Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Leoncavallo: Zazà - 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. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

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 : Beidermann 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.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .



Natalie Dessay as Violetta [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera]
27 Jul 2009

An Evening at Père Lachaise [Or, Natalie Dessay Attempts Violetta]

A fine-sounding Santa Fe Opera orchestra, excellently conducted by Frédéric Chaslin, was barely into the haunting, delicate prelude to Act I of La traviata, when a funeral procession, wet umbrellas unfurled, arrived to wend its way though a stage full of big grey marble rectangular boxes, handsomely abstracted tomb shapes, soon to be the courtesan Violetta Valéry’s destination. So much for the Prelude to Act I.

Giuseppe Verdi: La traviata

Violetta: Natalie Dessay; Alfredo: Saimir Pirgu; Gastone: Keith Jameson; Germont: (through Aug. 17) Laurent Naouri, (Aug. 22, 26, 29), Anthony Michaels-Moore; Douphol: Wayne Tigges; Dr. Grenvil: Harold Wilson. Conductor: Frederic Chaslin. Director: Laurent Pelly. Scenic Designer: Chantal Thomas. Costume Designer: Laurent Pelly. Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler.

Above: Natalie Dessay as Violetta

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera


_MG_2947a.gifSaimir Pirgu (Alfredo)

During the intensely dramatic prelude to Act IV, anonymous stage figures in half light, darted about draping the tombs with white shrouds preparing the death scene of Violetta — so much for that essential orchestral moment; again our attention had fled. For Flora Bervoix’s Act III party, the weighty boxes, artfully arranged at varying heights, served as pedestals to show off swaying party girls in lavish 20th century dancing gowns. “Dancing on her grave?” Santa Fe’s new mounting of Verdi’s opera, largely the work of a director Laurent Pelly’s French team and the prima donna Natalie Dessay, seemed an evening at Père Lachaise, almost literally, but Lachaise-manqué, transmogrified. The conceit was interesting; many in the audience liked it and enjoyed its innovative energy, yet it was, as we say, for its own sake — it added no new insight into the old opera. It could also get in the way.

_MG_3847a.gifLaurent Naouri (Germont) & Natalie Dessay (Violetta)

Opinion divides on Mme. Dessay, as it usually will when coloraturas essay Violetta’s essentially dramatic role. Through history, light-voiced divas such as Galli-Curci, Lily Pons and Roberta Peters have tried and faded with the fatal part. Deconstructively ruinous at Santa Fe was Dessay’s Act II costume — dull, shapeless cotton slacks and a large man’s-style white overshirt; barefoot. She was a 1960s hippie caught at home. The problem was it robbed her of much dignity: and Violetta’s self-denying dignity is key to the effect of this central act, with the two Germont men, each asking her something different, and opposing. She is cruelly torn; it takes all her resources to survive intact. By dressing her way down for the big confrontation scenes, Dessay’s Violetta lost a lot of feminine stature and, unintentionally I am sure, pushed her comic-seeming side; she looked raffish and moved in an almost Carol Burnett way — all wrong. Producer Pelly got this act badly off key. To do anything to defeminize Violetta is a grave mistake. Violetta must be poignantly believable in Act II — or her show does not fly, hélas!

The device of the graveyard underlying the whole opera seemed an over-kill, ultimately a kind of director’s bad joke. Once again, where was dignity, seriousness? La traviata is a mid-19th century tragic opera, with many social overtones; it is most certainly to be taken seriously. But I did not sense a lot of that with M. Pelly, though the performing artists worked hard. Where was letting the music speak for itself (as in the two preludes mentioned above)? Is it anything less than an affront to second-guess Giuseppe Verdi in judging the effect of his music, and what it takes to put it over in theatrical terms? Opera lovers will have their own views on this. In an interesting touch, Père Germont was costumed and played as a 19th century figure, and that he surely is; but Violetta is no less so, and to take her out of that cultural milieu was counterproductive.

_MG_6138a.gifNatalie Dessay (Violetta)

Finally, Mme. Dessay is not a Violetta. As seen on the Santa Fe stage, she is a little bird — in Act I a frantic, drunken little bird with an orange wig and bright red and pink plumage; by the end she was a plucked pullet flopping about the stage. Her voice does not have the dynamic or tonal range to explore the full dimensions of Verdi’s music or Violetta’s emotions; it is almost always the same color. She was wise to sing both stanzas of “Addio del passato…” for a soft pianissimo tone is her best asset just now, and she long held the aria’s final p. high-A. A singular moment. I like Mme. Dessay a lot, and she’s had a wonderful career, especially considering two throat surgeries and a baritone husband. I think she has the spunk, but ultimately not enough vocal resource to do justice to Verdi’s paragon soprano role. The surprise of the evening was the excellence of Parisian baritone Laurent Naouri in the role of Père Germont. His well-voiced traditional portrayal played strongly against the eccentricity of the rest of the production; he showed vividly how this wonderful opera should be treated. The young Alfredo was debut artist Saimir Pirgu, an Albanian tenor with a pleasing voice and manner, graced by a nice smile. In the latter stages of the opera he warmed to some beautiful soft-toned singing.

J. A. Van Sant ©2009

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):