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.
Following highly successful UK premières of Salieri’s Falstaff (in 2003) and Trofonio’s Cave (2015), this summer Bampton Classical Opera will present the first UK performances since the late 18th century of arguably his most popular success: the bitter comedy of marital feuding, The School of Jealousy (La scuola de’ gelosi). The production will be designed and directed by Jeremy Gray and conducted by Anthony Kraus from Opera North. The English translation will be by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray. The cast includes Nathalie Chalkley (soprano), Thomas Herford (tenor) and five singers making their Bampton débuts:, Rhiannon Llewellyn (soprano), Kate Howden (mezzo-soprano), Alessandro Fisher (tenor), Matthew Sprange (baritone) and Samuel Pantcheff (baritone). Alessandro was the joint winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Competition 2016.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.
Applications are now open for the Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.
Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).
Handel’s Partenope (1730), written for his first season at the King’s Theatre, is a paradox: an anti-heroic opera seria. It recounts a fictional historic episode with a healthy dose of buffa humour as heroism is held up to ridicule. Musicologist Edward Dent suggested that there was something Shakespearean about Partenope - and with its complex (nonsensical?) inter-relationships, cross-dressing disguises and concluding double-wedding it certainly has a touch of Twelfth Night about it. But, while the ‘plot’ may seem inconsequential or superficial, Handel’s music, as ever, probes the profundities of human nature.
The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.
On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).
For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.
The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.
A skewering of the preening pretentiousness of the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes of the late-nineteenth century, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 operetta Patience outlives the fashion that fashioned it, and makes mincemeat of mincing dandies and divas, of whatever period, who value style over substance, art over life.
Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught demonstrated a relaxed, easy manner and obvious enjoyment of both the music itself and its communication to the audience during this varied Rosenblatt Series concert at the Wigmore Hall. Erraught and her musical partners for the evening - clarinettist Ulrich Pluta and pianist James Baillieu - were equally adept at capturing both the fresh lyricism of the exchanges between voice and clarinet in the concert arias of the first half of the programme and clinching precise dramatic moods and moments in the operatic arias that followed the interval.
This Sunday the Metropolitan Opera will feature as part of the BBC Radio 3 documentary, Opera Across the Waves, in which critic and academic Flora Willson explores how opera is engaging new audiences. The 45-minute programme explores the roots of global opera broadcasting and how in particular, New York’s Metropolitan Opera became one of the most iconic and powerful producers of opera.
On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.
During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.
The first production of Ryan Wigglesworth’s first opera, based upon Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, is clearly a major event in English National Opera’s somewhat trimmed-down season. Wigglesworth, who serves also as conductor and librettist, professes to have been obsessed with the play for more than twenty years, and one can see why The Winter’s Tale, with its theatrical ‘set-pieces’ - the oracle scene, the tempest, the miracle of a moving statue - and its grandiose emotions, dominated as the play is by Leontes’ obsessively articulated, over-intellectualized jealousy, would invite operatic adaptation.
Today, Wexford Festival Opera announced the programme and principal casting details for the forthcoming 2017 festival. Now in its 66th year, this internationally renowned festival will run over an extended 18-day period, from Thursday, 19 October to Sunday, 5 November.
A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.
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.