Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Alban Berg’s Wozzeck at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In order to mount a successful production of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck, first performed in 1925, the dramatic intensity and lyrical beauty of the score must become the focal point for participants.

A Prize-Winning Rediscovery from 1840s Paris (and 1830s Egypt)

Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century. In recent days,

Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo’s Zazà by Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà — a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights — is a walking compendium of emotions.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Biedermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.



Kathleen Keske as Amelia and Francis Liska as Riccardo [Photo courtesy Brooklyn Repertory Opera]
24 Jun 2009

A Masked Ball by Brooklyn Repertory Opera

Amato Opera went to the netherworld of expired extravaganzas this spring, a one-man operation whose one man was weary. As New York’s oldest down-the-block and semi-pro company, it’s loss was regrettable — though it’s many years since Amato gave up doing interesting repertory.

Giuseppe Verdi: A Masked Ball

Amelia: Kathleen Keske; Oscar: Pamela Scanlon; Ulrico: Nicholas Tamagna; Riccardo: Francis Liska; Renato: Charles Karel, Sam: Ilberto Lagana; Tom: Ernest McCoy. Couducted by Stephen Francis Vasta. Brooklyn Repertory Opera, performance of June 14.

Above: Kathleen Keske as Amelia and Francis Liska as Riccardo

All photos courtesy of Brooklyn Repertory Opera.


Agreeable — and surprising — to find that several other shoestring companies are flourishing, despite these bad financial times, and that venues pop up in the unlikeliest parts of town — well, the rent is lower if the address is stranger.

The Brooklyn Lyceum, for example, is a 1910 public bathhouse on Fourth Avenue at President Street — they used to call it Flatbush, and now the rebuilders say “Lower Slope,” but for many decades the plain between the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Greenwood Cemetery was several miles of vacant. Today it is reviving, there are tidy homes and restaurants, and you can stroll by night and jitter-free. The Lyceum, tattered brick and the remains of tile, contains a performing space about the size of a basketball court — you could fit a dozen Amatos there — on a stage built over the former pool. The look recalls the BAM Harvey (which was left to look that way on purpose), but the stairs aren’t so steep at the Lyceum and the bathrooms far easier to find. I strolled by one recent day for the last of Brooklyn Repertory Opera’s four performances of Verdi’s A Masked Ball — Brooklyn Rep always performs in English — and I was delighted I had done so.

Full disclosure: The company prima donna, Kathleen Keske, is an old friend whose voice I have admired in such roles as Weber’s Rezia but had not heard in several years. I was eager to hear her Amelia, and she assured me the rest of the cast was good. I had misgivings — I’ve been to a lot of these little companies across the years — sometimes thrilled, sometimes appalled. You never know. And Ballo is tricky, five big roles and intricate orchestration. (Most such companies use a piano or two — not Brooklyn Rep.)

karel-scanlon-masked-2.gifPamela Scanlon as Oscar and Francis Liska as Riccardo

To my delighted surprise, the cast was solid, mature enough for Verdi, and eager to sing out; the orchestra, under Stephen Francis Vasta, professional and clear, making Verdi’s points. The chorus was on the small side, and overly weighted towards ladies, but costs were really cut on sets (mostly projections of the royal palace in Stockholm) and costumes, haphazard at best. The wince-making translation was uncredited in the program — I wouldn’t admit to it either. (But I found I could shut my eyes and think of the Italian, and let the voices carry the show.)

I’m delaying things: To my regret, Keske was not at her best in this role. Amelia has two personalities, the defeated subject of domestic tragedy and the full-throttle Verdi passionista; Keske did not possess the weight or the well-supported power for those grand arching phrases. In her quiet aria, however — the one that, in Italian, begins “Morrô, ma prima in grazia” — she sang with well-placed tone and great feeling for a woman in despair, facing with resignation the loss of everything dear to her.

The other soprano, the boy Oscar, was sung by Pamela Scanlon, whose strong, bright soprano and clear, certain coloratura impressed me as a voice ready to tackle Violetta and likely to give a good account of it. Her acting, as called for by this trouser role, was on the cute side — but not a garish, gender-mocking space alien, as in the current Met production. Riccardo — promoted to king here but not Swedished as Gustav — was sung by Francis Liska, with a graceful lyric line and the right air of narcissistic indifference to the deep emotional waters in which he treads. Charles Karel sang Renato with a sturdy, genuine Verdi baritone, warm, heartfelt and — ultimately — grim.

murderer-caught.gifA scene from A Masked Ball

Then out came Ulrica — you know — the fortune teller — the Marian Anderson/Ewa Podles role. Already there had been intimations of surprise, in references in the first scene, to a “magician” named “Ulrico.” (Why not just Ulrich?) I seized the program and, staggered, read the name: Nicholas Tamagna. “You sprang that on me! You didn’t warn me!” I later accused Madame Keske, who smiled. “Would you have come if I’d told you?” “Maybe not.” “And did you like him?” she went on smiling.

Mr. Tamagna, a countertenor who usually sings roles like Orfeo (last April at the Brooklyn Rep, sorry I missed it) and Handel’s Cesare (in D.C. in the fall), earned his Book of World Records (and Wikipedia) moment as the first man ever to sing this diehard mezzo role in a full performance of Verdi’s opera. A slim figure with a shaven head and satanic contact lenses, he sang it all — in a room of considerable size, remember — in a seamless top-to-bottom alto with no hootiness, no doubtful support, loud as anyone (and everyone) else in a healthy cast, the phrases as beautiful as their eldritch import allowed. (Verdi didn’t want his witches to sound too beautiful, you know.) It was a totally astonishing performance, and in five minutes conquered what reservations I had — and I’m a stickler for certain traditions. Tamagna’s has an alto in which I wished to bask.

But the joy of the entire afternoon was being in a big room where big, healthy voices were singing big, healthy Verdi — up close, full throttle, no electronics, no cutting corners. Pleasure of operatic caliber. This is not lip-service lyric but a company that knows what it’s doing.

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):