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On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
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.