Recently in Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
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.