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Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
01 Apr 2009
Handel & Purcell on Special Offer at Covent Garden
If combining the anniversaries of both Purcell and Handel in one production at the Royal Opera was something of a master-stroke, then getting the Royal Ballet in on the act must have seemed to be verging on the brilliant from a commercial point of view.
There are plenty of die-hard Handelians in London, a
lesser number (we may presume) of passionate Purcellians, and undoubtedly
droves of those devoted to the dance — so one can only imagine the glee
with which this project was seized upon in the board rooms of Covent Garden.
With Dido running to just sixty minutes and Acis to ninety,
together they made up a most satisfying sandwich of English baroque music at
its most melodious.
Royal Ballet choreographer Wayne McGregor had already shown his work with
Dido & Aeneas at La Scala in 2006, so it was only the direction
and dance elements for Acis & Galatea that were actually new on
the 31st March, and he had a starry cast of singers to work on both
productions, as well as his colleagues from the Ballet. In the event there were
disappointments as well as delights on the vocal front, and not a little
puzzlement regarding the dance.
In Purcell’s Dido, Connolly’s technical assurance,
(this role’s tessitura seems to suit ideally) and her total psychological
immersion in the role gained from her recent performances and recording, should
have enabled her to delineate every nuance of the doomed Queen’s journey
from delight in her new love to the final, cathartic acceptance of his
betrayal. However, an announced indisposition (a throat infection) prevented
her from fully realising the role in a way that might have been expected. She
struggled to colour and project in the first Acts, and only managed to give us
a glimpse of what might have been in the final, celebrated “When I am
laid in earth…” A full recovery in time for the succeeding dates
is to be sincerely wished.
Lucas Meacham, baritone, as the perfidious Aeneas, managed to convey some of
the vacillating aspects of his character, but his effortful singing and lack of
period style was noticeable. In stark and welcome contrast was the stylish,
agile soprano of Lucy Crowe who gave us a youthfully-blooming and bell-like
Belinda which promises much for the later classical repertoire as well as
further major Handelian roles. This dramatically rather ambiguous
character’s music was delivered with intelligence. The lesser roles were
again variable: Sara Fulgoni mangled the vowels of the Sorceress to a degree
that really isn’t on with Purcell at this venue (she sang in the La Scala
production where one assumes it wasn’t noticed so much) and didn’t
convince as the evil manipulator of the whole drama. Her young witches Eri
Nakamura and Pumeza Matshikiza sang brightly with better diction, but were
costumed as if just off a London catwalk. Far too nice. Young English
countertenor Iestyn Davies was a welcome newcomer to ROH, singing his twelve
bars as the Spirit from off-stage somewhere, but with clean attack, good
full-throated projection and clear diction. Anita Watson sang the one aria of
the Second Woman and Ji-Min Park the Sailor’s; the latter with
commendable style and tone. Throughout, the Chorus was excellent in both
diction and ensemble and their essential role in this drama was not only
underlined but showcased in an entirely proper way.
Sara Fulgoni as Sorceress & Eri Nakamura as First Witch & Pumeza Matshikiza as Second Witch
Seeing the added choreography for the first time neither added nor
particularly detracted from the whole — the dancers seemed to be
colouring-in the musical interludes and choruses rather than saying anything
very much new about the drama. The classical, spare set worked well and gave
all performers room to move and lighting filled in the nuances of the drama.
Less convincing were the choreographic elements of Wayne McGregor’s
handling of Handel’s Acis. McGregor has, he says, tried to not
just mirror the action of this pastoral masque, (or serenata), but to try to
access the “meanings” of the drama through the use of dance-imagery
— his famously angular patterns trying to elucidate the tensions between
the “present” reality of the drama and a more fragile emotional
reality. Each singer had either a single or couple of dancers (in as-naked
body-stockings) as their alter-egos and it was necessary to accept this extra
dimension to the operatic experience if one was to gain such insight. This
writer couldn’t, but others may.
Danielle de Niese as Galatea & Charles Workman as Acis
It was good to see Charles Workman back on an English stage in the title
role. His Handel, up to now, has been limited to just four roles as he’s
been in demand on the continent for his Rossini and Mozart, but on this showing
we might expect to see more of him here. Acis lies high in the lyrical
tenor’s range, and Workman was indeed working hard from time to time, but
his elegance of phrasing and good line in such deceptively difficult arias as
“Love in her eyes sits playing…” was a delight. Even more
noticeable, and welcome, was his ability to combine Handelian style with plenty
of vocal power; his full and ringing tone was a highlight of the whole
evening’s double bill and he also received the only spontaneous post-aria
applause after a sterling “Love sounds th’alarm”. Matching
him in the style stakes, if not the dynamics, was the veteran period performer
Paul Agnew who wove lovely phrases around Damon’s bewitchingly melodic
Ji-Min Park as Coridon, Lauren Cuthbertson as Galatea and Paul Kay as Coridon
Workman’s fellow American, the glamorous Danielle de Niese, has built
up a considerable (would it be churlish to suggest mainly male?) following in
Handel in recent years. But Galatea is no Cleopatra, and de Niese was called
upon to realise a very different heroine here. Curiously decked out in black
and white, with a bright red scarf and peroxide blonde wig with plaits, she
looked like a particularly exotic Heidi and occasionally acted like one. Her
soprano is well schooled and flexible and in her middle range she approaches a
really beautiful tone. Her carefully prepared trills and ornaments were
beautifully placed and “As when the dove….” was prettily
sung, but a hardness creeps in when she goes high above the staff. This can
reduce the impact of such delicate and affecting arias as “Heart, the
seat of soft delight” which is a shame as this is what this role is all
Another throat-sufferer pre-announced was bass Matthew Rose as the giant
Polyphemus, who made his entrances along a curious but clever
“Giant’s Causeway” of mock-basaltic rocks. His singing was
not too badly affected and was rounded and smooth without any bark or growl.
Whether McGregor’s direction of him worked is debateable. He seemed
strangely awkward at times — and was required to walk off stage rather
tamely after a perfunctory killing of the noble Acis with a very small rock.
Ji-Min Park again sang — this time the one aria of Coridon — and
again showed a pleasing tone and style.
Matthew Rose as Polyphemus & Danielle de Niese as Galatea
Also repeating success, and if anything surpassing themselves, was the Royal
Opera Extra Chorus who had more acting to do and who sang with assurance and
relish. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under veteran Christopher
Hogwood presided at each “opera” — and after some initial
intonation variations they settled down to give a polished reading of both,
with Anthony Robson’s oboe particularly expressive and stylish. This
wasn’t a cutting-edge period performance, but then neither were the
productions. What Covent Garden’s first night full house certainly got
was value for money — whether it’s the way forward for such baroque
gems is another matter.
Sue Loder © 2009