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It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
RILM Abstracts of Music Literature is an international database for
musicological and ethnomusicological research, providing abstracts and indexing
for users all over the world. As such, RILM’s style guide (How to Write
About Music: The RILM Manual of Style) differs fairly significantly from
those of more generalized style guides such as MLA or APA.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
11 Oct 2009
Los Angeles “Ring” continues to amaze
It’s three down and one to go in the first-ever staging of Richard
Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen at Los Angeles Opera. Following the
premiere of Siegfried, the third installment of this epic work of
music theater, it’s clear that director/designer Achim Freyer is a
The audience that packed 3,600-seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the
September 26 afternoon event, was even more wildly enthusiastic about
Feyer’s work than it had been at the end of Rheingold and
Walküre that launched this $32-million project last season. (True,
there were “boos,” but they were almost totally inaudible against
the bravos heaped upon Freyer and his production team.) Yet one must ask
whether Freyer’s Wagner is as great as it seems. Has the director, whose
theory of theater was shaped in his native East Germany in Bert Brecht’s
Berlin Ensemble, really found a — if not the — key to
Wagner’s genius or has he rather created a spectacle that awes his
audience into breathless admiration?
Although Freyer is clearly a winner, the bigger question is how well Wagner
fares under his hand. Every director — even in this age of overheated
Regieoper — claims to do what the composer wanted done to
realize his intentions. Let’s start with Freyer’s most obvious
triumph: he leaves one with the desire to see the segments of this
Ring again — an opportunity that will be available when LA Opera
stages three complete cycles of the tetralolgy in 2010. Freyer brings an
immense amount to Wagner; he makes every moment an overlay of meanings
involving symbols impossible to absorb and interpret in a single exposure. Yet
his approach to Siegfried, compared to his two earlier installments of
the cycle, is relatively minimalist. The stage is uncluttered, and largely
absent are the mammoth doubles of the major characters. The staging relies
heavily on effects achieved through sophisticated lighting.
Siegfried, although rich in event with the forging of the sword,
the slaying of Dragon Fafner and the launching of the love story that will
dominate Götterdämmerung, is by far the most difficult of the
Ring operas to stage. Wagner, viewing the four-part work as a
symphony, suggested that this third chapter is a scherzo, and that has prompted
some directors to introduce all sorts of funny-bone nonsense into the staging.
Freyer — happily — goes in another direction. Nothung, the sword,
is forged vocally without the trappings of the Village Blacksmith, and
Siegfried runs Fafner through with only a blue-lighted tube. Indeed, the dragon
that dwarfs the stage in many productions is an understated Disneyesque dwarf
in top hat.
Scene from Siegfried [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of LA Opera]
One is relieved at the removal of such hackneyed attempts at
“realism.” Freyer keeps a tight lid on the scherzo idea. Humor in
Wagner? One recalls the waggish observations that Pfitzner’s monumental
Palestrina is Parsifal without the jokes.” The one line
in Siegfried that gets a laugh in this age of surtitles is the
hero’s observation as he removes Brünnhilde’s armor:
“That’s not a man!” Wagner hardly expected to split sides
Young Siegfried is — like young Parsifal — a pure fool with
everything to learn and only four hours to do so. It’s a heavy trip, and
Freyer offers all the help he can in hints and images to get the hero to his
goal. It’s the goal — Siegfried’s awakening of Brünnhilde and
the great duet that follows - that is most problematic in this staging.
Brünnhilde, despite heavily incestuous intimations on the part of Father Wotan,
is still a virgin. In terms of sexual enlightenment, however, she is light
years ahead of Siegfried who has spent his early years tumbling about the woods
with only bears as companions. In the duet a huge distance is yet to be covered
in only half an hour of music. It’s here that Freyer offers so much help
that Wagner’s music suffers.
The wealth of imagery, lighting effects and those “invisible”
imports from Kabuki drama that move slowly about the stage are a study in
excess. Text is all important here, and as the curtain fell one wished for a
concert performance of the duet to underscore this fact. Freyer’s
decision to hide Brünnhilde in a haystack — plus a towering Afro and
billowing gown — offered little help. Indeed, although Freyer is out to
illuminate text and explain the story, he often detracts from the musical
excellence of this production. That excellence is largely the work of music
director James Conlon who knows this score note by note and has built an
orchestral second to none to do his bidding. His cast, furthermore, is without
weak links. True, John Treleaven and Linda Watson, his Siegfried and
Brünnhilde, are best viewed as adequate singers, who work with intelligent
sensitivity to realize Freyer’s intentions.
Superb, on the other hand, is Graham Clark’s portrayal of
Siegfried’s guardian dwarf Mime, a role to which he has claimed almost
sole ownership for two decades. As Wotan disguised as the Wanderer Ukrainian
Vitalij Kowaljow makes his mark as the most promising young singer to tackle
this role in recent seasons. Jill Grove’s Erda is definitive.
What is most strange about this Siegfried is that it is without
emotional impact — and perhaps Freyer wants it that way. His teacher
Brecht, after all, was out to put feelings on ice and make people think in his
didactic theater. The viewer is all too absorbed by Freyer’s approach; he
keeps one thinking — or guessing at least. He is demanding, and
it’s impressing that the audience responds as positively as it does. Yet
an occasional goose bump would provide welcome relief.
A final observation: Freyer grew up secured from the decadence of Hollywood
by the Anti-Fascist Protective Wall (the official East German designation for
that structure). Yet in Los Angeles one is always aware that Hollywood is right
next door, and there is much in Freyer’s Ring — the
streaming of colored patterns, the choreography of lighted tubes — that
brings that proximity to mind. On the other hand, had Wagner had this
technology at his fingertips, he — like Bach at a Bechstein — would
have gone bonkers. He would have abandoned his insistence upon
“real” trees and rocks and lost himself in the imagination in which
Achim Freyer indulges himself perhaps a bit too freely.
Götterdämmerung, which completes the Los Angeles Ring, plays from, 3 to 25 April, 2010. Three cycles of the Ring will be on stage between May 29 and June 26, 2010.