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Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
11 Oct 2009
Don Carlo at Covent Garden
The full five-act version of Verdi’s historical epic, Don Carlo, makes for a long evening, but thanks to some fine singing and to the driving sweep of the baton of Semyon Bychkov this four-and-a-half hour performance raced by.
Bychkov’s was a controlled reading; but, while some may argue that he kept the leash too tight, he appreciated the need for contrast - now urgent, now relaxed. Moreover, he draw from the ROH orchestra a startling array of colours and textures, paying scrupulous attention to the exquisite details within the instrumental fabric and drawing the delicacies of the inner voices to the surface. A perfect canvas upon which to play out this drama of political violence and private trauma.
This is an opera about confrontations. From the first Fontainebleau scene - when indicatively the lovers’ triplet ‘resistance motif’ is introduced to the text, ‘The fatal hour is nigh’, against the jaunty, repetitious theme of chorus - an unremitting battle wages between Church and State, father and son, individual and society, love and duty. Such oppositions are enhanced by Verdi’s contrasting vocal roles - the bright baritone of Posa juxtaposed with the deep resonance of Philip, the indomitable fury of Princess Eboli distinguished from the vulnerability and near-hysteria of Carlos.
Marianne Cornetti as Princess Eboli
So, it is no surprise that it was the epic confrontations between the Spanish King Philip II - the real centre of this work, despite the precedence given to his son in the title - and first Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, and then the Grand Inquisitor which were the driving force of the opera. Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Philip II is a disturbed, troubled man. His struggle with Simon Keenlyside’s Posa, signalled by an electrifying outburst of orchestral thunder, provided the first moment of chilling dramatic intensity, a shocking insight into the fire of Inquisitional Spain, where religious fervour, political zeal and personal strife intermingle. This was a masterly conception by Furlanetto, every note, every gesture placed with consummate care and conviction. He released a beautiful stream of sound which did not diminish his steely authority, convincing us that this really was the man whose very name could make all of Europe tremble. This Philip has genuine regal gravitas; which makes his demise in Act 4 all the more astonishing and affecting, as the sonorous bass, underpinned by a beautiful ’cello solo, reflects on his loneliness and despairingly acknowledges his empty, loveless marriage. Having revealed his humanity, in Act 5 Philip faces the Grand Inquisitor, in a hostile confrontation between State and Church. John Tomlinson’s ghastly Inquisitor was certainly the -physical embodiment of terror in his blood-red robes, but did not always match the ominous visual effects with sufficient vocal intimidation and menace.
Does Italian opera need Italian voices? Perhaps not, but the other members of the cast, no matter how well trained in Italian technique, or schooled in language and diction, simply don’t possess the same innate sense of the tradition. Does this matter? Keenlyside may not have a truly Italianate sound but he brought a relentless energy and vibrancy to the role, perfectly conveying an obsessive fervour which really could sway the unworldly Carlos from idyllic love to political idealism.
Marina Poplavskaya as Elizabeth of Valois and Jonas Kaufmann as Don Carlos
Carlos himself was performed here by Jonas Kaufmann, a baritonal tenor who looked, acted and sang the part with impressive skill, sustained musicianship and stamina. Carlos is difficult role to pin down: is he a romantic dreamer, à la Werther, or a genuine political idealist? He’s certainly come in for some criticism
while it’s probably true that all Verdian tenors commit acts which lead to their deaths or to the deaths of those they love, Carlos has been attacked for his ‘inner paralysis’ which condemns him to inaction, for his self-destructive rage and empty threats, and described as a man who is ‘incapable of coherent political thought’. Part of the problem is the change of emphasis which results from the inclusion or excision of the opening Fontainebleau scene. If it is included, Carlos appears as a man of sensibility, living in a world of inner dreams. But, in this production, Kaufmann later chose to focus on Carlos’ political idealism, an aspect somewhat at odds with the romantic dreamer of the opening; and he never quite convinced that the passion for which so much is sacrificed is genuine and not self-delusory. Kaufmann’s Carlos is easily influenced by the fervent Posa, but he seems perhaps too ready to sublimate his love for Elizabeth to the ideological principles that define Rodrigo’s existence. Their Act 2 duet, a heroic hymn of brotherhood, suffered from the similarity of their vocal timbre, the rather passive direction and a tempo that lacked urgency: perhaps the problem is that the melody that embodies the warmth of their personal friendship also has to serve as an anthem of their political commitment to the liberation of Flanders.
That said, there was undoubtedly a dramatic chemistry between the two men, and this was a musically compelling performance from Kaufmann. In scene one, when the chorus have departed and fall silent, Carlos’ line disintegrates and in a breathless wavering over a coda-like orchestral elaboration of the chorus’s theme, Kaufmann used his mezza voce to great effect.
Marina Poplavskaya, as Elizabeth of Valois, could have made more liberal use of this sort of well-placed, controlled pianissimo. Confident and powerful, Poplavskaya rode the orchestral sound well, and created a smooth line in the upper register. Her bitter tirade after the dismissal of her lady-in-waiting for neglecting her duties when the Queen is discovered alone in the garden, demonstrated her frustration and anger, but there was little light and shade in this interpretation. Marianne Cornetti has the necessary weight for Princess Eboli but the coloratura in her Act 2 Veil Aria was hopelessly imprecise and some unsubtleties in her portrayal drew some unfortunate laughs.
The large Chorus made an imposing sound; the Act 3 auto-da-fe scene seemed less cluttered and busy than when this production was first aired, but still created an impressive spectacle. However, Hytner’s largely naturalist reading and the period costumes were rather at odds with designer Bob Crawley’s somewhat stylised sets; the stark colours, from glaring silver of ice and birch tree in opening forest scene, to glowing red of Spanish sun glaring down on conical pine trees as women gather in piazza, evoked a fairytale ambience which did not accord with the realism of Hytner’s vision and diminished the opera’s grandeur.
Despite the frustration of hearing the text sung in Italian rather than French, this was a persuasive performance, musically and dramatically, and one which achieved the necessary balance between political epic and private passion, between the grand sweeps of history and personal intimacy.