Recently in Reviews
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
25 Mar 2009
Jenůfa — English National Opera, London Coliseum
Janáček enthusiasts in London have been spoiled this month: opening the day before English Touring Opera’s Katya Kabanova, David Alden’s staging of Jenůfa made a welcome return to the Coliseum following its original double Olivier Award-winning run in 2006.
One of the awards on that occasion was for Amanda Roocroft’s
assumption of the title role, and it was thus a luxury to have her back here
for the revival, heading a cast which was otherwise largely new. Clad neatly in
bright blue, this sunny golden-haired Jenůfa is, from the outset, a
contrast both with Charles Edwards’s Act 1 set, dominated by an ugly grey
workshop against a pale sky, and with the gaudy immodesty of
Števa’s hangers-on. Such is the impression made by her initial
good cheer that it is all too painful to follow the effect of the series of
personal tragedies that befall her. One would never think at the outset that
this was a girl who would end up getting married in a plain black dress
(against which her dead child’s red knitted cap is thrown into
particularly poignant relief).
Roocroft’s singing, too, is full of light at the outset, but by the
final curtain has given way to a measured, introverted luminosity. And in
between — well, after hearing of the death of baby Števuška
her voice is as drained and forlorn as the drab wallpaper in the
Kostelnička’s living-room. She had a strong partner in the
Norwegian conductor Elvind Gullberg Jensen — in his ENO debut — who
showed unfailing sensitivity in these moments of personal reflection, even if
he had a tendency to lose the shape of the music in the bigger, public
Jenůfa’s initial sunniness presents just as sharp a contrast
with the Kostelnička, sung by the American mezzo Michaela Martens; though
her singing was powerful and at times gut-wrenchingly intense, barely a word of
the English translation (by Otakar Kraus and Edward Downes) was decipherable,
and her tone had a tendency to spread out at the height of the second-act
monologue. This production makes her rather severe; it is a shame we
didn’t see more of the internal struggle with her own human nature as the
realisation dawns that only she has the means to dispose of
Robert Brubaker’s Laca is quite outstanding, so alive with repressed
anger and frustration that he seldom even stands still. There was a wildness to
some of the louder moments which concerned me slightly at the time, but which
in hindsight I’m convinced must have been an intentional part of his
characterisation; in the final moments of Act 3, his passionate declaration of
love for Jenůfa was delivered in a full-blooded, secure, radiant
fortissimo — and with both feet firmly on the ground. Thomas Randle was
equally ideal as the irresponsible Števa, looking every inch the alpha
male, his bright, cocksure tenor making every note count.
Tom Randle as Steva Buryja and Mairead Buicke as Karolka
Iain Paterson (the only survivor other than Roocroft of the original 2006
run) was quite outstanding as the Foreman, every word delivered with precision
and sensitivity — and Susan Gorton made much of Grandma Buryjovka, her
wordless but telling reaction to the crass insensitivity of Karolka and family
supplying a rare but welcome moment of comic relief in Act 3.
David Alden’s staging has a few incongruous details; neither the
motorcycle on which Števa makes his first entrance, nor the
colourfully-clad village girls who dance for Jenufa prior to her wedding, seem
appropriate to the time and place. And the production bothered me more second
time around than it did when new. In the dreary surroundings of a small
industrial plant in the 1940s or thereabouts, the insistent staccato of the
opening orchestral theme is accompanied by flashes of light from welding tools
rather than the turning of a mill-wheel. The indoor setting of the second and
third acts is no more attractive, with slabs of old cardboard keeping out the
world in the place of closed shutters. Is the sadness, frustration and violence
in these people’s lives an inevitable result of miserable surroundings,
and not a product of their personal circumstances? It’s a valid
interpretation, if not one that makes for visually striking stage pictures.
Ruth Elleson © 2009