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 Performances

Miracle on Ninth Avenue

Gian Carlo Menotti’s holiday classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors, was the first recorded opera I ever heard. Each Christmas Eve, while decorating the tree, our family sang along with the (still unmatched) original cast version. We knew the recording by heart, right down to the nicks in the LP. Ever since, no matter what the setting or the quality of a performance, I cannot get through it without tearing up.

Detlev Glanert: Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch (UK premiere)

It is perhaps not surprising that the Hamburg-born composer Detlev Glanert should count Hans Werner Henze as one of the formative influences on his work - he did, after all, study with him between 1984 to 1988.

Death in Venice at Deutsche Oper Berlin

This death in Venice is not the end, but the beginning.

Saint Cecilia: The Sixteen at Kings Place

There were eighteen rather than sixteen singers. And, though the concert was entitled Saint Cecilia the repertoire paid homage more emphatically to Mary, Mother of Jesus, and to the spirit of Christmas.

Insights on Mahler Lieder, Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen

At the Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide in a recital of Schubert and Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Rückert-Lieder. Schuen has most definitely arrived, at least among the long-term cognoscenti at the Wigmore Hall who appreciate the intelligence and sensitivity that marks true Lieder interpretation.

Ermelinda by San Francisco's Ars Minerva

It’s an opera by Vicentino composer Domenico Freschi that premiered in 1681 at the country home of the son of the doge of Venice. Villa Contarini is a couple of hours on horseback from Vicenza, and a few hours by gondola from Venice).

Wozzeck in Munich

It would be an extraordinary, even an unimaginable Wozzeck that failed to move, to chill one to the bone. This was certainly no such Wozzeck; Marie’s reading from the Bible, Wozzeck’s demise, the final scene with their son and the other children: all brought that particular Wozzeck combination of tears and horror.

Korngold's Die tote Stadt in Munich

I approached this evening as something of a sceptic regarding work and director. My sole prior encounter with Simon Stone’s work had not been, to put it mildly, a happy one. Nor do I count myself a subscriber or even affiliate to the Korngold fan club, considerable in number and still more considerable in fervency.

Exceptional song recital from Hurn Court Opera at Salisbury Arts Centre

Thanks to the enterprise and vision of Lynton Atkinson - Artistic Director of Dorset-based Hurn Court Opera - two promising young singers on the threshold of glittering careers gave an outstanding recital at Salisbury’s prestigious Art Centre.

Lohengrin in Munich

An exceptional Lohengrin, this. I had better explain. Yes, it was exceptional in the quality of much of the singing, especially the two principal female roles, yet also in luxury casting such as Martin Gantner as the King’s Herald.

Hansel and Gretel in San Francisco

This Grimm’s fairytale in its operatic version found its way onto the War Memorial stage in the guise of a new “family friendly” production first seen last holiday season at London’s Royal Opera House.

An hypnotic Death in Venice at the Royal Opera House

Spot-lit in the prevailing darkness, Gustav von Aschenbach frowns restively as he picks up an hour-glass from a desk strewn with literary paraphernalia, objects d’art, time-pieces and a pair of tall candles in silver holders - by the light of which, so Thomas Mann tells us in his novella Death in Venice, the elderly writer ‘would offer up to art, for two or three ardently conscientious morning hours, the strength he had garnered during sleep’.

Philip Glass's Orphée at English National Opera

Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Orphée - and Philip Glass’s chamber opera based on the film - are so closely intertwined it should not be a surprise that this new production for English National Opera often seems unable to distinguish the two. There is never a shred of ambiguity that cinema and theatre are like mirrors, a recurring feature of this production; and nor is there much doubt that this is as opera noir it gets.

Rapt audience at Dutch National Opera’s riveting Walküre

“Don’t miss this final chance – ever! – to see Die Walküre”, urges the Dutch National Opera website.

Sarah Wegener sings Strauss and Jurowski’s shattering Mahler

A little under a month ago, I reflected on Vladimir Jurowski’s tempi in Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. That willingness to range between extremes, often within the same work, was a very striking feature of this second concert, which also fielded a Mahler symphony - this time the Fifth. But we also had a Wagner prelude and Strauss songs to leave some of us scratching our heads.

Manon Lescaut in San Francisco

Of the San Francisco Opera Manon Lescauts (in past seasons Leontyne Price, Mirella Freni, Karita Mattila among others, all in their full maturity) the latest is Armenian born Parisian finished soprano Lianna Haroutounian in her role debut. And Mme. Haroutounian is surely the finest of them all.

A lukewarm performance of Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette from the LSO and Tilson Thomas

A double celebration was the occasion for a packed house at the Barbican: the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s birth, alongside Michael Tilson Thomas’s fifty-year association with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Rossini Opera Festival 2009
23 Aug 2009

Zelmira in Pesaro

August is when Italians immerse themselves in the primal soup of all life. Hordes swarm to the Mediterranean shores and multitudes arrive in Pesaro on the Adriatic, where just then crowds of Rossinians from around the world arrive to partake of their primal operatic soup.

Gioachino Rossini: Zelmira

Polidoro (Alex Esposito); Zelmira (Kate Aldrich); Ilo (Juan Diego Flórez); Antenore (Gregory Kunde); Emma (Marianna Pizzolato); Leucippo (Mirco Palazzi); Eacide (Francisco Brito); Gran Sacerdote (Sávio Sperandio). Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Maestro del Coro: Paolo Vero. Roberto Abbado, conducting. Regia: Giorgio Barberio Corsetti. Scene: Giorgio Barberio Corsetti, Cristian Taraborrelli. Costumi: Cristian Taraborrelli, Angela Buscemi.

 

Somehow there seems to be enough room for everyone in what can only be described as a Last Judgment atmosphere.

Though of minimal size (six million euros) and recent birth (1980) the Rossini Opera Festival has emerged as one of Europe’s great opera festivals. There is a simple reason for this pre-eminence — the great Rossini, and the complete Rossini, and this festival’s dedication to finding singers, conductors and stage directors who can bring this magnificent body of work alive.

This is not to say that the ROF always succeeds, and when it does not it is usually because of the delicacy of its task and not the quality of its work. When it succeeds we reach the absolute heights of operatic sublimity, and this occurred last summer in Daniele Abbado and Roberto Abbado’s Ermione. This summer even greater heights were achieved by Georgio Barberio Corsetti and Roberto Abbado’s Zelmira.

Last summer the huge Adriatic Arena housed two productions, Ermione and Maometto II, on identical back-to-back temporary stages that bisected this covered arena. This summer with Zelmira as its sole occupant, the ROF took advantage of the additional space to create a 1500 plus seat auditorium. This relative hugeness created the momentary impression that we had stumbled into Verona’s Roman amphitheater, but with the reverberation specifications of a gothic cathedral. It was a scary beginning.

Common to Ermione and Zelmira was conductor Roberto Abbado and the orchestra of Bologna’s Teatro Comunale, a superb ensemble wired directly to the sculptural musicianship of this extraordinary conductor. Abbado began with pure Rossini, and absorbed the mise en scène, souping up his Rossini to embrace and reinforce the sometimes strange, truly powerful and always beautiful stage images. This was post-modern opera, really a twenty-first century gesamkunstwerk based on a Rossini score.

Fifty-eight year-old actor/dramaturg/video-artist/stage director Georgio Barberio Corsetti, a bastion of the late twentieth-century Italian theatrical avant-garde (surely there is a new one by now), and for the last ten years an important presence on Italian opera stages was the metteur en scène. Sig. Corsetti had an opportunity almost unique in opera — a huge empty arena in which he could create his own made-to-order scenic machine.

It was in medias res (no overture for informed Rossinians to identify as the same one the composer had also used for this or that comedy). The villain Antenore, sung by American tenor Gregory Kunde, feigned dismay and sorrow in the first of the evening vocal flights, but conductor Abbado skillfully avoided allowing him his applause. In fact all opportunities for applause were evaded until the fifth scene when Zelmira’s loved and loving soldier husband, sung by Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez, returning from war greeted his homeland in a dazzling tenorial display. This evoked a nearly twenty-minute ovation (N.B. this was the applause at the August 12 performance).

IMG_7790_aldrich.gifKate Aldrich as Zelmira

The first spine tingling scenic revelation was the slow erosion of the sand partially covering three monumental sculptures lying on the stage floor. This while Zelmira, sung by American mezzo-soprano Kate Aldridge cradled her father Polidoro, sung by Italian bass Alex Esposito who, suckling her breast completed the trio with Zelmira’s nurse Emma, sung by Italian mezzo-soprano Marianna Pizzolato. And then the supine monumental sculptures took flight, becoming huge, suspended, twirling figures.

A huge, full stage mirror reflected Mo. Abbado and his orchestra, with the inclusion of the audience, vertically slashed by the three blood-red electric stripes that marked the aisles of the tiered seating at the rear of the auditorium. This mirror then tilted forward to reflect a giant sand box that covered floor of the arena, visible through the mesh floor of the raised stage platform in which a multitude of mothers suckled their babies. In another scene a bloody soldier was gently washed by his wife, and later wounded and dead soldiers were dragged from a battlefield, etc.

Other times the mirror reflected the action on the stage as well, doubling the presences of the characters, a visually impressive staging technique that attained the Baroque ideal of the scenic meraviglioso. This simple trick (well, hardly simple to achieve) wove notions of the real and irreale with the concept of theater (opera) itself, and immersed us into a metaphysical world, here the hyper-world of music, Rossini’s music.

Brilliant too was the punctuation created by the minutes we sat in darkness and silence taking us from one illusionary world, that of babies and battles, to another, that of politics and intrigue — a flat gold wall and a coterie of ancient priests.

The complications of the staging, the juxtaposition of a single stage image with the changing poetic images of the arias, and the technical brilliance of the vocal displays of the arias finally merged. Sig. Corsetti had the confidence to pit vocal artistry against theatrical meaning, insisting that singing meant to impress could leave deeper and broader impressions, and they did. We soon learned that the complex scenic backgrounds for the arias were not distraction.

_MG_4606.gifAlex Exposito as Polidoro

The first Zelmira was Mme. Colbran-Rossini, well past her prime, thus Rossini gave her only one small aria near the end of the opera. Kate Aldridge, a formidable artists distinctly in her prime, almost eliminated our frustration at Zelmira’s vocal banishment (after all she is the title role) by delivering the brief aria, finally, with virtuoistic bite and finesse. Though Mme. Aldridge leaves the impression that she may not be a genuine Rossini singer she brought a forceful tonality to Zelmira of filial, maternal, uxorial warmth that firmly anchored the Corsetti entanglement of conflicting masculine bellicose, political and dynastic urges into this sentimental, feminine world.

Rossini’s ensembles embodied these archetypal conflicts, Mo. Abbado sculpting the multiple perspectives into statements that soared above time and place into the sublime. And for extended periods. Meanwhile Sig. Corsetti knew to remain scenically silent during these intense moments. Of spectacular beauty was the first act Zelmira and Emma lament duet with solo harp and english horn, as was Rossini’s recall of this scene by restating this music in the tragic moments of the last act.

Opera casting is infamously difficult as reconciling vocal attributes with physical and dramatic presence is a precarious business. This ROF production achieved the near miraculous with top level Rossini artists who could embody their characters. The attributes of Juan Diego Flórez are well-known, Alex Exposito possesses an unusually beautiful bass voice well adapted to Rossini demands, mezzo-soprano Marianna Pizzolato delivered the fervent roulades of her second act invocation to the gods to guard Zerlmira’s infant son with such conviction that it earned the evening’s second biggest ovation. Gregory Kunde is a unique artist, now well into mid-career who can bring the heft, brilliance and presence — vocally and dramatically — to make a Rossini villain real. Baritone Marco Palazzi completed the cast of six principals as Leucippo, henchman of the scheming Antenore.

The Rossini Opera Festival typically offers three productions. This summer in addition to Zelmira was the early comedy La Scala di Seta and his last comedy Le Comte Ory, both mounted in the small, early nineteenth century Teatro Rossini. La Scala di Seta was a new production staged by Damiano Michieletto and conducted by Claudio Scimone. Sig. Michieletto, a young Venetian, allowed expediency to triumph over art in this prosaic TV sit com style production that fulfilled the Rossini Opera Festival’s obligation to expose the complete Rossini. Seventy-five year old conductor Claudio Scimone, founder of I Solisti Veneti, brought the famous first act quartet to a very modest Rossini boil, but did not succeed otherwise in resuscitating this minor, flawed Rossini.

Le Comte Ory was a revival of the ROF 2003 production by Catalan director Lluis Pasqual, conducted this time by Paolo Carignani, the former head of Frankfurt Opera. The Pasqual production makes Rossini’s French comedy into a parlor game, a concept this masterpiece wears passably but a bit uncomfortably. Mr. Pasqual’s staging is conventional, as are his designs, costumes and lighting. On the other hand conductor Carignani gave us dynamic, vintage Rossini, working with the excellent orchestra of Bologna’s Teatro Comunale, and a fine cast, notably soprano María José Moreno as Adèle, Natalia Gavrilan as Ragonde and Laura Polverelli in the pants role, Isolier. Roberto de Candia ably delivered Raimbaud. In the 2003 production Juan Diego Flórez was the Count Ory, a tough act for young tenor Vlhe Shi to follow. Mr. Shi proved himself a musical Count, and succeeded well enough in accomplishing his antics.

Michael Milenski

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):