06 Aug 2009
On deception at Sferisterio Festival, Macerata, Italy
L’inganno is this year’s theme at the Sferisterio Festival in Macerata, Italy.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power. Under the neon-glare of laboratory strip-lights, the scientists and literary archeologists rout through the relics, scrape away palimpsests, shatter the printing presses, and uncover a shocking tale of violence, sex, suicide and cannibalism. ‘Strip the cities of brick,’ they cry; ‘Cancel all flights from the international airport.’ Yet, despite its ‘distance’ - both historical and aesthetic - this disturbing juxtaposition of innocence and monstrosity unsettles and seeps into our modern consciousness, like ink staining parchment.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.
L’inganno is this year’s theme at the Sferisterio Festival in Macerata, Italy.
Derived from the Spanish word engañar (to deceive), inganno (deception) is presented by new productions of Don Giovanni, Madama Butterfly and La traviata, by the world premiere of Matteo D’Amico ‘s Le Malentendu,by Handel’s oratorio Il Trionfo del Tempo sul disanganno and by Ugo Betti’s play Corruzione al Palazzo di Giustizia.
The production of Don Giovanni was specifically designed for the Teatro Lauro Rossi, a 400-seat gem from the 17th century. Staging is simple: two black walls, three large Plexiglas mirrors and an oversized white bed. Two of the mirrors are placed so that the theater’s boxes and loggione become an integral part of the scene. The third mirror is suspended from above showing the stage and bed. The metaphor is clear: sexual drive animates the protagonist and lives in all the other characters, but it is also a motor to deceiving, and cheating on, one another. However, this choice is not meant to narrow everything down to sex and to the cheating and deception involving sex. Don Giovanni’s tragedy descend from his determination to achieve happiness and power only through deceiving and cheating by the means of sex, irrespective of how this is obtained . This staging requires young, handsome and athletic singers with, of course, excellent voices and experience.
Pier Luigi Pizzi’s direction demands, literally, an acrobatic performance for many singers but acting was always of very high quality. The singers chosen for the production are all accustomed to large theatres in Italy and abroad (e.g., La Scala and the Met) and not to a small theater such as the Teatro Lauro Rossi. As a consequence, they sang too loudly. A stentoreous Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (Don Giovanni) and a stubbornly passionate Carmela Remigio (Donna Elvera) were the stars. Both had perfect vocalisation and diction. Myrtò Papatanasiu (Donna Anna) tended to scream such that her diction was not understandable. Marlin Miller (Don Ottavio) had difficulties with the upper range. The remaining performers were good but not excellent. The music director, Riccardo Frizza, should have provided suitable guidance in establishing a proper balance. In addition, his conducting was deficient because of the lack of pathos and of the uncertain tempi throughout the performance.Scene from Don Giovanni
In the second opera in this series, Madama Butterfly, Pinkerton deceives little Butterfly by not taking his wedding vows seriously, by abandoning Butterfly and by subsequently marrying Kate. Performed at the open-air Arena Sferisterio di Macerata, Daniele Callegari, conducting the Orchestra Regionale delle Marche (the same orchestra as in Don Giovanni), evoked a remarkably better musical experience. We feel the subtleties of Puccini’s score (the familiar 1906 Opéra Comique version): from the Japanese folk melodies to the enthralling lyricism; from the matter of fact conversational pieces to the tragic denouement. The Coro Lirico Marchigiano “Vincenzo Bellini”, under the direction of David Crescenzi, ingeniously appear in Act II as a long procession on the 130-meter stage.
The sets and direction propose a “visionnaire” Japan – inspired by Pierre Loti’s blend of narrative and travelog. In front of the enormous wall of the Sferisterio is Butterfly’s white, spotless little house in a garden adorned by a cherry tree. By Act II, the verdant garden is transformed into a barren landscape. The widely-acclaimed Raffaella Angeletti performed the title role. Despite her petite physique, she possesses a powerful, yet delicate voice. She easily traverses the tonal range demanded by the role, her legato and phrasing being particularly noteworthy. Massimiliano Pisapia performed a credible Pinkerton with a generous tenor voice supported by a clear timbre. Although he is technically a “tenore spinto”, he has an excellent register particularly in the central tonalities. Claudio Sgura (Sharpless) and Annunziata Vestri (Suzuki) are deserving praise for their performances.Scene from Madama Butterfly
The 61-year old Mariella Devia appeared as the protagonist in this production of La traviata, a role portraying a youngish consumptive. Nonetheless, she was magnificent, without the slightest sign of fatigue. She turned from bel canto in the first act, to hectic realism in the second act and to the pale voice of the third act. Alejandro Roy was an effective Alfredo with a big voice displaying good phrasing and a remarkable flexibility in the upper extension. On the other hand, the trim, athletic Gabriele Viviani was barely credible as Alfredo’s father, especially in the dramatic scene and concertato at the end of the second act.Scene from La traviata
Violetta is on stage during the overture where the opera seemingly unfolds as a long flash back of the dying protagonist’s life. Her guests resemble ghosts. At the insistence of censors, the opera was originally set in and around Paris circa 1700. This production is set in Paris circa 1880-1890 (the Third Republic) not 1853 (the Second Empire) when the work was first performed. We smell the perfume (and the opium) of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past). It is not a realistic staging. For example, in the second act, Flora’s guests wore their large hats throughout the party—a symbol of the strong conventions of the upper class of the Third Republic. But this was not the custom at that time. Mariotti’s musical direction kept a good balance between the pit and the stage. It was effective, innovative and passionate in the first act overture and in the third act prelude. The remainder of the performance, however, was merely ordinary. Overall, this was not a noteworthy production or performance.
Giuseppe Pennisi –based on the July 23rd, 24th and 25th performances.