Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Pietro Mascagni
26 Apr 2009

Il Piccolo Marat

Try to imagine the scenario: You’re an opera company, giving concert performances of neglected, indeed forgotten, hundred-year-old scores (no sets, no costumes, at least you don’t have those headaches), and you give young singers a chance to do their stuff once a year before a paying New York crowd actually eager to hear music they do not know, and you’ve lit on a genuine obscurity, even in the ranks of the obscure; Mascagni’s penultimate stage work, a huge success at the premiere (as his operas usually were), utterly forgotten nowadays (as, but for Cavalleria Rusticana and, on rare occasion, L’Amico Fritz, they pretty much are), and it’s never been performed in North America ever.

Pietro Mascagni: Il Piccolo Marat

Il Piccolo Marat: Richard Crawley; L’Orco: Brian Jauhiainen; Mariella: Paula Delligatti; Il Carpentiere: Daniel Ihn-Kyu Lee; Il Soldato: Joshua Benaim; Una voce basso: Alfred Barclift; Una voce tenore: Hugo Vera. Teatro Gratticielo Orchestra, conducted by David Wroe. Teatro Gratticielo at Avery Fisher Hall, April 13.

 

Recordings of ancient performances exist, though, and everyone is really excited to hear it, with its blood-and-skullduggery-defeated-by-true-love French Revolutionary plot, and you gather your forces, and rehearse to a fare-thee-well, and then it happens: the lead tenor in the big title role withdraws due to a death in the family. Okay, hardly the first time that’s happened, there’s still two weeks, you can dig up another tenor, and you do. But then the baritone in the impossibly evil villain’s part (and in verismo opera, it’s the villain who makes the machine run, more than almost anything else), falls ill and cannot sing, and you have mere days to find a baritone capable of learning a long role, to say nothing of performing it Monday night. And you find one, and he can handle Scarpia, so he can probably handle this. And then, the day of the performance, the third male lead, another baritone, has to pull out … and there is no time for anyone to learn this thing now, and no one on earth knows it … but a young singer of no less than three other small roles says he’s been following the sick man’s music and he could give it the old Bastille try. And you give it to him, and smile when the audience shows up, and out of the corner of your mind, the sole corner that remains sane, you vow to rip the soprano’s head off if she so much as murmurs of her rampaging case of bubonic plague, but no, she is a lamb, she is in excellent health and ready to rock, and by all the Muses (but especially Thalia, comedy), the show goes on.

Would you have a stroke? Would you retire? Would you call Mel Brooks or Blake Edwards and try to get them to option this backstage screenplay, far too unlikely to occur in real life? Or maybe a skit on SNL?

And would the show go on?

On April 13, at Avery Fisher Hall, the show – Teatro Gratticielo’s concert performance of Mascagni’s Il Piccolo Marat – went on, and was greeted, at evening’s end, with a standing ovation.

The world premiere, in 1921, took fifty curtain calls. Why, then, did Marat become so rare? I’m told the Grove Dictionary of the Opera blames its failure to hold audiences on its Fascist librettist. This does not make sense when reading (and following) the libretto, which is as passionate a hymn to freedom from tyranny as Fidelio or Tosca. Too, there is a rather beautiful love duet, a melodious lullaby that recalls the peaceful Easter music of Cavalleria Rusticana, and a tense climax that lures the audience into the emotions of the three “good” characters as, desperately, they assault the unkillable Ogre (English for Orco, the character’s nickname – so that’s where Tolkien found the word!).

As is customary in verismo, a school that matured as the bourgeoisie seized political power and its echo in the arts from aristocratic predecessors, the chorus is a main character in this opera, easily swayed and ruthless in its bloodthirsty support of hero or villain by turns. The Cantori New York and the Long Island University Chorus howled gloriously under the direction of Mark Shapiro; we were right at home, ringside to mob rule.

As is also the rule in operas about the French Revolution (think Andrea Chenier or Madame Sans-Gêne), there were innumerable small parts – which proved convenient when one singer of three of them, Daniel Ihn-Kyu Lee, earned a needed promotion to the almost-lead role of the gentle Carpenter, not too sensitive to design death ships but queasy when the Ogre wants him to build them. Joshua Benaim was worthy and forthright as a Soldier sent to investigate the Ogre – a by no means easy role, designed for a Pertile or Del Monaco sound, to give heroic voice to the Revolution during the opera’s early scenes, when the title character, the Piccolo Marat, must conceal his real feelings to win the Ogre’s confidence. Alfred Barclift and Hugo Vera showed promise onstage playing offstage voices. (Versatility is the name of this game.)

Richard Crawley, in the title role, effectively concealed his noble self and warmed up the while in order to sing a passionate duet with Paula Delligatti, as Mariella, the Ogre’s unhappy niece, and then burst out like a Cavaradossi “Vittoria” when the time came. Brian Jauhiainen was less overwhelming as the monstrous Ogre. Neither gentleman indicated, however, by any hesitancy or misstep, how recently they had first encountered this music: these were trim, professional performances and we were all very grateful to have them. Delligatti has an expressive spinto, perhaps less than ideal to the explosions of a Butterfly or Tosca but probably ideal for Liú or Maddalena. Her lullaby, perhaps the opera’s only excerptable number (another reason for the work’s obscurity), was serene and charming.

Conductor David Wroe, who perhaps rehearsed with the singers who cancelled, rather bashed his way through the score. It’s a large score, all right, and the music should be loud, but not holding back in a hall as orchestrally focused as Fisher is a disservice to the singers, who were often inaudible at the opera’s high points.

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):