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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
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.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
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.
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
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
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,
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
These performances showed us a company in excellent potential health, and
a score ripe for rediscovery, ready to take its rightful place in the