Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

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.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

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.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

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.



Diana Damrau as Gilda and Roberto Frontali as Rigoletto [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
10 Apr 2009

Rigoletto at the MET with Diana Damrau as Gilda

Rigoletto is the ideal first opera: a taut tale, comprehensible characters, terrific tunes, and not an ounce of fat anywhere.

G. Verdi: Rigoletto

Gilda: Diana Damrau; Duke of Mantua: Joseph Calleja; Rigoletto: Roberto Frontali; Sparafucile: Raymond Aceto. The Metropolitan Opera. Conducted by Riccardo Frizza.

Above: Diana Damrau as Gilda and Roberto Frontali as Rigoletto [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]


I was delighted to see the Met filled, at so appealing a performance as that of April 9, with young opera-goers, many of them signifying (by questions about where to find standing room and how to get to the bathrooms) that they were new to opera, or new to the Met. There was, also — as I’d rather expected — a murmur of surprised recognition when the orchestra launched “La donna è mobile” (is there a better-known melody from opera? Wagner’s “Here Comes the Bride,” perhaps), and a general appreciation of the story, the excellent acting, the melodious score, the “classic” Otto Schenk staging, as the German tourists behind me described it — no prima donnas waving cell phones, no motorcycle helmets, no leather bustiers, and a street in Italy that looked like nothing so much as a street in Italy.

They encountered an excellent, well-balanced performance: A heroine to love, a villain to hate while admiring his panache, a protagonist who seemed entirely caught up in the proceedings and a thrilling performance of the score led by Riccardo Frizza, whose attention to detail and dramatic effect were just what Verdi could have desired. This was a very spruce performance, and made one eager to hear what Frizza could do with other familiar items in the Italian repertory.

Joseph Calleja is one of the new crop of exciting young tenors in the Italian repertory. A sturdy, masculine figure — taller than almost anyone else at the court of Mantua — he acted and sang the seductive Duke with careless elegance and athletic ease, with a fluid, forthright tenor and sudden diminuendos at moments for dramatic effect. It was a completely reliable performance if not yet quite so polished as (for example) Ramón Vargas ten years ago, but in that line and heading in that graceful direction.

Diana Damrau has a cool, refreshing voice, clear and house-filling, and she is an ardent actress. One could hope for a more precise trill, and — perhaps on the conductor’s insistence — she omitted optional high notes everywhere and the long trail-off with which Gildas used to leave the stage after “Caro nome,” but in this age of more realistic acting and “come scritto” singing, she is a first-rate Gilda. Too, she is a tiny woman and makes the right vulnerable impression beside a tall Duke and a tall Sparafucile. She can also seem to whisper (at such moments as her shamed entrance in Act II) when she is doing nothing of the sort, and then surprise us with the power of her protest at her father’s plans for vengeance. I’m sure the first-timers will remember her fondly at more ordinary Rigolettos.

RIGOLETTO_Calleja_as_Duke_1.gifJoseph Calleja as the Duke [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]

Roberto Frontali may lack the power to knock us out with “Cortigiani,” but he sings and plays a, convincing portrait of Verdi’s humanized monstrosity, a man eaten up by hatred of the world and of his own place in it, whose one soft spot is invaded and infected by the very viciousness he has himself encouraged in the corruptions of the court. His snarling contempt in the final scene for what he thinks is the corpse of his former master riveted the house, his horror brought shock (and a marked cessation of coughing). It made a solid, convincing centerpiece to an opera too easy to lose to the charms of an ideal Duke or Gilda.

Raymond Aceto’s Sparafucile rumbled on the low notes; he aroused great enthusiasm — who doesn’t love an unembarrassed professional villain? The smaller roles were well and enthusiastically handled all around, especially David Crawford’s nervous Ceprano, Kathryn Day’s firm-voiced Giovanna, and Viktoria Vizin’s Maddalena, determined that her legs should share the honors with her voice.

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):