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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.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.



Mara Bonde as Adina [Photo by Richard Termine courtesy of Sarasota Opera]
27 Mar 2009

In Sarasota the composer is king

In the world of opera it’s now the director who is the top banana.

In Sarasota the composer is king

Above: Mara Bonde as Adina

All photos by Richard Termine courtesy of Sarasota Opera


He moves Figaro into Trump Towers and has Giovanni — light headed after two centuries of champagne — shoot up on cocaine in the South Bronx. Caesar courts Cleopatra — or is it the other way around? — poolside at the Cairo Hilton. Elixir — cross bred with The Music Man — plays at the Iowa State fair. It’s fun now and then, but in the long run it’s opera that suffers from this mayhem and madness. And thus in the midst of all this it’s reassuring to know that there is an opera company where it’s still the composer who comes first: the Sarasota Opera that just wound up its 50th anniversary season on the Florida coast.

“Our mission is to produce outstanding opera true to the vision of the composer,” says Victor DeRenzi, SO artistic director for half its history. “Here each production is based on one approach: the view of the work that comes from the composer.” The result is opera as envisioned by those who created it; no one else gets in the way.

Catherine_Cangiano_Suzel.gifSuzel : Catherine Cangiano

Those who have never attended one of the 500 performances that DeRenzi has conducted in Sarasota might find this the conservative credo of a man who looks back in history. But those who know the perfection and excitement of every opera staged at the SO relish the authenticity — and respect — that DeRenzi brings to SO productions.

In Sarasota it’s Verdi’s Verdi and Puccini’s Puccini that is on stage — not a flight of the imagination imposed upon their work by the Wunderkinder of Regieoper — director’s opera, the European import that currently prevails elsewhere. The major triumph of the 2009 season that ran for eight late-winter weeks in the intimate SO house that was handsomely rebuilt a year ago was Verdi’s Don Carlo. With it DeRenzi as conductor again confirmed his stature as a leading interpreter of this composer.

Don Carlo isn’t merely Verdi at his best, it is also the best of his operas based on a drama by Germany’s Friedrich Schiller. Here the Italian patriot underscores the parallels between the struggle for freedom in Inquisition-ridden Spain and the Italy of his own day.

Don_Carlos_scene03.gifEboli : Stella Zambalis; Don Carlos : Gustavo López Manzitti; Rodrigue : Marco Nisticò

Kevin Short was a deeply human Philippe II, unable to assert himself against the intolerance of a church chillingly represented by Jeffrey Tucker as the Grand Inquisitor. Panamanian Reyna Carguill was a full-blooded Elizabeth, beautifully balanced by the searing mezzo of Stella Zambalis as Eboli. And as Rodrigue Marco Nistico` was the very fiber from which revolutionaries are made.

Don_Carlos_scene04.gifElisabeth : Reyna Carguill; Don Carlos : Gustavo López Manzitti; Philippe : Kevin Short; Grand Inquisitor : Jeffrey Tucker

It was only Argentina’s Gustavo López Manzitti who in the title role failed to reach the level of passion of his colleagues. Stephanie Sundine directed this first North-American production of the four-act French version of the opera. Sets were by David P. Gordon, and Howard Tsvi Kaplan was responsible for lavish costumes that enhanced the realism of Verdi’s 16th-century Spaniards. Indeed, Kaplan who created costumes for all four operas of the SO season is a major asset of the company.

Each season Sarasota revives a work that has disappeared from the repertory, and the reaction to the first act of L’Amico Fritz, the 2009 “masterpiece,” was that works residing in oblivion are perhaps right where they belong. By the second act Mascagni’s 1891 score dispelled such doubts as vintage verismo warmed the heart. Swiss tenor Benjamin Warschawski and American soprano Catherine Cangiano were a winning lovers, while Heather Johnson earned high marks in the trouser role of Beppe. And although a rabbi seemed somewhat out of place in late 19th-century Alsace baritone Michael Corvino made him a winning figure. David Neely conducted; Michael Unger was stage director. Sets were by Michael Schweikardt.

L_amico_Fritz_scene2.gifSuzel : Catherine Cangiano; Beppe : Heather Johnson; Fritz Kobus : Benjamin Warschawski; David : Michael Corvino

The popularity of Donizetti’s Elixir of Love easily leads to overplayed and exaggerated stagings. Happily, however, director Martha Collins kept everything under careful control to make the SO production unusually engaging. She was helped by an ideal cast led by youthful Mexico’s Edgar Ernesto Ramirez, a tenor who might well have the makings of a future Pavarotti.

Elixir_Scene01.gifAdina : Mara Bonde; Nemorino : Edgar Ernesto Ramirez; Giannetta : Jo Ellen Miller

Michael Redding obviously relished the lover-boy image of soldier Belcore, and Stephen Eisenhard was a delight as an understated snake-oil salesman Dulcamara. As Adina Mara Bonde was all sugar and spice. John Mario Di Constanza conducted. Roger Hanna signed for sets.

Kara_Shay_Thomson_Tosca.gifFloria Tosca : Kara Shay Thomson

One would search far today to find a better trio of singers than the three brought to Sarasota for Tosca, which opened the season on February 7. In her SO debut Kara Shay Thomson was a Floria Tosca even younger than the years of the established singer that Puccini’s heroine is. She sang the famous “Vissi d’arte” with tender and internalized emotion.

Rafael Dávila, a splendid Cavaradossi, is a native of Puerto Rico and yet another of the richly talented tenors now coming from Latin countries. Yet it was the Scarpia of Grant Youngblood that brought new dimensions to this staging. Long a signature role of the American baritone, Youngblood downplays the tyrant that Scarpia is to make the appeal of Tosca to him far more than a passing sexual fantasy. DeRenzi conducted; Sundine was the director.

Tosca_scene01.gifFloria Tosca : Kara Shay Thomson; Mario Cavaradossi : Rafael Dávila

Of special interest was the March 20 performance of opera choruses by the Sarasota Youth Opera, an ensemble open to kids from the third grade up. The thoroughly professional conduct of these 75 singers was as amazing as it was impressive. Lance Inouye, their major mentor, conducted the full SO orchestra for the event. This is the only such opera program in the United States.

Wes Blomster

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