Recently in Reviews
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.
04 Oct 2009
Il trovatore in San Francisco
SFO general director David Gockley has a mania for developing new audiences — last year The Bonesetter’s Daughter was aimed at enticing the Asian American community into the opera house, and Porgy and Bess encouraged the African American community to cross the threshold.
This fall season, besides programming only composers and operas that everyone has heard of, he seems to have targeted two other rather large groups — those who would not be caught dead in an opera house and those who are hard of hearing.
Verdi’s blockbuster Il trovatore opened the SFO fall season on September 11. The War Memorial’s familiar gold curtain flew out to reveal the production’s show curtain, a detail of one of Goya’s Disasters of War etchings, dampening the festive mood of the inauguration of the company’s eighty-seventh season. The Met and Chicago Lyric had conspired with San Francisco Opera to create this new production of Verdi’s first mega-opera. We can hope that it will not end up in SFO’s warehouse to be revived every five or six years, or ever again.
Verdi blockbusters are not fodder for little league opera. The great big San Francisco Opera had the goods. A big style, knock-em dead, real Italian conductor Nicola Luisotti, the company’s incoming music director; a real Italian tenor, Marco Berti (a recipient of the Giuseppe Verdi Gold Metal), Sondra Radvanovsky, an American soprano who brings real push to “spinto;” the mezzo Stephanie Blythe, Musical America’s (the major trade publication) current Singer of the Year; and Dimitri Hvorostovsky (who needs no introduction) as the Count di Luna. It was a lively contest as to who could sing louder, clearly at the urging of the maestro. It was loud, very loud.
The most beautiful singing of the evening came from Hvorostovsky in the second act reverie of his love for Leonora, though the effect was betrayed by the maestro who too aggressively drove Verdi’s delicate orchestration. Stephanie Blythe heaved the rantings of Azucena from her chest throughout the evening, leaving her vocally exhausted at the end, and arousing our concern for her on-going vocal health. Mme. Radvanovsky was busy with strange operatic acting accompanying her impressively goosed up, later in the evening bleating vocal production, evoking concerns for her eventual vocal health as well. Marco Berti squarely hit the high C (though not for very long) in Di quella pira, actually a high B as the whole aria had been transposed down to accommodate this show-off high note infamously interpolated by tenors.
At the September 25 performance many of the audience rose to their feet when Azucena appeared for her bow, then the balance stood when Hvorostovsky took the next bow (Azucena had just sung her guts out in the final trio while the Count di Luna merely looked on, one might have thought she would have taken the later bows in turn with Leonora and Manrico). Then la Radvanovsky got huge, the hugest applause, probably because she had the softer, prettier arias, followed by the title role, Manrico, who was well appreciated as the most genuine performance of the evening (no one expects sincerity from a tenor, so its lack was not a problem).
Scottish stage director David McVicar got the whole thing wrong. Il trovatore is not about infanticide or bloody revenge (or Napoleonic wars), it is about singing. Famously victimized as a bad libretto Il trovatore is a succession of set pieces that tell what has happened over a thirty year period. There is very little in Il trovatore of what is actually happening at the moment. Each of its eight scenes needs a specific mood to be set within which the story-telling takes place, and it was any attempt to create these moods that this production lacked. Unfortunately this led to a painful absence of poetry in this musically and theatrically over-blown production.
McVicar, as a good director thinks he should, attempted to make a dramatic whole, over-laying a larger mood or concept — the horrors of the Napoleonic wars. Il trovatore is far less than a national or social tragedy, and these larger horrors were quite pale, indeed unnoticeable beside the vicious personal dramas of Verdi’s characters. To the hopeless task of imposing a dramatic unity McVicars and his designer Charles Edwards developed a revolving set that could instantly move from one locale to another, one story to another, with no time for the Verdi’s moods to dissipate and then radically transform themselves. Put this together with the pushed-to-the-hilt conducting of Luisotti and it became opera that hit below the belt.
The performance on September 19 was beamed simultaneously to the digital scoreboard of AT&T ball park where a reported twenty-five thousand people converged to participate in this contest of who could sing loudest. More than opera, Opera at the Ball Park is a San Francisco happening that entices just about everyone to join in the sport of opera, if not the art of opera.