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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

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.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

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.



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

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