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“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.
13 Oct 2009
Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the MET
Bartlett Sher’s production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia has
proved one of the more admired stagings of the Peter Gelb regime, but
I’ve avoided it due to a surfeit of Barbieres and to fond
memories of the John Cox production on Robin Wagner’s delicious turntable
set, about as ideal a Barbiere as could be imagined.
story was told clearly, the stage pictures were handsome and the set changes
elegant, the funny business funny and to the point, the movement rapid. Even
Rossini’s thunderstorm got laughs, as a projected starry sky was
gradually effaced by clouds and real rain while the set spun around below. I
wasn’t crazy about the barber’s updated costume and I could have
done without the donkey — the donkey is the one item Mr. Sher retained.
Figaro’s costume is back to tradition.
The Sher production does not get in the way of the storytelling (a major
point! especially in a comic opera), does not introduce new sub-plots the
composer never delineated (a defect of the recent stagings of Tosca,
Sonnambula and Fidelio, among others), the stage pictures are
attractive and will endure repeated viewing (unlike Tosca), the funny
business is sometimes funny — and gives scope, as a comedy staging
should, for funny performers to make it more so; there are inexplicable touches
(what is that giant anvil in the sky, aside from a sign of Mr. Sher out of
ideas? Why does Bartolo’s china closet explode?), and the movement is
constant if not always logical. Seville, indicated in the previous production
by the city’s famous white walls and a splendid conservatory in the
courtyard of Bartolo’s mansion, is now implied by many, many doors and an
orangery. At one point, the Count, playing a drunken soldier, makes a swipe at
an orange tree with his saber — and appeared to slice it through —
the best laugh of the night. I’d give the production a solid B, maybe a
The most distinctive part of the Sher staging — aside from the
moveable doors that comprise most of the set, and which are often used to
delightful farcical advantage — is the platform around the orchestra pit
that allows singers to leave the action and come warble to us intimately, duck
out of busy action entirely, complain about how badly they are being used by
other characters — or hand out business cards to the audience, as Figaro
does during the curtain calls. This parade in front of the apron also allows a
solid but underpowered cast to make a more powerful effect than they would if
they remained center stage. There was certainly an improvement in sound quality
when they stepped forward.
Among the singers last Thursday night, the smoothest, most elegant, most
satisfying performance came from Bulgarian newcomer Orlin Anastassov, who
possesses the requisite size, depth and legato for Don Basilio and is an
amusing comic actor to boot. It is no surprise to see in the program that he is
singing Boito’s Mefistofele elsewhere this year —
that’s an opera that the Met could certainly use back in its repertory,
and he’s a likely candidate to put over a role that calls for an agile
actor as well as a remarkable voice.
Joyce DiDonato as Rosina and Barry Banks as Count Almaviva
Rodion Pogossov, a showman of great charm and comic energy — you may
well remember his Papageno — sang a most entertaining Figaro, with a
seductive and self-seductive way of phrasing. John Del Carlo, a familiar and
excellent buffo quantity, fudged the racing patter of “A un dottore del
mio sorte,” as so many Doctor Bartolos do, but proved an effective foil
for the antics of all the others throughout the evening. You can’t have a
farce if the villain isn’t convincingly alarming — if he’s
not, nobody else’s antics make sense. Del Carlo, tall as a Wagnerian
giant, can be alarming while full of self-pity, which is just what we want.
Barry Banks is a comic actor the equal of any bel canto tenor going —
his smarmy smiles as the feigned “Don Alfonso” were especial joys
— and his coloratura technique is remarkable, but the quality of the
voice itself was dry in “Ecco ridente” and rather hollow the rest
of the night. Dramatic intensity (as Oreste in Rossini’s
Ermione) and delirious self-parody (as Thisbe in Britten’s
Midsummer Night’s Dream) are his fortes; romantic heroes are
Joyce DiDonato as Rosina and Rodion Pogossov as Figaro
Joyce Di Donato is a few years into an important career. She is an excellent
comic actress — you listen to her, yes, but you also watch, just to see
what madcap business she’ll come up with next. She works the manic
fireworks of “Contro un cor” in the Lesson Scene into a
simultaneous show of brilliant vocalism and stage hilarity like no other Rosina
I’ve seen. When she dashes out on that walkway to deliver the
evening’s few big phrases, her strong line suggests that many of the
grander bel canto roles (Adalgisa, Elisabetta Tudor, La Favorite)
would suit her nicely, but in some of her rapid-fire phrases in “Una voce
poco fa” and elsewhere, she seemed too anxious to race up and down the
scale to bother with the note-perfect ideal flow of a Horne, a Berganza or a
Swenson. She seems to love to play this role and to be on stage with these
other singers, but a little more technical focus (and you just know
she could do it) would make hers an extraordinary Rosina instead of merely a
very good one. Claudia Waite, the Berta, sang her “sherbet aria”
with the shrill, ungrateful tone one expects of, well, Berta the laundress.
Maurizio Benini in the all but invisible orchestra pit kept the wheels
turning precisely without calling attention to himself — it was not a
Mozartean reading of the score but a reliable base for the farcical doings on
stage. The whole evening seemed calculated in that direction, and it was
gracious of him to be so self-effacing, but sometimes Rossini works well as a