Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

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):