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 Performances

Pacific Opera Project Presents Ariadne auf Naxos

Pacific Opera Project, a small Los Angeles company, presented a production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Ebell Club with an excellent group of young singers at the beginning of what should be good careers.

Varispeed pushes the possibilities of opera forward with Robert Ashley’s Crash

Six people, dressed in ordinary clothing, sitting in a row at desks adorned only with microphones and glasses of water, and talking for ninety minutes: is it opera?

Rising Stars in Concert, Lyric Opera of Chicago

The spring concert of Rising Stars in Concert, sponsored by and featuring current members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, showcased a number of talents that will no doubt continue to grace the stages of the world’s operatic theaters.

The Singers Sparkle in New York Opera Exchange’s Carmen

New York Opera Exchange’s production of Carmen from May 8th to 10th highlighted that which opera devotees have been saying for years: Opera, far from being dead, is vibrant and evolving.

‘Where’er You Walk’: Handel’s Favourite Tenor

I have sometimes lamented the preference of Ian Page’s Classical Opera for concert performances and recordings over staged productions, albeit that their renditions of eighteenth-century operas and vocal works are unfailingly stylish, illuminating and supported by worthy research.

The Pirates of Penzance, ENO

Topsy Turvy, Mike Leigh’s 1999 film starring Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent, dramatized the fraught working relationship of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan; it won four Oscar nominations (garnering two Academy Awards, for costume and make-up) and is a wonderful exploration of the creative process of bringing a theatrical work to life.

Manitoba Opera: Turandot

There’s little doubt that Puccini’s Turandot is a flawed, illogical fairytale. Yet it continues to resonate today with its undying “love shall conquer all” ethos, where even the most heinous crimes may be forgiven by that which makes the world go ‘round.

Mariachi Opera El Pasado Nunca se Termina Comes to San Diego

On April 25, 2015, San Diego Opera presented it’s second Mariachi opera: El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished) by Jose “Pepe” Martinez, Leonard Foglia and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

Antonio Pappano: Royal Opera House Orchestral Concerts

Ambition achieved! Antonio Pappano brought the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House out of the pit and onto the stage, the centre of attention in their own right.

Bedřich Smetana: Dalibor, Barbican Hall

Jiří Bělohlávek’s annual Czech opera series at the Barbican, London, with the BBC SO continued with Bedřich Smetana’s Dalibor.

Orlando Explores Art Without Boundaries

R.B. Schlather’s production of Handel’s Orlando asks the enigmatic question: Where do the boundaries of performance art begin, and where do they end?

The Virtues of Things

A good number of recent shorter operas, particularly those performed in this country, made a stronger impression with their libretti than their scores.

Król Roger, Royal Opera

It has taken almost 89 years for Karol Szymanowski’s Król Roger to reach the stage of Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing

San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.

Hercules vs Vampires: Film Becomes Opera!

In the early sixties, Italian film director Mario Bava was making pictures with male body builders whose well oiled physiques appeared spectacular on the screen.

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

Arizona Opera Ends Season in Fine Style with Fille du Régiment

On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.

Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera

This second revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2005 production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia seems to have every going for it: excellent principals comprising experienced old-hands and exciting new voices, infinite gags and japes, and the visual éclat of Agostino Cavalca’s colour-bursting costumes and Christian Fenouillat’s sunny sets which evoke the style, glamour and ease of La Dolce Vita.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Scene from The Return of Ulysses [Photo by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art]
02 Apr 2009

Return of Ulysses in San Francisco

William Kentridge is a South African artist who works in charcoal and eraser (smudges) on paper, in small animated film and video segments (black and white), in theater, and now in opera. Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses was his first operatic project that took place in 1998 in collaboration with South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Theater.

Claudio Monteverdi: The Return of Ulysses

Directed by William Kentridge. Revival directed by Luc de Wit. Produced by Pacific Operaworks, Seattle. Musical direction by Stephen Stubbs. Featuring the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa.

Above: Scene from The Return of Ulysses [Photo by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art]

 

This 1998 production has been revived just now by Seattle’s Pacific Operaworks, using Mr. Kentridge’s original South African puppet collaborators, for performances in Seattle (March 11-21) and in San Francisco (March 24-29) in conjunction with SF Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition, William Kentridge: Five Themes (through May 31).

Mr. Kentridge’s art has been shown in many of the major modern art museums in Europe and America, at times in conjunction with performances of The Return of Ulysses, and these often with major musical collaborators. It was then obvious for Mr. Kentridge to take on Mozart’s puppet-like opera, The Magic Flute, which he did for Brussel’s Théâtre Monnaie in 2005, a production that made its way to the Brooklyn Academy in 2007. From there it is but a small step up (or maybe a giant leap) to Shostakovitch’s The Nose for The Metropolitan Opera in 2010.

Mr. Kentridge’s first ambition was to be an actor, though it soon became apparent that his greater talent was that of an artist. His vision though has remained theatrical. The San Francisco MOMA exhibition includes a series of large charcoal illustrations based on a version of Alfred Jarry’s absurdist Roi Ubu (1896) at Johannesburg’s Junction Avenue Theater Company, where he has often worked as an actor and director.

Mr. Kentridge’s is a man of the theater. His parents were lawyers and civil rights advocates in pre-Apartheid South Africa, thus Mr. Kentridge’s art is genetically imbued with the theatrics of domestic and civil politics, and his colors are black and white, with an occasional line or splash of primary color, usually red.

The SF MOMA exhibition includes Mr. Kentridge’s preparatory studies for The Magic Flute, and preliminary visual experimentation for The Nose. The Magic Flute exhibit is Mr. Kentridge’s model stage box, its surfaces illustrated by dark mini-video images for the Queen of the Night that contrast with the enlightened bright images of Sarastro (all the while accompanied by a medley from Mozart’s opera). Preparatory studies for The Nose are eight very large, black and white video projections on the walls of a large gallery (with only ambient sound, no Shostakovitch). Most striking of the impressive group were a Cossack dancer repeating a movement, and another of Mr. Kentridge (an Alfred Hitchcock look alike) walking in and out of a white space. The sense is that Gogol [author of The Nose] has met his match.

As Monteverdi’s two extant Venetian operas exist only in embryonic form when compared to modern opera scores, Ulysses and Poppea both require modern editions before they can be attempted by opera companies. Progressively these performing editions have moved to purer Baroque musical practices, contemporary audiences easily perceiving the integrity of the original musical and dramatic inspiration.

And at the same time we have had the good fortune to see these embryos developed freehand into very effective modern works — Raymond Leppard’s Poppea at one extreme, Luigi Dallapiccola’s Ulysses at another, Barry Kosky’s Poppea for the Vienna Schauspielhaus (actors who sing, piano and three cellos in the pit), and of course William Kentridge’s Ulysses, Monteverdi’s Baroque tapestry magnified into a focused delirium of the last one hundred minutes of Ulysses life.

In much of his art Mr. Kentridge is intrigued by simple mechanics, and certainly that of puppetry. Thus it is no surprise that his continuo (a small, non-specific group of instruments that accompanies sung text, the only accompaniment Monteverdi’s Venetian operas require) was a vista, make the players’ physical movements a part of the show. The continuo stretched across a slightly raised midstage platform. Led by Pacific Operaworks music director Stephen Stubbs on chitarrone (theorbo), the continuo was an additional theorbo, a baroque harp, two violins and a viola da gamba/cello. Maestro Stubbs and this combination of instruments provided a warm, smooth and sensual continuum of music, rarely disturbed by rhythmic punctuation or other coloristic intrusions.

The high back of the continuo platform divided the front stage from a more complicated upstage playing area, as the back wall of the orchestra platform allowed the nearly life sized puppets to be seen without their operators, animating them by sticks from below (see photo). On the front stage the vista puppeteers were silently one with their puppets, imbuing their movements with their own humanity, though the voice of puppet was a concert dressed singer, concentrating his gaze on the face of the puppet, and effecting the gestures of one of the puppet’s arms. The effect was a humanity of always profound and sometimes terrifying proportion.

If Monteverdi supercharged the intoned, impassioned speech imagined by Renaissance philologists as that of ancient tragedy, Pacific Opera Works took this heated musicality a further step by providing us a Ulysses who projected this text in inspired musical periods that were heroic, almost super human in musical effect, that grew into the sublime final duet with Penelope. The singer, Ross Hauck, is active in music ministry in the Northwest. Mr. Hauck was well supported by his Penelope, Laura Pudwell. The production’s star turn was Met singer Cyndia Sieden (Love and Athena), who was joined by five accomplished performers who enacted Penelope’s maid, Ulysses’ tutor, his son, and his rivals, and all hinted at the presences of the plethora of divine forces in Monteverdi’s original.

More a multimedia event than an integrated opera production, Mr. Kentridge’s Return of Ulysses was the combination of these musical forces with puppets animated by puppeteers (though the puppets were sometimes in solo, frozen movement, like comic book illustrations), plus a black and white video component projected on a large screen hung above the upstage playing area. As Mr. Kentridge’s Ulysses lies dying in a Johannesburg hospital this video takes us into his body through medical diagnostic imaging, at other times we see into his death delirium by the images in front of which his life plays back. Never a commentary, the video was always an immediate part of the momentary action. While these components remained a montage, changing focus for me was seamless though my experience will have been my own, not that of my companions. Yet in the end the montage did not build to a convincing apotheosis of love in death — and this was Mr. Kentridge’s attempted ending, not Monteverdi’s.

With this production (its first!) Pacific Operaworks has established itself as a national level producer of opera, San Francisco’s Artaud Theater has proven itself a fine theater for Baroque opera, SF MOMA has firmly established itself as an enlightened presenter of multimedia art. And Mr. Kentridge is on his way to the arguably enlightened Metropolitan Opera. The Nose will be an extraordinary event for the opera world.

Michael Milenski

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):