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

Wagner Tannhäuser : Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO. True, Opera North will bring its concert Ring to the South Bank, but that is a somewhat different matter. Comparisons with serious houses, let alone serious cities, are not encouraging, especially if one widens the comparison to nineteenth-century Italian composers. Quite why is anyone’s guess; the composer is anything but unpopular. More to the point, Wagner and Mozart should stand at the heart of any opera house’s repertory. They can hardly do so if they are so rarely performed.

The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf

Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.

San Diego Opera Presents a Tragic Madama Butterfly

On April 16, 2016, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s sixth opera, Madama Butterfly, in an intriguing production by Garnett Bruce. Roberto Oswald’s scenery included the usual Japanese styled house with many sliding doors and walls. On either side, however, were blooming cherry trees with rough trunks and gnarled branches that looked as though they had been growing on the property for a hundred years.

Simon Rattle conducts Tristan und Isolde

New Co-Production Tristan und Isolde with Metropolitan: Simon Rattle and Westbroek electrify Treliński’s Opera-Noir.

San Jose’s Smooth Streetcar Ride

In an operatic world crowded with sure-fire bread and butter repertoire, Opera San Jose has boldly chosen to lavish a new production on a dark horse, Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

Roméo et Juliette: Dutch National Opera and Ballet seal merger with leaden Berlioz

Choral symphony, oratorio, symphonic poem — Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette does not fit into any mould. It has the potential to work as an opera-ballet, but incoherent storytelling and uninspired conducting undermined this production.

Donizetti : Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera House

When Kasper Holten took the precaution of pre-warning ticket-holders that the Royal Opera House’s new production of Lucia di Lammermoor featured scene portraying ‘sexual acts’ and ‘violence’, one assumed that he was aiming to avert a re-run of the jeering and hectoring that accompanied last season’s Guillaume Tell. He even went so far as to offer concerned patrons a refund.

Five Reviews of Regina at Maryland Opera Studio

These are five very different reviews by students at the University of Maryland on its Opera Studio production of Regina — an interesting, informative and entertaining read . . .

Three Cheers for the English Touring Opera

‘Remember me, the one who is Pia;/ Siena made me, Maremma undid me.’ The speaker is Pia de’ Tolomei. She appears in a brief episode of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Purgatorio V, 130-136) which was the source for Gaetano Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei - by way of Bartolomeo Sestini’s verse-novella of 1825.

Andriessen's De Materie at the Park Avenue Armory

"The large measure of formalism which forms the basis of De Materie does not in itself offer any guarantee that the work will be beautiful," says Dutch composer Louis Andriessen of his four-movement opera.

Falstaff Makes a Big Splash in Phoenix

On April 1, 2016, Arizona Opera presented Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) and Arrigo Boito (1842-1918) in Phoenix. Although Boito based most of his libretto on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, he used material from Henry IV as well. Verdi wrote the music when he was close to the age of eighty. He was concerned about his ability at that advanced age, but he was immensely pleased with Boito’s text and decided to compose his second comedy, despite the fact that his first, Un giorno di regno, had not been successful.

Svadba in San Francisco

The brand new SF Opera Lab opened last month with artist William Kentridge’s staged Schubert Winterreise. Its second production just now, Svadba-Wedding — an a cappella opera for six female voices — unabashedly exposes the space in a different, non-theatrical configuration.

Benvenuto Cellini in Rome

One may think of Tosca as the most Roman of all operas, after all it has been performed at the Teatro Costanzi (Rome’s opera house) well over a thousand times since 1900. Though equally, maybe even more Roman is Hector Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini that has had only a dozen or so performances in Rome since 1838.

New from Opera Rara : Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe

Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.

Handel : Elpidia - Opera Settecento

Roll up! A new opera by Handel is to be performed, L’Elpidia overo li rivali generosi. It is based upon a libretto by Apostolo Zeno with music by Leonardo Vinci - excepting a couple of arias by Giuseppe Orlandini and, additionally, two from Antonio Lotti’s Teofane (which the star bass, Giuseppe Maria Boschi , on bringing with him from the Dresden production of 1719).

Roberto Devereux in Genova

Radvanovsky in New York, Devia in Genoa — Donizetti queens are indeed in the news! Just now in Genoa Mariella Devia was the Elizabeth I for her beloved Roberto Devereux in a new trilogy of Donizetti queens (Maria Stuarda and Anne Bolena) directed by baritone Alfonso Antoniozzi.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Royal Opera

‘All men become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That is his.’ ‘Is that clever?’ ‘It is perfectly phrased!’

Mahler’s Third, Concertgebouw

Evolving in Mahler’s Third: Dudamel and L.A. Philharmonic’s impressive adaption to the Concertgebouw

La Juive in Lyon

Though all big opera is called grand opera, French grand opera itself is a very specific genre. It is an ephemeral style not at all easy to bring to life. For example . . .

Benjamin, Dernière Nuit in Lyon

That’s Walter Benjamin of the Frankfort School [philosophers in the interwar period (WW’s I and II) who were at home neither with capitalism, fascism or communism].

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Tamara Wilson as Maria Boccanegra [Photo by Michael Cooper courtesy of Canadian Opera Company]
12 May 2009

Canadian Opera on the rise

How often does one experience an opera in which everything works — in which there is not one flaw either in the staging or in its musical dimensions?

Canadian Opera on the rise

Above: Tamara Wilson as Maria Boccanegra
All photos by Michael Cooper courtesy of Canadian Opera Company

 

Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company overwhelmed its audience with just such perfection in the production of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra that opened the company’s spring season in the still-new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

The staging, new at London’s Covent Garden a year ago, was directed by Ian Judge, who in addition to his credentials as one of today’s top international directors of opera, looks back on a quarter century with England’s Royal Shakespeare Company. Although the libretto for Boccanegra is largely by Francesco Maria Piave, Judge brought the insights of a major Shakespearean to Verdi’s 1881 revision of the work, first staged in Venice in 1857.

Judge has a strong sense of dramatic flow of “Boccanegra” and thus eschewed the divisions into acts and the in-between-curtains that traditionally interrupt it. With a single intermission after the curse that ends the Council scene, this was a staging, seen on May 3, that kept the audience almost breathlessly engaged throughout its three hours.

In the title role Italy’s leading Verdian Paolo Gavanelli headed a cast without a weak link. Especially for those who saw Dmitri Hvorostovsky in this role in San Francisco last fall, Gavanelli brought a new depth to the role.

Minus the Russian’s Hollywood handsomeness, Gavanelli’s Boccanegra was good generation older than the man played by Hvorstovsky. The result was a man of greater seriousness and experience, indeed a man Lear-like in his dignity and suffering. Vocally Gavanelli set the standard for the rest of the cast. Tamara Wilson, a young American soprano from Houston’s studio program, played Maria as a woman both intelligent and vulnerable and handled high notes with power or delicacy — as the moment demanded.

Canada’s Phillip Ens was impressive as Fiesco, and Russian Mikhail Agafonov was his equal as Adorno. Marco Guidarini, respected as a Verdi conductor throughout Europe, displayed a fine sense for both music and drama in his work with the COC’s excellent orchestra. And the chorus, rehearsed by Sandra Horst, was fully caught up in the drama.

Sets by John Gunter were traditional with touches of modernity in sloping walls and a titled pillar. Lavishly rich costumes were by Deirdre Clancy. Nigel Levings was responsible for unusually effective lighting.

Judge brought Shakespearean majesty to the death of Boccanegra, an aspect clearly in the mind as he indicated in a program note on the opera: “It has all the qualities of a Shakespeare play. Verdi loved Shakespeare. He wrote [here] a Shakespeare drama in his own way, and that’s what is terrific.” This was indeed and in every way a terrific Boccanegra!

simon03.jpg.gifTamara Wilson as Maria Boccanegra and Paolo Gavanelli as Simon Boccanegra

All in all, this production, although planned when the late Richard Bradshaw was still COC CEO, speaks highly of the commitment to continuing excellence by new general director Alexander Neef and recently appointed music director Johannes Debus. (Bradshaw had filled both offices.)

Second triumph of the COC spring season was Benjamin Britten’s Midsummer Nights Dream in a co-production with Houston Grand Opera, seen on its opening night May 5. For the staging of the 1960 work designer Dale Ferguson — responsible for both sets and costumes — created a dreamscape that drew the capacity audience into the world of enchantment that Britten made of Shakespeare’s drama.

Animation was brought to the diaphanous set in spring-like shades of green by an immense “sleep sheet” that spanned the stage and descended on Britten’s characters when they truly slept. Ferguson’s richly imaginative land — upside-down trees decorated the set — provided an ideal environment for the ethereal singing that distinguished the production.

dream05.gifLaura Claycomb as Tytania

As Tytania and Oberon, rulers of the fairy world, Laura Claycomb and Lawrence Zazzo led the large cast that was superb in both serious and comic moments. Texan Claycomb, of course, is a leading figure on the international opera scene, and with her often buoyant chiffon train was a major force in making this production a transcendent experience.

And Zazzo, confined for the most part to a gondola swinging above the stage, sang with a voice of unusual resonance that places him a step above the many countertenors on stage today. Mezzo Kelley O’Connor, famous for her performances of Peter Lieberson and Oswaldo Golijov, was a beautiful Hippolyta, perfectly partnered by Robert Gleadow as Theseus.

Adam Luther (Lysander), Elizabeth DeShong (Hermia), Wolfgang Holzmair (Demetrius) and Giselle Allen (Helena) — excellent all — completed the company of confused lovers. The rustic troupe responsible for the play-within-the-play in Dream was delightfully led by Thomas Goerz, while Robert Pomakov was a touching Bottom. As Flute, the role written for Peter Pears, Lawrence Wiliford recalled that Britten wrote his bel canto aria as a send-up of Joan Sutherland, whom he had recently heard as Lucia.

dream03.gif(l - r) Lawrence Zazzo as Oberon, Laura Claycomb as Tytania, Robert Pomakov (lying on ground) as Bottom and Jamaal Grant as Puck

Jamaal Grant played Puck — a speaking role — with the joy of the prankster that the character is. Of special distinction was the contribution made to the staging by the well-trained children’s choir.

Director Neil Armfield and conductor Anne Manson worked together to underscore the need for a proper balance of foolishness and gravity in the opera — and in life.

Damien Cooper’s sensitive lighting added to the magic of this exemplary production.

Given the admirable quality of these two productions, it is difficult to understand that the COC could allow itself the embarrassing mediocrity of the Bohème that completed the company’s spring season.

The revival of the company’s traditional 2005 staging — sets and costumes by, respectively, Wolgang Skalicki and Amrei Skalicki — was cast largely with alumni of the COC Ensemble Studio now singing with Canada’s regional companies.

boheme06.gifAnna Leese as Musetta, Peter Barrett as Marcello, David Pomeroy as Rodolfo and Frédérique Vézina as Mimì

David Pomeroy (Rodolfo), Peter Barrett (Marcello), Peter McGillivray (Schaunard) and Frédérique Vézina (Mimì) all failed to make emotional contact with the roles they sang.

Better qualified for her assignment as Musetta was New Zealand’s Anna Leese, yet she too was painfully over- directed by Maer Gronsdal Powell, heretofore assistant to numerous directors of COC productions.

On her own here, Powell was at a loss for meaningful ideas that might have brought a dramatic impact to the staging that ran its course with no sense of direction. And COC Derek Bate, on the podium on May 4, chose for the final act a dirge-like tempo that left one wondering whether Mimi was going to live forever after all.

Hard as it is to imagine a Bohème that leaves an audience dry eyed, that was the unhappy case here.


The Canadian Opera Company now ranks sixth among opera companies in North America. Statistics provided by Opera America list the six first in terms of budget: the Met, $252 million, San Francisco Opera, $70 million, Chicago Lyric Opera, $54.3 million, Los Angeles Opera, $51 million, and New York City Opera, $42 million. And in number of performances, the COC with 68 slated for the up-coming season, is third after the Met with 225 and Chicago with 72.

In the past two seasons — this is the third in Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre — the COC has played to 99% of capacity houses, which is the record in North America. In Chicago it has been 93%; at the Met, 90%. In the same period the COC’s annual subscription rate has been 75%, again a North American record. In Chicago the average is 68%; at the Met, 32%.

The COC is clearly a company on the rise!

Wes Blomster

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):