Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Macbeth, LA Opera

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.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … 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.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“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!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

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.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

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.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“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.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

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: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.



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):