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Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
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.
11 Oct 2009
Orfeo at La Scala
Robert Wilson staged Salome at La Scala in 1987, installing a troop of student actors on the stage to enact some sort of abstract action flow that had no discernible relationship to the Salome libretto, meanwhile sung by concert dressed opera stars huddled on a corner of the stage.
Had the Kent Nagano pit not been appallingly lackluster perhaps some chance illuminations of the Strauss score might have been struck, as was Mr. Wilson’s intention.
Just now, 22 years later Mr. Wilson has struck out again, this time with Monteverdi’s Orfeo, a few distinguished early music singers exercising abstracted hand and arm gestures and stilted dance movements, and a well-known Wozzeck screeching Orfeo in whiteface. Had Rinaldo Alessandrini not been in the pit there would have been no flashes of the Monteverdi genius, and as it was these were reduced to a very few.
The Alessandrini Monteverdi trilogy at La Scala has been eagerly anticipated, particularly after his sublime cycle of Monteverdi madrigals (complete) at the Edinburgh Festival two years ago. Mo. Alessandrini brings a restoration to these old scores much as faded and mutilated Renaissance paintings are imbued with vibrant original line and color through restoration. In the visual arts this is accomplished by complicated scientific process, in the spheres of music Alessandrini must rely on his dramatic intuitions.
He finds infinite colors and timbres to the narrower tones of old instruments and to the whiter production of the human voice. He hones the vowels, carves the consonants and sculpts the phrases of a pristine Italian, and he drives its rhythms and tempos to embrace larger periods. He generates the precise moment when emotion bursts into syllable and sentence. Under Alessandrini’s baton the Monteverdi word does indeed become the Orphic moment.
Robert Wilson is an architect. The art of architecture, it is said, is frozen music. He chose a Titian painting, Venus with Eros and an Organist, as his visual metaphor for the world’s first great opera. In the painting two small forests of cypress trees nearly converge in a strong perspective that carries our erotic imagination suggestively beyond the foreground dominated by a lush female nude scrutinized by the male organist twisting around from his keyboard.
Scene from Orfeo [Photo by Marco Brescia - La Scala Photographic Archives]
In Wilson’s version exactly twelve perfectly shaped trees are carefully frozen into a perspective space through his characteristic hard edge, sculptural lighting. Wilson replaces Titian’s sumptuous foreground nude and the leering organist with his Orpheus who dominates the foreground, rushing back and forth across the stage apron. Titian’s pastoral nudity was replaced by the off-white costumes (the flesh color of Titians’ Venus) that generically covered the shepherdesses and made the shepherds comically plumb-shaped rather than sveltely swain-shaped.
The familiar characters of this well-known myth were presented as elaborately dressed Renaissance mannequins who moved from frozen gesture to frozen gesture, Monteverdi’s tumbling torrents of words stopped in their tracks by Wilson’s motionless visuals. The Messaggera who delivers the emotional account of Euridice’s death was Sara Mingardo, known for her fine recordings with Rinaldo Alessandrini and his Concerto Italiano that have earned her the reputation as the Maria Callas of early music. But for her extended second act monologue she was straight-jacketed by the staging and by a formless black dress, Alessandrini’s simple organ continuo unable to breath life into this great moment of early opera, sadly lost in the vast spaces of this huge theater.
Austrian baritone Georg Nigl was Orfeo. Though a credentialed early music singer he is better known on major European stages as a Wozzeck. He has a sizable voice and persona that is well able to fill large theaters. He lacks both a beautiful voice and a sympathetic presence, thus he was unable to project the strong humanity that overflows much mannerist art and particularly these emotionally heightened Monteverdi monologues. Uniquely, Wilson afforded him the only dynamism allowed on the stage, keeping him prominently moving in the foreground of the stage picture. His positioning on the stage apron sometimes activated acoustical quirks in the Scala auditorium, creating echos that heightened the freakishness of his detached note ornamentations.
Left to his own devices, Alessandrini shone in the sinfornie and the orchestral ritornelli, and very nearly got the extended madrigal that closes the second act into the spheres of great music. Other than the discomfort apparent in Mr. Nigl’s delivery of the Italian language, much of the beauty of the language was present in the otherwise Italian cast, though the finely detailed Musica of early music star Roberta Invernizzi was lost in the Wilson staging and in the vastness of La Scala. The Pluto of Giovanni Battista Parodi and the Proserpina of Raffaella Milanesi made no effect, while the Caronte of Luigi de Donato was buried under a silly costume. Only among the solo shepherds were there occasional glints of real, live performances.
Robert Wilson made important theatrical discoveries, and his innovations have enlivened our ideas of theater. He established his moment in the last third of the twentieth century, and is now working to preserve his legacy through the creation of his foundation. Given the formidable scope of his upcoming projects it is apparent that the foundation has become his atelier, and that projects like this Orfeo are stamped out in his mold. The sense of theatrical discovery that was once at the heart of his work was not present in his staging of this opera.
Rinaldo Alessandrini is the man of the moment, his discoveries of new depths in old music have uncovered musical vistas yet to be explored in both old and new music. This new sense of music theater deserves an original staging, one that hears this music, a staging that explores the excitement of Mo. Alessandrini’s discoveries rather than forces them into a dated mold.