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

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

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):