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.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

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.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

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.



Jessye Norman — A Portrait
27 Jan 2009

Jessye Norman — A Portrait

A sticker on the cover of the Decca DVD Jessye Norman a portrait describes the contents as "An intimate new film portrait of the great soprano."

Jessye Norman — A Portrait

Jessye Norman

Decca 074 3251 8 [DVD]

$27.98  Click to buy

And if the font were to be copied exactly, the words would be in all capitals, with “intimate” and “great soprano” twice as large as the other words. Make no mistake, Jessye Norman, as presented in this “film by André Heller,” is a larger-than-life figure, with no pun at all intended in regard to her physique. In filmed interviews, with the interviewer only briefly glimpsed at one point, Norman comes off as thoughtful, pretentious, down-to-earth, grandiose, sad, joyful, self-centered, insecure - the list could go on. In the end, your reviewer, after having his patience taxed, found his respect and endearment for the artist enhanced by this often silly but ultimately moving film.

The format is simple. Norman faces the camera, answering an unheard question. Every couple of minutes, the scene shifts to a studio where, in a bewildering array of hairstyles and gowns, Ms. Norman lip-syncs to some of her best recordings, with the sets around her designed by the director and others, including Brian Eno and the wonderfully named Mimmo Paladino. The focus in these filmed, MTV-style interludes remains Ms. Norman, with the studio design mostly consisting of lighting and background projection, usually an abstract pattern that hopefully doesn’t clash too much with whatever outlandish get-up Ms. Norman wears. Ms. Norman emotes energetically, and only for the briefest moments can a viewer notice that her lip movements don’t quite match the vocal production.

The booklet track listing bears titles for the interview segments such as “Childhood,” “Preparation,” and most poignantly, “Loneliness.” Although Ms. Norman does make a point of announcing her inability to understand why anyone should care what consenting adults do in the bedroom, she hasn’t much to say about her own personal life, other than that she has accepted that she will be - or needs to be - alone a great deal of the time. At a few points in the interviews, she grows quite passionate about her frequent disappointment in the professionalism of others, especially unprepared conductors. The fire in her eyes suggests that an unleashed expression of her frustration would be something to behold.

One quote from the director’s booklet essay should serve to establish his point of reference in regards to Ms. Norman: “In her mythical greatness, this prima donna can only be compared of Maria Callas.” Your reviewer assumes that the writer meant nothing ironic in using the word “mythical.”

Fans who wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Heller’s sentiment will cherish every moment of this DVD. But those who will chuckle in the first minutes as Ms. Norman ponders if there is singing on Jupiter should hold on. Listen as the “great soprano” (since so she wishes to be called) talks of her family, racism, and the cost of having a top-class classical singing career. Of course, most everyone can also relish the gorgeous vocalising heard in the musical interludes, not irreparably harmed if seldom enhanced by the studio settings. By the end of the film’s 90 minutes, the sticker’s proclamation of an “intimate” portrait proves accurate. Your reviewer, for one, would hate to have missed the moment when Ms. Norman speaks of her affection for Mr. Bean.

Brava Jessye. Mr. Heller, your mythical greatness can only be compared to Mr. Bean.

Chris Mullins

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):