressed, as he considered the ruin his passions have led him to in hollow, reflective phrases.

Simon O’Neill, another New Zealander, making his New York debut, tossed off Caesar’s ungrateful lines as if they were vocalises. Caesar is a Strauss-tenor sort of role, impossibly high, yet O’Neill sang it with stylish ease. David Pittsinger, who has been doing accomplished work all over town for years, and who takes on the Ezio Pinza role in South Pacific this month, sang an admirable Enobarbus, Antony’s guilt-ridden confidante. And so it went through role after role — surely many of these parts would be doubled in an actual repertory performance, but the company seemed eager to show us just how many terrific young singers they had. And this was the revised edition of the score, with six roles omitted!

These performances showed us a company in excellent potential health, and a score ripe for rediscovery, ready to take its rightful place in the American repertory.

John Yohalem

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):