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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.

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.

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.



Detail from La Mort d'Alceste ou L'Héroïsme de l'amour conjugal by Pierre Peyron, 1785  (Musée du Louvre)
21 Jun 2009

Alceste by The Collegiate Chorale

The Collegiate Chorale (ably supported by the orchestra of the New York City Opera under George Manahan) chose Gluck’s Alceste, last heard in New York at the City Opera in 1982, for its annual spring concert opera — an excellent choice for a chorus eager to show its stuff.

Christoph Willibald Gluck: Alceste

Alceste: Deborah Voigt; Admète: Vinson Cole; Hercule: Richard Zeller; Apollon: Kyungmook Yum; L’Oracle: Ryan Kinsella; Evandre: Gregory Hostetler. Collegiate Chorale and New York City Opera Orchestra, conducted by George Manahan. At the Rose Theater.


That Gluck, halfway between the baroque revival and the Mozartean standards, is on a roll is not news. Orfeo is performed all over the place — it always has been — but in more and more headline-grabbing productions. Iphigénie en Tauride has become almost a repertory item — Susan Graham does it everywhere, and other singers are taking it up. I heard Iphigénie en Aulide in Rome last March (in a production borrowed from La Scala), Armide was recently staged in Berlin, and Alceste will be given in Santa Fe this summer with Christine Brewer. Paride ed Elena is a workout — essentially two singers in a long, aria-by-aria, seduction — so it’s not surprising that that remains a rarity.

In Alceste, Gluck uses the chorus in his stately way to set the scene in his three acts, creating a mood (somber in Act I, joyous in Act II, hellish in Act III) against which the principals create the drama by vivid contrast. In Act I, Alceste resists the helpless sorrow of the people of Thessaly, bewailing the imminent death of their king — she will take action, offering herself to death in her husband’s stead. In Act II, the rejoicing of the populace is again a setting for Alceste, when she admits to her husband what she has done, plunging everyone into mourning yet again. In Act III, the raucous Hercule breaks the spirit of the Underworld denizens and saves Alceste. The chorus is thus fundamental to the action by creating a musical backdrop against which the individual may become heroic. The mass and weight and careful diction of the Collegiate were impressive, though the many solo lines spread among them (Gluck’s idea: so we can take them for individual inhabitants of Thessaly in a national crisis and not just anonymous masses) did not sound of proper operatic caliber.

Alceste usually gets trundled out for some aging, rather placid grande dame — few characters ever lose their cool in Gluck, and Alceste’s emotions are grandly presented — seething beneath a surface of good manners. Technical control and subtle acting are cues for the part — Alceste does not have a huge orchestra to contend with, but she must express her despairs and her resolve with dignity and economy.

Deborah Voigt’s voice was once a technical marvel, though seldom expressive. For whatever reasons (and she was singing through a cold on this occasion), she is no longer fully in control of her voice. Phrases droop from pitch or blare forth undirected. Her famous aria at the conclusion of Act I, “Divinités du Styx,” was sung with full technical command but slight feeling; her quieter, more introspective aria at the opening of Act II was a rare, affecting moment when the singer was playing the part, not simply vocalizing. Voigt has been a fine Cassandre in Les Troyens, a role that would seem to offer a key to a fine Alceste, but on this occasion the music got away from her.

The singer who brought down the house was Vinson Cole, a veteran called in as Admète when Marcello Giordani had to cancel. I heard Cole sing Gluck twenty years ago, in the French version of Orphée, where he was suave, yearning, thrilling, far more effective in the part than the altos who usually sing it (in the Italian version). His Admète was a stunner: the voice so youthful (belying his white hair), so liquid, so lyrically expressive that the opera’s focus became his anguish rather than Alceste’s sacrifice. Richard Zeller made a good roustabout Hercule, Kyungmook Yim was an exciting Apollon (Admète’s friend in high places), and Ryan Kinsella effective as the oracle who decrees the substitution possible. Manahan, in the pit, was always dignified but never boring — the proper style for Gluck.

John Yohalem

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