17 Nov 2009
Lorin Maazel conducts Verdi and Puccini at La Scala
In the mid-1980s (just before the Riccardo Muti era began), Lorin Maazel often ruled the conductor's roost at La Scala.
“Hi! I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
In the mid-1980s (just before the Riccardo Muti era began), Lorin Maazel often ruled the conductor's roost at La Scala.
His meticulous technique produces a big, smooth sound, with the occasional odd tempo or excessively highlighted detail to keep things interesting, or at least mildy so. At home in the opera house, he manages to maintain his conductor’s profile and yet support the singers. Your reviewer couldn’t begin to define Maazel’s interpretation of Verdi’s Aida or Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, but both scores are exceedingly well-played in these performances, which return to the DVD format on the ArtHaus Musik label.
The two productions do make for an interesting contrast. Luca Ronconi directed the 1986 Aida, which boasts gi-normous sets by Mauro Pagano and costumes (also gi-normous in the case of Luciano Pavarotti’s Radames) by Vera Marzot. With all the subtlety of a Cecil B. De Mille technicolor spectacular, the essentially intimate story of love and betrayal that Verdi and librettist Anotnio Ghislanzoni conceived gets rolled over and squashed flat by ambulatory monuments and acres of fake stone and boulders (which also produce much audible stage noise whem moved). The Madama Butterfly, also from 1986, goes for a restrained approach, employing an authentic Japanese aesthetic of spare beauty. In the opening supers, dressed as Ninjas, construct the home Pinkerton and Cio-cio-san will briefly share; the wide space and raked rock garden effect of act one even suggest a precursor to Robert Wilson’s production, many years in the future. This handsome authenticity springs from the work of director Keita Asari and set designer Ichiro Takada, with costumes by the renowned Hanae Mori. Their staging manages an effective balance between stylization and realism, until the final image, an audacious but not entirely effective switch to a purely decorative portrayal - Butterfly’s suicide consists of her opening a white fan which turns blood-red, as supers unroll a red cloth beneath her.
Fans of grand opera spectacle can revel in the tacky pleasures of the Ronconi Aida, as cans fans of, frankly, tackiness. The ballets will provoke tittering in many, whether due to the female acolytes of Ptah appearing in blue caftans and turbans for a sort of morning stretching exercise, or the mostly nude bevy of pre-pubescent youth who bathe, for no clear reason, in the apartment of Amneris. Then there is the monumental splendor of Pavarotti as Radames, especially impressive as he stands astride a wheeled platform for the triumphal march, pulled by a very hard-working group of supers. Director Ronconi seems to have spent most of his time managing the movements of the singers so that they don’t get lost in the crowds or squashed by some errant, enormous prop. As Aida, Maria Chiara spends most of the performance with her arms awkwardly outstretched beseechingly. Ghena Dimitrova couldn’t be a more nefarious Amneris if she had a thin moustache scribbled on her upper lip. And Pavarotti is Pavarotti. The La Scala audience eats all this up, and why shouldn’t they, as the singing of the principals actually has much to offer. Pavarotti sings a beautiful Radames, lighter than many of his predecessors in the role but authoritative enough. Of course, some viewers may be distracted not only by his girth but also by his fascinating eyebrows, one of which continually rides higher than the other. Maria Chiara’s soprano may lack an individual profile, but she gives a strong, consistent reading of a difficult role. With her Afro and numerous jangly bracelets, she looks as if she is hosting a 1980s Halloween party - “Walk Like an Egyptian.” Although Dimitrova doesn’t sing with any more subtlety than she acts, when it comes to her big scene in act four, she delivers some excitement. The lower voices provide firm support, with Paata Burchuladze, near the beginning of his career, quite strong as the King, and Juan Pons an unlikely but impressive father to Chiara’s Aida. The great Nicolai Ghiaurov takes on Ramfis, and his voice shows his veteran status in ways both commendable (technique) and not so commendable (tone).
As a piece of dramatic music theater, Asari’s Madama Butterfly has it all over the Ronconi Aida. The portrayals are sharper, the visual element fresher, the impact stronger. The singing, however, doesn’t quite reach the same high level. A specialist of those years as Cio-Cio-san, Yasuko Hayashi has a surprisingly strong voice, though far from a beautiful one. She is a Butterfly who actually does better in the big moments at the end of the opera than she does with “Un bel di.” There isn’t much chemistry between her and her Pinkerton, Peter Dvorsky. He has a beefy sound, which is good enough for the strutting peacock of his early scenes, though not as pleasant in the long love duet or “Addio, fiorito asil.” Giorgio Zancanaro is a negligible Sharpless, while the effectiveness of an Asian Suzuki (a fine Hak-Nam Kim) is somewhat dimmed by having Italians play Goro and Yamadori (respectively, Ernesto Gavazzi and Arturo Testa).
The Aida set comes with a lugubrious “Making of” documentary, with a smattering of interesting background spread thin among 45 minutes of talking heads limiting themselves to mostly predictable and/or inane comments. It might have been nice to have some more information on the Asari/Takada/Mori Butterfly, but none is provided. Fans of Maazel, or mid-1980s La Scala productions, will enjoy the Aida, while the Butterfly can stand on its own, if without any claims to vocal splendors.