27 Mar 2009
In Sarasota the composer is king
In the world of opera it’s now the director who is the top banana.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
In the world of opera it’s now the director who is the top banana.
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.
Suzel : 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.Eboli : 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.Elisabeth : 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.Suzel : 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.Adina : 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.
Floria 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.Floria 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.