Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Brandon Jovanovich (Luigi) and Patricia Racette (Giorgetta) in Il Tabarro [Photo by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
30 Sep 2009

San Francisco Opera: Puccini's Il Trittico and Verdi's Il Trovatore

The complexity of staging Puccini's evening of three one-act operas, Il Trittico, has kept this masterpiece from appearing on opera stages as frequently as, say, Turandot or Tosca.

Giacomo Puccini: Il Trittico
Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore

Click here for cast list of Il Trittico

Click here for cast list of Il Trovatore

Above: Brandon Jovanovich (Luigi) and Patricia Racette (Giorgetta) in Il Tabarro

All photos by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera except as otherwise indicated

 

Then there’s the length. Two years ago the Metropolitan Opera had a huge success with a new production in its first year of Live in HD telecasts to movie theaters. Last season Los Angeles Opera also got headlines for hiring Woody Allen to direct Gianni Schicchi, with another film director, William Friedkin, taking on the Suor Angelica and Il Tabarro.

Suor_Rac1.gifPatricia Racette (Sister Angelica) in Suor Angelica
San Francisco Opera, for the second production of its 2009-10 season, pulled together an admirable cast, while borrowing a New York City Opera production of intriguing, if stark, sets, designed by Allen Moyer. Perhaps the rusted metallic plates that served as wharf and barge for Il Tabarro were more utilitarian than evocative, and setting Suor Angelica in a sanatorium clinic of aquamarine tiles gave that emotionally rich piece a clinical feel. Still, the power of Puccini’s music and the efforts of a talented cast should make for a memorable evening.

Both the Tabarro and Suor Angelica felt flat, as seen on Friday, September 18th. The fault lay with the tepid conducting of Patrick Summers. Plum assignments go to this conductor, and his program essay revealed a keen intelligence aware of the qualities that make the music of Il Trittico so special. But the actual performance he produced with the estimable San Francisco Opera orchestra disappointed. Rhythms were flaccid, transitions awkward. The exquisite opening of Il Tabarro conveyed no sense of either water in motion or the tragedy to come. Suor Angelica had no pathos, and left the audience dry-eyed, despite the fine work of Patricia Racette. By comparison, a year ago James Conlon in Los Angeles and Sondra Radvanovsky in the lead role had their audience choking back sobs. The Schicchi went better, mostly because James Robinson’s direction, sharp and incisive all night, produced so much laughter that it rode over any flaws in the conducting.

Schi_LomRac.gifDavid Lomelí (Rinuccio) and Patricia Racette (Lauretta) in Gianni Schicchi
Racette took on all three lead soprano roles, and with Robinson’s help, each was a clearly defined characterization. Her Giorgetta played up the frustrated sexuality of the character, linking her to the Pagliacci Nedda. At times Racette seemed to be holding some power in reserve for the rest of the long evening, but then again Summers let the orchestra swamp other singers at times as well. Racette’s Angelica was a subtle, restrained performance, and in this production, the ending leant toward tragedy rather than miraculous redemption. The highlight of the entire evening was the confrontation between Angelica and the Princess of Ewa Podleś. Podleś’s voice now has two quite separate registers, but the awkward gear shifts between the two only served to make her character more imposing and ominous. Racette returned for the Schicchi Lauretta, where she played up the lovestruck, not to say dumbstruck, teenage sex kitten. Her “O mio babbino caro” worked its manipulative magic even with Paolo Gavanelli’s stubborn papa on the other side of a door.

Gavanelli also had moments of greatness as Michele in Tabarro, although the macho good looks of Brandon Jovanovich’s Luigi made Michele seem obtuse for not guessing that his wife had taken up with the hunky cargo handler. Jovanovich sang with thrust and yet sensitivity - a real tenor to watch. David Lomeli did some nice work later in the evening as Rinuccio in Schicchi. If Lomeli can strengthen his lower range, he too will be on his way to a fine career. Andrea Silvestrelli in both Tabarro and Schicchi grabbed the spotlight with his relaxed but convincing acting and most of all, a huge, dark bass sound. Under many an other conductor, the whole evening would have been a considerable success.

Schi_WomenGav.gifMeredith Arwady (Zita), Catherine Cook (La Ciesca), Paolo Gavanelli (Gianni Schicchi), and Rebekah Camm (Nella) in Gianni Schicchi

The next night saw the fourth of SFO’s telecasts from the War Memorial to the ATT ballpark, home of the Giants. Verdi’s Il Trovatore filled the bill on Saturday the 19th. Your reviewer was one of an estimated 25,000 who kept the concession stand management happy with visits for overpriced treats of doubtful nutritional value. The ballpark turned out to be a surprisingly wonderful way to enjoy an opera on a cool but bearable San Francisco evening. The crowd was mostly quiet, although in the last act the slamming of concession stand windows could be heard, and most unfortunately, during Leonora’s first aria a small girl escaped her guardian and ran around the roped-off infield for a couple of minutes, to the raucous laughter of the crowd.

HvoRad_CW.gifDmitri Hvorostovsky (Count di Luna) and Sondra Radvanovsky (Leonora)
But Trovatore and this cast made for an exciting ball park entertainment. The audio boomed out, sometimes echoing off the stadium heights, but the occasional moments of distortion did not eclipse the pleasures of this visceral performance under the commanding leadership of new SFO Music Director Nicola Luisotti. Stephanie Blythe staked her claim to be the Azucena of her generation - fearless in her attack, emotionally open, and most importantly, strict in never letting the characterization sink into comical extremes. Dmitri Hvorostovsky has received criticism for pushing his lovely baritone in a heavier Verdi role such as Di Luna, and he did bark out some lines, but his gorgeous tone and seamless legato dominated his performance, pushing aside any grumbles.

BerBly_TMC.gifMarco Berti (Manrico) and Stephanie Blythe (Azucena) [Photo by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
Sondra Radvanovsky took the honors that evening, with her amazing breath control, agility, and the unique quality to her voice - smoky and yet utterly feminine. Arguably, the slower tempo of “D’amor sull’ali rosee” showed off more of Radvanovsky’s incredible technique than it did Leonora’s desperation, but Luisotti and Radvanovsky set up the challenge and she met it beautifully, earning a tumultuous response. For Marco Berti in the title role, it might be a back-handed compliment, but he does seem to be about the best the opera world can do right now in this role. The tone lacks color, and he brings no particular style to his efforts. But the voice is huge and undaunted by the role’s challenges. Other tenors can do more with “Ah si ben mio,” but for the rest of the role, Berti came through.

Bil_CW.gifBurak Bilgili (Ferrando) and chorus

As seen on the ATT ballpark giant screen, David McVicar’s production caught the hothouse atmosphere of the narrative well, and the revolving set facilitated much appreciated quick scene changes. Why the final scene found Manrico and Azucena imprisoned in a hole in giant rock confused your reviewer, but the darkness of the screen and the chilly lateness of the hour might be at fault there.

David Gockley, General Director of San Francisco Opera, has done very well in selecting Nicola Luisotti as Music Director. If only Luisotti had been at the helm of the Il Trittico performances as well as the Trovatore ones…

Chris Mullins

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):