30 Oct 2009
Verdi's ”Trilogy“ at Parma
For Italy’s opera community, October is Verdi’s month. The composer was born near Busseto (now part of Parma Province) on October 10, 1813.
Wigmore Hall has announced the 25 young singer and pianist duos from around the world who have been shortlisted for this prestigious competition, which takes place at Wigmore Hall in September with the generous support of the Kohn Foundation. Details were announced on 27 April during a recital by Milan Siljanov, who won top prize in the 2015 Competition.
Garsington Opera's thrilling new commission for the 2017 Season, Silver Birch, will feature over 180 participants from the local community aged 8-80, including students from primary and secondary schools, members of the local military community, student Foley artists under the guidance of Pinewood Studios and members of Wycombe Women’s Aid.
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 less-than-tragic plight.
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.
For Italy’s opera community, October is Verdi’s month. The composer was born near Busseto (now part of Parma Province) on October 10, 1813.
Parma devotes the months to a major Festival, with other activities in nearby towns. Parma’s Verdi Festival aims at producing, by 2013, a boxed set of Teatro Regio DVDs with all Verdi’s operas in a special edition.
In Florence, the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino produced “the big three” — Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata — heard together on three successive nights. These were all entirely new productions by a young team, specialists in low cost but innovative work. This festival, a co-production with the elegant, classical Teatro Romolo Valli will continue in Reggio Emilio, “Verdi country”, but will not be heard in Parma.
Scene from Il Trovatore
Prices were quite low by European standards. The house was sold out in the first week of bookings, proceeds reaching € 600.000, about two thirds of the cost. As comparison, ticket sales in Italian houses cover, on average, about 12% of production costs. Nearly 25% of the audience was made up of young people under 26. Usually, the average of the audience is around 55 in Italian opera houses. For many of them, it was the first time they’d been in an opera house so they looked enthralled.
Ripa di Meana and his team (Edoardo Sanchi, set design, Silvia Aymonimo costumes, Guido Levi lighting). Guido Levi in charge of lighting.see the three operas as a single piece of musical theatre in three parts, viz. Rigoletto as a dark introduction in various shades of black and grey, Il Trovatore as a fantastic tragedy in blue and red, and La Traviata as a flowery dream.
This Rigoletto is “noir” rather than a dark introduction to the cycle. The entire plot is played in a bleak night. Very simple elements on the huge stage of the Teatro del Maggio Musicale:a movable wall squeezing the protagonists in a deadly tie, an oversized period car (a 1940s Buick?) where the Duke consummates his orgies, a small white doll house for Gilda, and old boat on the Mincio for the final scene. It is a tragedy without any glimmer of hope, not even in Caro Nome, or in the Love Duet.
Stefano Ranzani’s baton and the Maggio Musicale Orchestra (one of the very best orchestra in Italy for both opera and symphony ) were perfectly in line with this reading of the opera. Ranzani emphasizes the C flat and the D flat so that even the orchestra emanates a bleak color and atmosphere. Alberto Gazale was an excellent Rigoletto both dramatically and vocally and had a superb partner in Desirée Rancatore as Gilda; the opening night, (October 3rd), at the audience’s request, they had to encore the final scene of the second acts (“Sè, Vendetta, Tremenda, Vendetta”). It was harder to judge Gianluca Terranova who was called at the last moment to replace James Valenti as the Duke. He is a generous tenor, with an excellent acute and a strong volume, but uncertain phrasing — probably because he had to jump in the role without any rehearsal.
The following night Il Trovatore was played to a full house. On stage, there were no castles, no cloisters, no prisons, just a large early 20th century elegant living rooms with blue walls and a shocking red pyre (when required) or arches for the second act ‘s convent. However, the Count and Manrico (and their retinues) are in Medieval armour, whilst Eleonora, Azucena and the others in modern attire. The heightens the timeless reading of a plot where only Azucena is the character with psychological development. The others are stereotypes, almost a pretext for their arias, duets and concertatos. Some of the audience did not appreciated this interpretation of Il Trovatore, but at the end the applauses submerged the boos. Massimo Zanetti offered a carefully discreet conducting — in Il Trovatore the orchestra is mostly a support to the singers.Scene from Il Trovatore
Juan Jesùs Rodrìguez, Anna Smirnova and Stuart Neill are well known serious, experienced professionals. Stuart Neill gave a vibrant high C at the end of “Di Quella Pira” without attempting to sustain it too long. The real surprise was the young Arkansas soprano Kristin Lewis; a true soprano assoluto with a very large extension, a pure emission, an excellent coloratura and the skill to go up quite naturally to the highest tonalities and go down, equally naturally, to the lowest. She lives in Vienna and sings mostly in Europe. It is easy to foresee that she will go far.
La Traviata had a single set: a large Art Nouveau living room with camellia flowers on the wall paper as well as in many vases and pots. Lighting provides various shades of green and of white on the walls. An oversize sofa dominates Violetta’s apartment in the first and third act; furnished in turn of the century style. The dreamy atmosphere is already in the introduction when Violetta is on stage longing for a bourgeois family life. But she really lives a Baudelaire’s environment where we nearly smell opium.
Conductor Daniele Callegari slowed the tempos gently — the performance lasts slightly longer than three hours, with two intermissions — in order to gently heighten the dreamy atmosphere.
Andrea Rost proved that her vocal instrument is still perfect even though quite a few years have elapsed since the seasons when she was the major star of La Scala . Her singing was passionate; she did not circumvent any of the traditional virtuoso, added (over the centuries) to Verdi’s original writing such as the B flat at the end of “Sempre Libera”. Saimir Pirgu is young (28 years old), and athletic. His Libiamo requires acrobatic skills. He is good looking; and his voice has thickened in the last couple of years. He is now a perfect Alfredo, especially for his tender phrasing. He should resist the temptation to take on tenore spinto roles, but he would be probably excellent in many Massenet and Gounod parts. Luca Salsi is a good Giorgio Germont but maybe too young for the role. It is not clear whether Saimir Pirgu’s Germont senior is just an old-fashioned Provincial country gentlemen or a hypocrite. Nonetheless, on a Sunday matinee, the audience was enthusiastic, applauding during the performance.
Production Staff and Cast
Franco Ripa di Meana, director. Edoardo Sanchi, sets. Silvia Aymonino, costumes. Guido Levi, lighting. Orchestra e Chorus del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Piero Monti, chorus master.
Stefano Ranzani: conductor.
Gianluca Terranova:James Valenti; Shalva Mukeria: Il duca del Mantova; Alberto Gazale: Rigoletto; Désirée Rancatore: Gilda; Konstantin Gorny: Sparafucile; Chiara Fracasso: Maddalena; Giorgia Bertagni: Giovanna; Armando Caforio: Il Conte di Monterone; Roberto Accurso: Il Cavaliere Marullo; Luca Casalin: Matteo Borsa; Andrea Cortese: Il Conte di Ceprano; Miriam Artiaco: La Contessa di Ceprano; Vito Luciano Roberti: Usciere di corte; Elisa Luppi: Un paggio.
Massimo Zanetti: conductor.
Juan Jesús Rodríguez: Il Conte di Luna; Kristin Lewis: Leonora; Anna Smirnova: Azucena; Stuart Neill: Manrico; Rafal Siwek: Ferrando; Elena Borin: Ines; Cristiano Olivieri: Ruiz; Alessandro Luongo: Un vecchio zingaro; Fabio Bertella: Un messo.
Daniele Callegari: conductor.
Andrea Rost: Violetta Valéry; Milena Josipovic: Flora Bervoix; Sabrina Modena: Annina; Saimir Pirgu: Alfredo Germont; Luca Salsi: Giorgio Germont; Aldo Orsolini: Gastone; Francesco Verna: Il Barone Douphol; Gabriele Ribis: Il Marchese d’Obigny; Michele Bianchini: Il Dottor Grenvil; Leonardo Melani: Giuseppe; Salvatore Massei: Un domestico; Pietro Simone: Un commissionario.