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.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain. And, if the second half of the programme - 20th-century American classics with the odd folky diversion - did feel a little like a prolonged encore (which was followed by three further suavely delivered numbers complete with mischievous banter and musical high-jinks), this did not lessen the musical and theatrical accomplishment or the evident delight of the Wigmore Hall audience, although I confess to feeling a bit of a sugar-rush
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
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.