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

Prom 1: Karina Canellakis makes history on the opening night of the Proms 2019

The young American conductor Karina Canellakis made history as the first woman to conduct the First Night of the Proms last night (19 July 2019) as she conducted the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall with soloists Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Ladislav Elgr (tenor), Jan Martiník (bass) and Peter Holder (organ) in Zosha Di Castri's Long is the Journey, Short Is the Memory (the world premiere of a BBC commission), Antonin Dvořák’s The Golden Spinning Wheel and Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass.

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Ron Howard’s latest music documentary after The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and Made in America is a poignant tribute that allows viewers into key moments of Pavarotti’s career – but lacks a deeper, more well-rounded view of the artist.

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Lucas Meachem as Don Giovanni [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera]
17 Aug 2009

Mozart and Gluck — Mixed Results at Santa Fe

It is never easy to revive a success. Audiences will remember the first run of a show and consciously or not, compare a revival with earlier favorable impressions.

Mozart and Gluck — Mixed Results at Santa Fe

Click here for information regarding Don Giovanni

Click here for information regarding Alceste

Above: Lucas Meachem as Don Giovanni

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera

 

So it was with Santa Fe’s current Don Giovanni, which premiered in 2004 under the musical direction of Alan Gilbert with a stylish mise-en-scène and direction by the team of Zinn/Rader-Shieber, and a thoroughly first-rate cast.

This summer Don Giovanni is sharply different, and the problem starts with musical direction of Lawrence Renes, a young conductor from the Netherlands, who does not seem ready to conduct Mozart’s masterpiece. Success was also attenuated by a young lightweight cast, which had little chemistry as an ensemble, and few adequate voices. I am not one to linger over negatives, but some points need to be made. Renes was all motion and nervous energy on the podium, giving cues where none were needed, ignoring shape and elegance, elements that virtually define Don Giovanni. He spent much time shushing the orchestra, probably in favor of a small-voiced cast; too much energy was lost in the process. His tempo for the Champagne Aria was excellent, likewise the Act II Serenade; but like much of the rest of the score, he treated them as isolated events. Missing were both over-all sweep and sufficiently defined details of inner voices of the orchestra that create the aural excitement of this seminal Mozart. Bottom line: de-energized, boring music making, in spite of much fuss and feathers.

SantaFe_0080.gifSusanna Phillips (Donna Elvira) & Matthew Rose (Leporello)

This translated over the footlights to the stage, where little style and at times almost amateurish performances were evident. Lucas Meachem cast as a swaggering Don, did not swagger — histrionically or vocally. He has a pleasant, if mild musical comedy baritone that most of the time could not be heard; he offered minimal physical style, and little ‘edge’ for a man who likes to conquer women “just for the sake of the list,” (in Santa Fe’s translation): one was much puzzled that he was cast by Santa Fe. The same was true of the vocally lightweight, histrionically shallow Leporello of Matthew Rose, a young singer not yet suited to the big leagues, at least not on this occasion.

SantaFe_1049.gifKate Lindsey (Zerlina) and Corey McKern (Masetto)

The pretty Zerlina of Kate Lindsey was too slight of voice and something of a vamp, in a role that usually is more demure. In “Vedrai carino” she began her aria of consolation far from the battered Masetto, and slithered slowly, erotically across the wide stage, exposing and caressing her legs in what amounted to a vulgar re-seduction of her battered groom. The aria was all about her, not about comfort for him. This was likely not Lindsey’s doing — the discredit belonging to director Chas. Rader-Shieber, who seemed often inattentive to details in his revival production. It should be noted the Masetto of Corey McKern was well-enough sung and played, one of the stronger performances among lead singers.

Charles Workman was a competent Ottavio — his voice even-toned and pleasant, but as a player he was Clark Kent without benefit of telephone booth. His movements were stiff and clichéd, his two arias no more than well-routined.

SantaFe_1322.gifElza van den Heever (Donna Anna) and Charles Workman (Don Ottavio)

The news gets better with Donna Elvira and Donna Anna. Susanna Phillips is a proven good thing as a Mozart singer and she again made her marks with the opera’s most interesting character, the oft-betrayed Elvira. Phillips’ generous warm soprano easily dispatched the coloratura demands of the role, while her lyric singing was full-bodied and projected well. Perhaps not the greatest actor, she nonetheless was in the spirit of her role and commanded her music and all her scenes; most important, she could be heard! Elza van den Heever, the South African-born, San Francisco-trained ‘baby dramatic soprano’ (as she is called), turned in an intense, driven and rather unsympathetic Donna Anna — often powerful, with a hard-edged bright soprano that mined every note Mozart gave her. But the voice is dynamically uneven, swinging from loud to soft, with awkward transitions. Her tonal quality can be steely, and is rarely warm or especially attractive, yet with further refinement she could be a useful singer in the right roles, as she seems to possess good basic talent. At present van den Heever is house soprano in a major German company, an experience that may be beneficial. She is worth keeping an eye on.

Over-all the red-tinted production, which offers engaging play among many hues and tones of crimson — bright, outraged fuchsia for Elvira, black figurations with somber maroon for Anna — even red tinted trees, walls and windows, still surprises and offers favorable flow and good logistics. With improved musical direction, and a more mature cast, Santa Fe’s Don might recapture former glories.


Christophe Willibald Gluck’s 1776 French-language version of Alceste, the story of a self-sacrificing Thessalonian queen who would give her life for her husband’s, rises or falls on two factors: Dancing and strong dramatic soprano singing of the title role. Santa Fe had both.

_MG_3986.gifPaul Groves (Admète) & Christine Brewer (Alceste)

As the queen, Christine Brewer sang with powerful, often glowing tone, commanding a strong top register with unique richness in the mid and lower ranges — qualities that make an ideal voice for a part that is both feminine and heroic. As might be imagined, Alceste is not easy to portray on stage, and Gluck was not, frankly, much of a dramatist, though among the greatest of musicians and composers. Act I is largely lament for the dying king; Act II is lamentation for the dying queen, and Act III is about both, then with a happy quick ending due to the beneficent intervention of legendary strongman Hercules and the god Apollo. The story is a compound of ancient Greek myth and legends, later made into a tragedy by Euripides, then further compounded into a drama for 18th-Century audiences by Gluck’s librettist Calzabigi. It is the work of many hands and seems it. Fortunately the glorious music unifies all into a musical whole, if not dramatic success — it is simply too repetitious.

_MG_7612.gifTom Corbeil (The Infernal God)

Since Alceste is a stand-about opera, what do you do but dance! Santa Fe brought in a wizardly choreographer and solo dancer from Spain, one Ana Yepes, a tiny woman who twirls and whirls onto the stage with a troupe of seven dancers, and also some choreographed chorus members and even a dancing tenor or two, and stirs up a delightful mélange of movement, motion and gesture, representing — well, whatever you want: the divinities of Hell, the local folk observing the antics of royalty and gods, the moods of the characters and their music, even at one point a little swaying audience of dancing figures for the second verse of Alceste’s mighty defiance aria, “Divinités du Styx,” sung with thrilling power and musical accent by Mme. Brewer. Many a singer would not have allowed that distraction during her principal aria.

_MG_7548.gifChristine Brewer (Alceste), Paul Groves (Admète) & Wayne Tigges (Hercule)

What did it all look like? It is not easy to say — the Queen and her King Admète (handsome, musically stylish tenor Paul Groves), were in either stately robes or classic Greek attire; the chorus in non-descript low colored robes, save for the ones that danced who had a touch of color, and the dancers themselves in what I would call ‘comic-book gothic,’ close fitting garb, though another observer offered terms such as ‘Buck Rogers’ or ‘outer-space.’ Apollo was in gold, a bully Hercule showed a lot of skin, and stately Mme. Brewer, fortunately, kept her dignity while grieving mightily for her ailing husband in Act I, and herself in Act II. Happily in the final scene she showed us a beautiful radiant smile.

_MG_6994.gifMatthew Morris (Apollo) & Ana Yepes (Dancer)

The imaginative stage director Francisco Negrin had the audience looking into what could have been the open end of a stage-sized cornucopia, or perhaps a horn of plenty, which curved into to a vanishing point and was sometimes blue, sometimes white — impressionistic and useful as generalized background, with a large ovoid shape, cracked open in the middle and glowing red therefrom, that appeared now and then. An oracular site? The gate to Hell? Google is no help! What really counted was the emotional effect of the music and singing, and here the proponents were strong and convincing. One will not soon forget the beauty and expressivity of the dramatic soprano’s tones in her various arias; nor of the well-modulated chorus; or the orchestra’s elegant playing, so balanced and refined under conductor Kenneth Montgomery, Santa Fe’s long-time and admirable resident classicist. A beautiful, if basically boring opera, well achieved.

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):