Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

Arizona Opera Ends Season in Fine Style with Fille du Régiment

On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.

Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera

This second revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2005 production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia seems to have every going for it: excellent principals comprising experienced old-hands and exciting new voices, infinite gags and japes, and the visual éclat of Agostino Cavalca’s colour-bursting costumes and Christian Fenouillat’s sunny sets which evoke the style, glamour and ease of La Dolce Vita.

The Siege of Calais
——
The Wild Man of the West Indies

English Touring Opera’s 2015 Spring Tour is audacious and thought-provoking. Alongside La Bohème the company have programmed a revival of their acclaimed 2013 production of Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and the composer’s equally rare The Wild Man of the West Indies (Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Mary Zimmerman’s still-fresh production is made fresher still by Shagimuratova’s glimmering voice, but the acting disappoints

Voices, voices in space, and spaces: Thoughts on 50 years of Meredith Monk

When WNYC’s John Schaefer introduced Meredith Monk’s beloved Panda Chant II, which concluded the four-and-a-half hour Meredith Monk & Friends celebration at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, he described it as “an expression of joy and musicality” before lamenting the fact that playing it on his radio show could never quite compete with a live performance.

St. John Passion by Soli Deo Gloria, Chicago

This year’s concert of the Chicago Bach Project, under the aegis of the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation, was a presentation of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Johan Botha as Radames [Photo by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
15 Oct 2009

Aida at the MET

Noblesse oblige: The Met feels it must present Aida — and Tosca — and La Bohème — and certain other gaudy spectacles — because it’s the Met and everyone expects the grandest of the grand.

Giuseppe Verdi: Aida

Aida: Violeta Urmana; Amneris: Dolora Zajick; Radames: Johan Botha; Amonasro: Carlo Guelfi; Ramfis: Roberto Scandiuzzi; Pharaoh: Stefan Kocán. Conducted by Daniele Gatti. Metropolitan Opera, performance of October 12.

Above: Johan Botha as Radames

All photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera

 

The dearth of grand Verdi sopranos and tenors from the current opera scene does not deter. This has led to some somnambulistic Aidas in recent years, but the current revival, spiffed up and to an extent restaged by Stephen Pickover with new choreography by ABT’s Alexei Ratmansky plus a new conductor, Daniele Gatti, makes it a more satisfying evening than many Aidas of recent years. To top it off — this should be basic, but in fact it’s rare — five good singers with great big voices perform the leading roles. How often does that happen?

One detail may indicate how rethinking little things can improve a whole performance. Act IV, scene 1, the Judgment Scene of Aida: Amneris sits stage front, all headdress and nerves — the man she loves, Radames, is just offstage, on trial by the priests for having betrayed Egypt. Not coincidentally, he has also betrayed Amneris, his fiancée, for love of the slave girl Aida, secretly daughter to the Ethiopian king. Three times, high priest Ramfis reads the charges … and Radames refuses to reply. “He does not answer,” Ramfis says, and the priests cry, “Traitor!” — to which Amneris responds with rising hysteria, ever more desperate to save the man she still loves — who is condemned to burial alive. A brief drum roll crescendo covers the space between each of Ramfis’s questions and the bald statement: “He does not answer.” Verdi assumed conductors would understand the excitement of the moment … and hold onto it as long as they could. James Levine used to drive me crazy at this point, always jumping the gun as if, knowing Radames isn’t going to answer, he saw no reason to wait for it. The reason to wait is because it’s drama — tension in the theater is gold, never something to toss heedlessly away.

In the current run, Daniele Gatti sits on those brief pauses over low timpani rolls for several jittery seconds, giving us time to sit up and chew our nails. Dolora Zajick, the Amneris, clutches an idol and twists her jewels, and we get the little jolt just as Verdi planned. Sweet.

AIDA_scene_Urmana_and_Guelfi_2463.pngVioleta Urmana as Aida and Carlo Guelfi as Amonasro

This makes up for some scrappy work from Gatti and the orchestra elsewhere, ill-balanced horns blaring in the prelude, a flute coming in a bar too early in the ballet — is the Met bored with this opera? They’ve given it over eleven hundred times and last Columbus Day (or Verdi Day, as William Berger has suggested it be renamed, to honor the composer’s birthday on the tenth) the Met was playing to a packed house. There was, however, a sense — on the third Aida of the run! — that Maestro Gatti had not settled matters of tempo with his singers or was still changing his mind. Phrases were sometimes rushed when the singers seemed to wish to linger, or held back while they barreled ahead. Johan Botha’s Radames did not find the music waiting for his voice on his Act III entrance and had to hurry along to catch it up. Also, though this is not Gatti’s fault but director Pickover’s, during the triumphal procession of Act II, the many squadrons of soldiery marathoned past Pharaoh at such a pace that there is no time to pause to bow to their sovereign on the reviewing stand. Were I the king, I’d send the whole lot off to the papyrus mines.

Despite these lapses, it was about as solid an Aida as may be heard on these shores nowadays, the sets monumental as ever, the enormous Met forces appearing even more numerous than they were (two horses lead the procession, plus another to pull the chariot), the five leading roles sung by big voices, each well able to fill the enormous room.

AIDA_Urmana_0127.pngVioleta Urmana as Aida

Violeta Urmana, the night’s Aida, has a sumptuous soprano with a warm glow to it — she doesn’t have to push to flood the house with sound, and she glides into lovely piano phrases of nostalgia for Ethiopia or when fading to death in the tomb. These perfect, purling phrases are not always to be depended upon, however — a line or two of “O patria mia” peeled paint and elsewhere she dipped into flatness, and she sometimes ran out of breath on a high note. Then, just as you thought she’s simply a soprano with a “short top,” she launches a flawless legato over the very roof of her range. Aida is a long role with a lot of high floating notes alternated with deep descent, and the leaps in dynamics from one emotion or range to a contrasting one, and these abrupt alterations appear to trouble her. Still, for long stretches of the night, she was the big, beautiful Aida the world yearns for.

AIDA_Zajick_1615A.pngDolora Zajick as Amneris

Dolora Zajick has sung seventy Amnerises at the Met — if the company still went on tour (and didn’t the provinces always demand Aida?) she’d be neck and neck with the champ, Louise Homer, who sang it ninety-seven times from her debut in 1900. Zajick’s clarion mezzo still soars, wobble-free, and in the Act II concertato she is louder than the massed populations of Egypt and Ethiopia. One wishes she could change costume to suit the change in mood between Acts III (wedding night) and IV (crisis), but the production now subsists on two intermissions instead of three, and probability must be sacrificed.

Johan Botha has both the voice and the girth to keep his ladies in their places. His fresh, stalwart, graceful singing is just a bit unvaried for some tastes, but I can’t remember when I last heard “Celeste Aida” sung or phrased so beautifully — that is, until the final fading pianissimo, which concluded in a bobble that, one fears, defused an impending ovation. As mentioned above, he began his love duet a measure or two late, but otherwise sang it persuasively if lacking dramatic fire. Verdi’s music may require a more throbbing emotional urge, and may not be quite as ideal for Botha as Wagner’s Walther or Strauss’s Apollo. Still, in so big and vocal an opera as Aida, it’s a pleasure to hear a tenor so well matched with his soprano and mezzo. His acting, however, is minimal and stiff, his instincts less than sure — do we need that basketballer’s upraised double-fisted “Yessss” when he is named to command Egypt’s armies?

Carlo Guelfi makes a sturdy Amonasro, if a bit rough and ready — but this is not a suave part. Roberto Scandiuzzi makes a dignified if not ideally sonorous Ramfis. Stefan Kocán, a debutante Pharaoh, sounds out of place and weak among these five mature voices. Adam Laurence Herskowitz sings an admirable Messenger.

Alexei Ratmansky has devised new dances for the ballets of Act II. The dance for Amneris is a well-played classic pas de deux that might surprise those used to girls in this lively bit, who thought men were barred from oriental harems — be generous: the boy might simply be a eunuch. The ballet for the triumphal scene fell rather on the Russian side of a compromise between traditional ballet moves — which do seem odd in a monumental Egyptian setting — and any attempt to be “faux Egyptian” or “faux African.” Both dances made much of Verdi’s striking rhythms, and the corps de ballet (as in last year’s La Gioconda) showed what a little attention from a genuine ballet master will produce.

John Yohalem

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):