Recently in Reviews
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.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
07 Apr 2009
Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci at the MET
The current revival of Cav and Pag at the Met went off like clockwork, with all the comfort and reliability that implies for a repertory house and all the success these tried and true verismo stalwarts merit.
No one was under par but there were very few surprises, few thrills or
chills. But each opera did conceal one surprise — one shock — one
small but significant vocal revelation — that made the evening other than
The spotlight on the curtain just before it rose on Franco
Zeffirelli’s almost too-accurate Sicilian mountain village drew from us
soft gasps of alarm, but it was just an announcement that José Cura, though
suffering from a cold, would be singing both leading tenor roles in any case.
(Domingo, his mentor, used to make such announcements all the time in the
’70s.) In the event, his opening serenade did indeed sound labored
— but when was the last time you heard any tenor, even in the pink of
health, sing that aria of sated love with an easy, leggiero line? For the rest
of the night he was fine, a bit gruff — as he usually is — and with
no ringing at the top, which some might miss. It’s a perfectly decent way
to put these parts over. Gigli fans will mourn, but he’s been dead a long
Ildikó Komlósi as Santuzza and José Cura as Canio in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.
I was interested in the ladies of the evening. Ildikó Komlósi sang the most
mellow-sounding Herodias of my experience last fall — no
eldritch screamer but a chic, handsome hostess having trouble controlling her
adolescent daughter — and I wondered how that enjoyable take on Strauss
would translate to Mascagni’s tormented peasant. Komlósi is a fine
actress, and hurled herself about the story and the stage, but her essentially
lyric instrument (though she also sings Amneris and Eboli, which call for
power) did not at first warm to its task, to the expression of desperation
— Santuzza is always on the verge of hysteria, she says nothing calmly,
she opens her mouth and her whole anguished life is in her utterances.
Komlósi’s beautiful voice and Germanic (okay, Hungarian) vibrato are
pleasing, but she did not become intense until the duets with Cura and Alberto
Mastromarino’s dry, not very threatening Alfio pushed her to forget
herself and go wild. Santuzza has tripped up many experienced singers; I did
not feel she had it quite down, but she is a voice and an artist of
No part is too small for Jane Bunnell to make it interesting — on such
character performers do repertory companies rely, and her dignified Mamma Lucia
was a pleasure. But then out came Lola, a youngster from the Met’s
Lindemann Young Artists’s Program, one Ginger Costa Jackson, tall, slim,
very pretty, a bit too whorish about the sashay (an error made by too many
Lolas — she’s a respectable wife in a prudish small town, and no
one but Santuzza suspects she’s anything else), but — the voice! No
light mezzo here (as one is used to), but a deep, penetrating, perfectly
produced contralto with exciting colors. She would make quite an effect in a
range of Handel roles, trouser or otherwise.
Jane Bunnell as Mamma Lucia and José Cura as Canio in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.
The lady in Pagliacci — there’s only one, remember
— was Nuccia Focile, a charming soubrette in the past (an adorable
Despina in Cosí fan tutte), who sang a mediocre Nedda, the voice
unsupported, the coloratura imprecise in both “Stridono lassu” and
the play-within-the-play. The only time she rose to the demands of this
curious, death-defying figure was during her impassioned love duet with Silvio
— and here was the evening’s second surprise: Christopher Maltman.
This striking and sexy British baritone, a noted lieder singer as well as a
Billy Budd and a specialist in Mozart roles, filled the house with an easy,
dark, focused, thrilling baritone and was an equally thrilling actor. Too, he
sang with the most perfect Italian enunciation of the night. This is a voice
with star quality and a rare musical intelligence, a singer one is eager to
hear again in a dozen roles or in recital. Beside him, Cura and Mastromarino,
the evening’s Canio and Tonio, sounded effective but ordinary —
they wrung no sobs from me.
Pietro Rizzo had a firm hand on the dramatic flow of the evening in the pit;
the resonant celli seemed especially to flower, and I clearly heard echoes of
Wagner in Pagliacci, whenever Tonio was conniving. The Zeffirelli
staging with all its animals and all its children and all its gradual dawn and
sunset lighting changes and all its clowning extras gives audiences a notion of
what grand opera used to be about, and why young directors have been so eager
to change it. A ringing Canio, a gutsy Santuzza and a real Nedda would make it