22 Feb 2009
Massenet's Don Quichotte at San Diego Opera
Ferrucio Furlanetto apparently loves the temperate climes of San Diego in California's equivalent of late winter.
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 less-than-tragic plight.
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.
Ferrucio Furlanetto apparently loves the temperate climes of San Diego in California's equivalent of late winter.
In recent years he has brought to the San Diego Civic Center his celebrated King Phillip (Don Carlo) and Boris Godunov. His appearance this season in Massenet’s little-seen late opera Don Quichotte, however, may be the performance that cements his reputation as an artist cherished by San Diego’s opera-loving community forever. His triumph on opening night overcame any niggles — some surely deserved — about the ultimate merit of Massenet’s Cervantes adaptation.
Even with an intermission, the performance ran just two hours and twenty minutes, evidence of the crude reduction the libretto (by Henri Cain) makes of the literary masterpiece. Act one starts with a dance, then Dulcinea warbles a pleasant aria somewhat similar to Carmen’s first number. Eventually Don Quichotte appears, only to be derided by the townspeople, and Dulcinea sends him off on a seemingly hopeless mission, to recover a stolen necklace. Act two basically consists of the encounter with the windmill, and in act three the robbers capture the Don and are about to execute him when his pathetic nature moves their larcenous hearts of gold, and they not only release him, but give him his beloved’s necklace. In act four he returns it in triumph, and Dulcinea, while grateful, has to gently let him know that she can never match his idealized picture of her. So in act five, he dies.
Ian Campbell directed this new production, with scenic design by Ralph Funicello and costumes by Missy West. Each act required curtain drops for set changes. A production with a more creative approach that eliminated the pauses between acts might not even need an intermission. San Diego Opera audiences have been known to reward traditional sets they enjoy with waves of applause, but Funicello’s designs, rather like slightly classier versions of those that might be constructed by an elite high school’s drama department, didn’t elicit much if any on opening night. The choice to have the Don and Sancho Panza wheeled on atop a horse and mule, respectively, that appeared to have been stolen from a carousel could have been a sly wink at the cartoonish goings-on; your reviewer suspects it’s all a part of the compromises imposed in trying to present naturalistic stagings of an art form that at its heart is not about naturalism. The tree the robbers tie the Don too, for example, probably wouldn’t have such wobbling branches in a film version.
Nonetheless, the artists behind the evening deserve credit, for their efforts threw into relief the greatness of Furlanetto’s performance. The singer is in fantastic shape, and physically embodied the role. More importantly, he caught the foolishness and the grandeur, the pathos and the pride. His voice, secure and full, conveyed all the romantic longing and aspirational passion of the man. And Don Quichotte, it turns out, is one of Massenet’s most melodic operas, with fine tune after tune. Surely with a more substantive libretto, the work would be produced with greater frequency.
Argentinean bass-baritone Eduardo Chama as Sancho Panza and Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Quixote [Photo © Cory Weaver]
Denyce Graves retains the personality and stage presence on which she has built her career, but any number of other mezzos could have sung a more alluring, distinctive Dulcinea. Eduardo Chama’s Sancho Panza, on the other hand, stood his ground next to Furlanetto’s Don, capturing both the devotion and subservience of his character, and helping to make the anti-climatic final scene as effective as it could be.
The excellent conductor Karen Keltner emphasized dancing rhythms and singing string tones. A company like Naxos would do well to bring these artists together — with a different Dulcinea — for a recording.
Perhaps only an adequate opera, then, but such is Furlanetto’s success that Don Quichotte seems a masterwork. Anyone who can make the final performances of this short run should make every effort to get a ticket.