Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … 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.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“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!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

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.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

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.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“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.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

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: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

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.



Giuseppe Gipali as the Duke of Mantua and L’ubica Vargicová as Gilda in San Diego Opera’s Rigoletto [Photo © Ken Howard]
01 Apr 2009

Rigoletto at San Diego Opera

In the current weak economy many an opera company has retrenched its programming to present primarily the most popular operas.

G. Verdi: Rigoletto

Gilda: L’ubica Vargicová; Giuseppe Gipali: Duke of Mantua; Lado Ataneli: Rigoletto; Maddalena: Kirstin Chávez; Sparafucile: Arutjun Kotchinian; Count Monterone: Scott Sikon; Borsa: Joseph Hu; Marullo: Malcolm Mackenzie. San Diego Opera. Edoardo Müller, conductor. Lotfi Mansouri, director.

Above: Giuseppe Gipali as the Duke of Mantua and L’ubica Vargicová as Gilda in San Diego Opera’s Rigoletto

All photos © Ken Howard


Think of it as operatic comfort food, if you will, in stomach-rattling times. San Diego Opera seems to have gone further, deciding to present its operas in stagings that can remind its audiences of long past high-rolling days.

Ian Campbell at San Diego Opera apparently discovered a secret trove of older New York City Opera productions, entirely traditional and only faintly musty. Spare but practical settings of Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Maria Stuarda were used in recent seasons, and the program for this season’s Rigoletto offers the vague credit “Scenery and costumes created for New York City Opera.” Elsewhere Carl Toms is identified as the creator, but no year is provided.

It looks to be from the mid-1970s, possibly early 1980s. Scene one of act one gets a handsome setting, with a palatial staircase dominating the picture, along with an oversized statue of an unidentified royal figure. The back opens to a deep view of a nighttime sky, which might get a little chilly for the attendees of the Duke’s get-together but adds to the atmosphere. A very lengthy scene change produced a less impressive set for scene two, with Rigoletto’s quarters being not much more than an iron gate and a staircase to an off-stage residence. This configuration returns to the stage the convention of characters using a gate when they could just step around it. Act two, supposedly the Duke’s private apartment, simply removed the statue from the act one set. Act three, tricky to stage with its action in the inn combined with positions for Gilda and Rigoletto to eavesdrop, as well as a riverbank locale, came off fairly well, if looking a bit like something from the old Disneyland Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The evening’s one innovation came across as superfluous, if not baffling: brief title screens, as if from a silent film, appeared before each curtain, mostly declaring that Rigoletto is an evil figure - arguable but still an odd framing device.

Rigoletto_SanDiego_09_02.gifArutjun Kotchinian as Sparafucile and Lado Ataneli as Rigoletto

Lotfi Mansouri is just the director for such a production, as he favors the stock gesture and routine stage movement. For a tenor such as Giuseppe Gipali, the Duke, the result was a stiff, uncharismatic performance. And Gipali does not have the voice to excuse such dramatic weakness. His tenor refuses to project unless at the very top of his range, and it possesses no interesting colors. L’ubica Vargicová, however, revealed a keen identification with the character of Gilda, evoking her innocence and faith without seeming weak or foolishly deluded. Even better, Vargicová sings beautifully, managing the trickier parts with no evident effort (she is also a successful Queen of the Night), and dominating many ensembles with her penetrating sound. It wasn’t always beautiful, but it was mostly exciting, and the San Diego audience greeted her passionately at final curtain.

Lado Ataneli has not proven himself in the past to be a captivating performer, but his dark baritone is a top class instrument. He really gave himself completely to this role, and if he had been in a production with a bit more imagination, he could have had even more impact. At least vocally, however, he could dominate most scenes, and the end of act two, in the duet with Gilda, became the highlight of the evening.

Rigoletto_SanDiego_09_03.gifA scene from Rigoletto

Ian Campbell cast the rest of the opera from strength, with a very sexy Kristin Chavez as Maddalena, and the truly scary, rail-thin Sparafucile of Arutjun Kotchinian, his bass oozing out of him. Malcolm Mackenzie stood out in his brief appearances as Marullo, unctuous and self-satisfied, as did the tragic Monterone of Scott Sikon.

The capable Edoardo Müller did his usual efficient work with the orchestra, although the act three quartet lacked punch and cohesiveness.

The program featured photographs of previous San Diego Rigoletto productions, and the 2002 snapshots revealed a fresh, updated approach. Either it was a failure at the time, or Campbell just decided that staging is not what his audience is currently in the mood for. Which is fine, but traditional stagings need fresh approaches as well. Despite the fine work of Ataneli and Vargicová, some cobwebs remained on the set by the end of the evening.

Chris Mullins

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):