Recently in Reviews
With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia
Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory
mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola,
whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the
Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.
Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.
American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no
less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series
feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera,
Nixon in China.
Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.
'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.
On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.
In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener
Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.
In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the
Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in
a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.
I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and
Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series
programmes opening the New Year.
There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.
On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.
Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.
A Falstaff that raised-the-bar ever higher, this was a posthumous resurrection of Luca Ronconi’s masterful staging of Verdi’s last opera, the third from last of the 83 operas Ronconi staged during his lifetime (1933-2015). And his third staging of Falstaff following Salzburg in 1993 and Florence in 2006.
One of Aidan Lang’s first initiatives as artistic director of Seattle
Opera was to encourage his board to formulate a “mission statement”
for the fifty-year old company. The document produced was clear, simple, and
anodyne. Seattle Opera would aim above all to create work appealing both to the
emotions and reason of the audience.
Contrary to Stolzi’s multidimensional Parsifal,
Holten’s simple setting of Lohengrin felt timeless with its
focus on the drama between characters. Premiering in 2012, nothing too flashy
and with a clever twist,
Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) consistently serves up superlatively sung Wagner
productions. This Fall, its productions of Philipp Stölzl's Parsifal and
Kasper Holten's Lohengrin offered intoxicating musical affairs. Annette Dasch, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Peter Seiffert reached for the stars. Even when it
comes down to last minute replacements, the casting is topnotch.
Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.
26 Oct 2009
Pascal Dusapin: Faustus, the Last Night
Pascal Dusapin (b. 1955) is an engaging composer, and his recent works includes a chamber opera entitled Faustus, the Last Night, a unique setting of the legend and a fine contribution to modern opera.
This version of Faust
differs from others, since it eschews the traditional narrative which starts
with Faust signing a pact with the devil, moves to the sometimes picaresque
adventures of the ensorcelled Faust, and ends with the devil claiming his soul.
Instead of retelling the story, Dusapin assembled the English-language libretto
from various sources to create a text focused on the trials and temptations of
Faust during the minutes before his fateful contract with the devil is due. In
a sense Dusapin takes his cue from Marlowe’s climactic soliloquy from
the end of his Tragical History of Doctor Faustus:
Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then though must be damned perpetually,
Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,That time may cease ad midnight
O lente, lente currite noctis equi!
The stars move still; time runs; the clock will strike;
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damned. . . .
(Act 5, lines 57-61; 66-68)
In creating this work, Faust is not necessarily a character worth saving,
with the inanity of his diabolic pact made painfully clear, and Mephistopheles
characterized with the dimensionality which makes him more than a minion of
Satan, but approaching the persona of Lucifer in challenging the nature of
mortal existence. The conversational tone of Faustus, the Last Night may be
traced to the kind of opera Strauss created in Capriccio, in the medium
foregoes the depiction of physical action to result instead in a shift of
thought and concept. (The concept is also used in Henri Pousseu’s
Votre Faust (1969), which revolves around a discussion about the prospect of
an opera on the subject of Faust.) The conversational aspect of
Dusapin’s Faustusalso echoes some elements of early opera, which
resulted in various settings of familiar myth. Akin to those early
seventeenth-century works, music in Faustus serves as a means to an end, a way
for Dusapin to convey the verbal ideas effectively. At times, too, the score
functions as a kind of soundtrack in order to allow the work to shift between
scenes smoothly and offer cues to mood and tone.
The performers as a whole conveyed the work effectively. The
English-language text emerges clearly, and while listeners should not have a
problem with the enunciation, subtitles are possible in the original language,
as well as French and German. Since the libretto is not published with the DVD,
those interested in exploring the text further may use the subtitles as a point
of departure (future DVDs like this would benefit from the inclusion of the
full text in the digital medium, as a matter of convenience for the user). As
Mephistopheles, Urban Malmberg personifies the role. His command of the part is
remarkable and serves as a foil for the doomed Faustus, as depicted by Georg
Nigl. At times Malmberg and Nigl overlap their lines, as found in the score,
and this underscores the blurring of their characters in this work. In
Dusapin’s Faustus, Mephistopheles can be as absorbed in thought as
Faust. In lieu of a stage devil who simply represents the diabolical forces,
Mephistopheles offers some comments which can be as intriguing as the ones
Dusapin puts into Faust’s mouth.
This resembles the interchangeability which occurs in modern productions of
Don Giovanni in the singers who portray the title character and his servant
Leporello sometimes switch their roles between performances. In this sense,
Malberg and Nigl work well together in this work to create a good dynamic, and
the other principals respond well to it. The angel is one of the more engaging
of Dusapin’s characters, and Caroline Stein gave the role the level
of definition to counterbalance Mephistopheles. The other two characters,
Robert Wörle as Sly (derived from the character in the prologue to
Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew) and Jaco Huijpen as Togod offer
various perspectives on the dilemma in which Faust finds himself. Throughout
the performance the conductor Jonathan Stockhammer allows the orchestra to
support the singers deftly. His tempos reflect his sensitivity to the text,
which emerges clearly in an engaging reading of the score for this new version
of the Faust legend.
James L. Zychowicz