Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

Puccini Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House, London

Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Claudio Monteverdi: Coronation of Poppea
05 May 2009

Opera Atelier does it as it was

It’s an odd day in opera when the bad girl wins, but that is only one thing that makes the Opera Atelier production of Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea remarkable — and admirable.

Claudio Monteverdi: Coronation of Poppea

João Fernandes, Carla Huhtanen, Peggy Kriha Dye, Cory Knight, Olivier Laquerre, Laura Pudwell, Vicki St. Pierre, Tracy Smith Bessette, Michael Maniaci, and Curtis Sullivan. Conductor: David Fallis. Director: Marshall Pynkoski. Choreographer: Jeannette Lajeunesse-Zingg. Set Designer: Gerard Gauci. Lighting Designer: Kevin Fraser. Costume Designer: Dora Rust d'Eye.

Above: Publicity photo courtesy of Opera Atelier

 

For the Toronto company, the sole endeavor in North America devoted exclusively to the authentic staging of early opera, is in itself both remarkable and admirable. OA’s founding director Marshall Pynkoski and choreographer Jeannette Lajeunmesse Zingg leave no scholarly stone unturned in their effort to create productions that take their audience back to the time of the composer. And in so doing they do not merely create a physical replica of a historic staging; their success lies rather in their ability to lay bare the intense emotional involvements that once made Poppea a blockbuster of the Italian Baroque.

The Poppea on stage in Toronto’s handsomely restored 1913 Elgin Theatre began as a co-production with Houston Grand Opera and was first on stage here in 2002. In the intervening years the production has lost none of its glittering beauty, and its star — Michael Maniaci as Nerone — has grown even more impressive in his artistry since then. Now just into his 30s, Maniaci is a unique phenomenon in a world now overrun by talented countertenors.

By his own definition Maniaci is a male soprano whose larynx failed to develop, leaving him with a high voice that is totally natural. He was spared the agony of his voice breaking and thus must resort to falsetto in his work. That’s the technical side of things.

Maniaci is now in demand everywhere, and the voice continues to overwhelm with its strength and dramatic power. As Nero(ne), who in the final B.C. century allegedly played his violin while Rome burned, Maniaci has a lot of fiddling to do in the melodramatic entanglements in Poppea and in the final performance of the season seen on May 2, he was equally excellent as the demonic politician and as the gentle lover. His most tender moment, however, came not in an exchange with ambitious Poppea, but rather with “hands-on” relief provided by a servant as he lay on his bed. Happily, Maniaci has his vocal and dramatic equal in the passionately obsessed Poppea of soprano Peggy Kriha Dye, a leading figure in opera houses since she created the role of Stella in Andre’ Previn’s Streetcar Named Desire at the San Francisco Opera.

European João Fernandes brought both dignity and majesty to Seneca, in this story not merely the noblest Roman of them all, but the only the only unsoiled character in the entire drama. A hush settled upon the audience at the conclusion of his death scene, which appropriately ended the first half of the performance.

Beyond these leads men in the cast largely outsang the women involved. As Ottone, Poppea’s rejected husband who in newly-found love for Drusilla plots to murder his ex-wife, bass baritone Olivier Laquerre was a commanding and convincing figure, while Carla Huhtanen was a sweetly adequate, but in no way overwhelming Drusilla. Kimberly Barber sympathetically portrayed Ottavia, Nerone’s rejected wife and thus the great loser in the story.

Compared to the concept of the role in other productions Vicki St. Pierre took a largely straight-forward approach to Ottavia’s nurse, who then lowers herself to the general level of indecency prevalent in the story to jock up her heels — literally — at the thought of the greater glory that she will henceforth enjoy as Poppea’s servant. The nurse is more commonly sung by a man who makes this a comic role — as in a recent Houston Poppea imported from Bologna where she took cues from TV’s Aunt Emma.

Distinction is brought to OA productions by Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, conducted for Poppea by OA resident music director David Fall is. And eight members of the Atelier added both to the beauty of the staging and its dramatic continuity.

All the above, however, are factors that contribute to a success far greater than the mere sum of these many parts of this production. For it is the total impact of this Poppea that makes it overwhelmingly moving music theater.

Elders recall the infancy of the early music movement when emphasis was upon scholarship and respect for history. Performances were impressive — but anemic. Here, on the other hand, is opera as full blooded and vital as anything that Verdi and Wagner were later to write. The company has no fear either of emotion or the searing sensuality often present in Monteverdi’s score. It’s what makes Opera Atelier the winner that it is.

Sets and costumes true to the period were by — respectively — Gerard Gauci and Dora Rust d’Eye. The staging was effectively lighted by Kevin Fraser. In its next season Opera Atelier stages Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Call 416-703-3767 or visit www.operaatelier.com.

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):