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The Importance of Being Earnest , Gerald Barry’s fifth opera, was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Barbican, and was first performed in concert, Thomas Adès conducting the London premiere.
‘Beauty is the one form of spirituality that we experience through the senses.’ In Thomas Mann’s, Death in Venice, Plato’s axiom stirs the hopes of the aging, intellectually stale poet, Gustav von Aschenbach, that he may rekindle his creativity.
What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?
There is a sense in which it all began in London, Puccini having been seized in 1900 with the idea of an opera on this subject after watching David Belasco’s play here.
The tenor that the audience most wanted to hear, Plácido Domingo, opened the vocal program with “Junto al puente de la peña” (Next to the rock bridge) from La Canción del Olvido (The song of Oblivion) by José Serrano. He sounded rested and his voice soared majestically over the orchestra.
Tucked away somewhere in the San Francisco Opera warehouse was an old John Cox production of Così fan tutte from Monte Carlo. Well, not that old by current standards at San Francisco Opera.
Rossini's Maometto Secondo is a major coup for Garsington Opera at Wormsley, confirming its status as the leading specialist Rossini house in Britain. Maometto Secondo is a masterpiece, yet rarely performed because it's formidably difficult to sing. It's a saga with some of the most intense music Rossini ever wrote, expressing a drama so powerful that one can understand why early audiences needed "happy endings" to water down its impact
I suppose it was inevitable that, in this Britten Centenary year, the 66th Aldeburgh Festival would open with Peter Grimes.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Garsington Opera at Wormsley isn’t Mozart as you’d expect but it’s true to the spirit of Mozart who loved witty, madcap japes.
What a pity! On a glorious — well, by recent English standards — summer’s day, there can be few more beautiful English countryside settings
than Glyndebourne, with the added bonus, as alas much of the audience appears
to understand it, of an opera house attached.
Described by one critic as “cosmically gifted”, during her tragically short career, American mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson amazed and delighted audiences with the spellbinding beauty of her singing and the astonishing honesty of her performances.
Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity.
“I wrote it almost without noticing.” So Verdi declared when reminded of his eighth — and perhaps least frequently performed, opera, Alzira. One might say that, since he composed the work, no-one else has much noticed either.
Just when you thought the protagonist was Hoffmann! Who, rather what stole the show?
When is verismo verily veristic? Or what is a virginal girl dressed in communion white doing in the two murderous acts of the Los Angeles Opera’s current production of Tosca? And why does she sing the shepherd's song?
Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.
Wagner’s Lohengrin is not an unfamiliar visitor to the UK thanks,
in the main, to Elijah Moshinsky’s perennial production at Covent Garden.
Philip Glass's The Perfect American at the ENO in London is a visual treat, but the libretto is mind-numbingly anodyne.
Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a
record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation.
Few people who love opera in general and bel canto in particular have never heard the comment made by Lilli Lehmann, veteran of the inaugural Ring at Bayreuth in 1876, that singing all three of Wagner’s Brünnhildes—in Die Walküre, Siegfried, and
Götterdämmerung, respectively, all of which she sang to great acclaim—pales in comparison with singing the title rôle in Bellini’s Norma.
02 Jul 2009
Carmen Triumphs (Again) at the Opéra Comique
Bizet’s famed heroine Carmen returned this June to the place where it all began, in a critically-heralded new production by Adrian Noble. Frank Cadenhead was on hand to experience the staging held at the opulent newly-renovated Opéra Comique.
At the Opéra Comique in Paris, the theater where it was first performed, Bizet’s Carmen has triumphed again. One of the most performed operas around the world, it has recorded nearly 3000 performances alone at the Comique. But a new production with a fresh perspective has given the old girl new life. Hugh Canning, of the Times of London, declares “Carmen has never sounded more revolutionary, romantic or thrillingly vibrant.”
Conductor John Eliot Gardiner brings along his polished Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique to play on instruments which recreate the lost sound of the 19th Century orchestra. His Monteverdi Choir, with a discipline and artistic commitment not found in Parisian opera choruses, also showed a real sense of the theater. Stage director Adrian Noble, a former head of the Royal Shakespeare Theater, created an intense, elegant, cliché-free staging that tells the story with an engaging freshness. There has seldom been a director so committed to the details of this fatal confrontation and who could work with such talented singing actors. The single set easily becomes taverns and bullrings thanks to the lighting of Jean Kalman, who is, quite simply, the best in the business.
The fact that this opera is being performed in a theater with only 1255 seats certainly contributed to the more intimate reading. Most American audiences, for example, see this opera in theaters two or three times the size of the Comique. Carmen, usually a season filler, is a vehicle for stars to strut and orchestras, twice the size that would fit in the Comique pit, to swell and soar. Gardiner, however, conducts with a clarity and sure impulse that strips away the accumulated years of bombast. Among other details, the First Act duet between Don José and Micaêla finished with a quiet intensity and not with the shouting match one usually hears. He also restored several sections which are routinely cut, including a profoundly disturbing, almost Wagnerian bit of music when Carmen learns that the cards predict death.
The grand Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci was in top form for this role. She has already recorded it at the Royal Opera in London on DVD but this effort is a different, more subtle reading, more in tune with Gardiner’s adherence to the storytelling art of Adrian Noble. As Don José, the talented American tenor Andrew Richards, fully recovered from an indisposition which caused him to miss an earlier performance, was able to give 100% for the performance on June 25, broadcast live to fifty theaters in France and Switzerland. That night was also recorded for later television broadcast and thus become a candidate for a DVD release. The gifted soprano Anne-Catherine Gillet, who sang the role of Micaêla, was quite fine, as was the Escamillo of Nicolas Cavallier. All of the second roles were played to perfection with a particularly lively children’s chorus, Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine, who actually, for the first time in my experience, sang intelligible French.
This latest acclaimed production, sold-out months ago, only adds to the stature of the house. Both English conductor John Eliot Gardiner and Italian mezzo Anna Caterina Antonacci have homes in Paris. It would not be difficult to imagine working with either of these two grand artists to present something compelling. Gardiner’s reading of Berlioz’ Les Troyens at the Theatre du Chatelet in 2002, available on DVD, revealed new color and detail plus Antonacci sang a Cassandre for the ages.
The Opéra Comique is one of Europe’s most elegant venues and a lively complimentary program, Les Rumeurs, is assembled around each new opera; in addition to concerts of Bizet’s music, the 1915 silent film with the same name and subject by the young Cecil B. DeMille was only another part of the festivities. The season opener this year, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, with conductor William Christie working with stage designer Deborah Warner, was thought by many to be the finest production in Paris this season. The theater’s recent efforts to reexamine the French repertory, scandalously neglected by the French since World War II, is clear in the next season announced recently. Operas by Messager, Grétry, Thomas, Berlioz (Béatrice et Bénédict) and Aperghis grace a schedule ending with Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, again with Maestro Gardiner and his musical forces.
The new season can be previewed (in French) at www.opera-comique.com.
This review first appeared in Playbill on 1 July 2009. It is reprinted with permission of the author.