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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.
“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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
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.
15 Mar 2009
Wagner’s Das Rheingold at Los Angeles Opera
There is some slim irony to an opera company pursuing the complicated business of staging Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen in the current economy — it entails the very sort of dubious compromises that get Wotan and crew into such hot water (if one assumes the cataclysmic fire at the end of Götterdämmerung heated the Rhine).
Placido Domingo’s east coast company, Washington National Opera, has postponed the Ring cycle it had already begun. On the west coast, Domingo’s Los Angeles Opera forges ahead, although next season will see the shortest season of subscription productions ever for the company — just 6. Three full rounds of the Ring cycle will end that season.
Seen on Sunday, March 8th, the Das Rheingold designed and directed by Achim Freyer reinforces the boldness of the company’s venture. Freyer’s style is much more about design and “performance art” than conventional narrative, which even a non-traditional staging such as Cherau’s at Bayreuth keeps as a foundation. When Freyer brought his staging of Bach’s Mass in b minor to the Dorothy Chandler some years ago, the audience strongly disapproved of the stylized pantomime of mummy-like figures, played out behind a scrim. However, a couple of seasons later Freyer came back to present Berlioz’s La Damnation du Faust, in a colorful, energized production that could fairly be called a hit.
The best sections of Freyer’s Rheingold shared some of the positive characteristics of that Berlioz, but there were worrying passages that recalled the distancing, overly clever worst of the Bach affair. Freyer seems most inspired by the outsiders to Valhalla. Loge is the only character who doesn’t either wear a mask or spend most of the performance hiding behind a fabrication of some sort. In fact, throughout most of the performance Wotan appears suspended in a box-like representation of his royal self seated on a throne, with only Vitalij Kowaljow’s face visible (and occasionally his hands). Alberich and Mime wear oversized face masks, which appear much more substantial than they are revealed to be when the singers doffed them at curtain. The design manages to brilliantly capture the troll-like nature of the Nibelungen and still allow the singers to project as if unencumbered. Freyer cleverly suggests the height disadvantage of these characters with an effect of huge platform shoes. The giants Fasolt and Fafner, on the other hand, appear both in the form of the singers, who sometimes raise huge magnifying glasses to their faces, and as oversized doubles — but only doubles of their construction helmets and their huge hands, when they reach out for Freia. Doubles fascinate Freyer; even the Rhine maidens have mirror-image doubles, waving their arms like synchronized swimmers, perhaps as water reflections would.
On Sunday the opening scene never quite pulled together, as Freyer doesn’t permit Alberich to interact with the Rhinemaidens who are, after all, trapped upstage in a huge billowing cloth. When we meet the future Valhallans, they are spread around the circumference of a center platform, and they hardly move from those initial positions. Freyer’s design here strongly suggests he sees Wotan and family as stiff, flat characters, who imagine themselves masters of their destiny but who are actually acted upon. The result was dry and uninvolving, prompting some worries about the later installments of the Ring, which focus on these characters and Wotan’s offspring.
However, it is not unusual for Das Rheingold to be dominated by its Loge, and such is the case here. Arnold Bezuyen actually got to move, in fact, to hop and gambol and even, with the help of some more doubling (and tripling), glide across the stage. Bezuyen has a great voice for Loge, lean yet muscular, and from the time he hit the stage the production came to life. Then Freyer’s magic started to work, as the lower half of the circular platform rose to reveal Alberich’s mines, and Graham Clark appeared as Mime. Such is Clark’s irrepressible stage presence that even behind a huge mask he created a character within seconds. For once, the cartoonish stage effects as Alberich turns himself into a snake and then a frog conveyed a sense of the ring’s power, and the imaginative stroke of having the magical helmet be a golden top hat really paid off when a tiny version appeared on Alberich transformed as a toad.
Freyer’s lighting effects (designed with Brian Gale) did allow for a suggestion of a rainbow bridge, but Valhalla never appeared as more than a sort of floating castle turret. The Rhine reappeared as a blood-red stream at the end, a probable foreshadowing of the carnage to come.
The Rhinemaidens were sung with liquid (forgive me) purity by Stacy Tappan, Lauren McNeese and Beth Clayton. Gordon Hawkins seemed a bit stifled by the staging of the first scene, but he was very impressive once he’d acquired the Rhinegold. Judgment will have to be reserved on the Wotan of Vitalij Kowaljow — the voice is sonorous enough, but it would take a singer of rare charisma to create a character when he spends most of the opera as a face sticking out of a hole in a cardboard facade. Michelle de Young interacts with her consort from across the stage, her movement restricted to a few waves of her oversized arms. Jill Grove’s Erda also sported an extra set — or two — of lengthy limbs. If the staging restricted the creation of characters, it seemed to concentrate both Grove and de Young’s vocal energy, and they both sounded great. Morris Robinson and Eric Halfvarson, as Fasolt and Fafner respectively, almost matched Bezuyen’s Loge for strong singing matched with memorable characterization. In their brief moments, Beau Gibson’s Froh, Wayne Tiggs’s Donner and Ellie Dehn’s Freia all made impressive contributions.
Los Angeles Opera covered the pit for this performance, and of course without the appearance of James Conlon at the dimming of the lights, many in the audience had to be shushed into silence as the low rumble of the first chord seeped out. The sound was surprisingly warm and detailed under the circumstances. Conlon supported the singers, while allowing the orchestra to ramp it up for the descent to the realm of the Nibelungen and the approach to Valhalla. At curtain most of the cast ran on and off stage fairly quickly, but Conlon took a diva-like bow, bathing in the adulation of the besotted LAO audience. Wonderfully, a camera then panned over the LAO orchestra, projected onto the scrim. That’s an innovation worth adopting on a routine basis.
Freyer’s artistry is dynamic and thought-provoking. However, much of the Ring is good old-fashioned story-telling. To what extent Freyer’s style and Wagner’s creation actually work together will perhaps be revealed in the upcoming Das Walküre.