11 Oct 2009
Donizetti's Maria Stuarda at the Sferisterio Festival
A number of performances from the Sferisterio Opera Festival have been released in recent months.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
A number of performances from the Sferisterio Opera Festival have been released in recent months.
A summer event, the festival setting, a classic amphitheater, can be seen under the opening credits of this DVD. This brief segment sets the mood for a good opera evening, as the crowd settles to view the action on the long, relatively narrow stage. Pier Luigi Pizzi directed an atmospheric Macbeth for the festival (search the archives for the review here). The same design principles that enhanced that Verdi opera do not work as effectively for Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. Once again, there are ramps, staired pedestals, a pitch black background, and simple, spare props. Costumes are heavy and detailed, with so much fabric in the ladies’ gowns that some produce annoying rustles with the slightest movement. Pizzi, who designed sets and costumes besides directing, must have decided he’d get more “budget bang” out of how he dressed his singers than in where he placed the action. Here he strands his performers in unatmospheric, dark surroundings, making the already sketchy drama seem portentous as well.
The weak structure of Maria Stuarda doesn’t help matters. Act one takes about 30 minutes to set up Elisabetta’s hatred of Maria Stuarda, not for political/religious reasons but because Elisabetta feels that Maria stole the Queen’s man, the Earl of Leicester. Maria only enters her eponymous opera in act two, where she is begged to tamp down her temper when Elizabeth visits, in hopes of a reprieve from her death sentence. But in the scene that keeps this opera alive, Elisabetta and Maria tear into each other with claw and fang. Understandably condemned, Maria then spends act three, after a futile attempt to change Elisabetta’s mind, exhibiting tragic nobility as she awaits her fate beneath the ax. The great choral number at the end serves as the audience’s reward for enduring Maria’s protracted leave-taking.
In a recent La Scala production on DVD, Anna Caterina Antonacci as Elisabetta and Mariella Devia as Maria put on a master class of vocal technique and committed acting. This Sferisterio production suffers from lacking a potent Elisabetta. Laura Polverelli scowls appropriately, and Pizzi certainly employed his skills to make her both as regal and as unattractive as possible. But Polverelli sings monotonously, with little color or insightful inflection. Maria Pia Piscitelli fares better as Maria, especially in the final scenes. As an actress she doesn’t possess much range, but her instrument at least can meet Donizetti’s challenges and retain some degree of appeal. She is thoroughly adequate, as are Roberto De Biasio as Leicester and Simone Alberghini as Talbot.
Ricardo Frizza and the Orchestra Filarmonia a Marchigiana play crisply, though not with immaculate tuning. Though the Naxos booklet comes only in English, it deserves praise for offering a full track listing, credits, essay, synopsis, photographs and artist biographies. Many booklets from larger companies don’t offer all that. Still, for Maria Stuarda on DVD, go for the La Scala.