Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.



Ashley Holland (Uin-Scî; standing) und Peter Sidhom (Cim-Fen; sitting), in background Marcus Hosch (Moderator) as well as Chor, Kinderchor and Statisterie der Oper Frankfurt [Photo by Wolfgang Runkel courtesy of Oper Frankfurt]
18 Dec 2009

Frankfurt’s ‘Medium’ Rarities

Encountering Frankfurt Opera’s staging of Leoni’s L’Oracolo and Puccini’s Le Villi, I was reminded of that old saw about the German weather.

Franco Leoni: L’Oracolo; Giacomo Puccini: Le Villi

L’Oracolo — Cim-Fen, Inhaber einer Opiumhöhle: Peter Sidhom / Bastiaan Everink; Uin-Sci, ein gelehrter Arzt: Ashley Holland; Hu-Tsin, ein reicher Kaufmann: Franz Mayer; San-Lui, Uin-Scis Sohn; Carlo Ventre: Ah-Joe, Nichte Hu-Tsins; Annalisa Raspagliosi / Barbara Zechmeister; Hua-Qui, Kindermädchen: Katharina Magiera.

Le Villi — Guglielmo Wulf: Peter Sidhom / Bastiaan Everink; Anna, seine Tochter: Annalisa Raspagliosi / Barbara Zechmeister; Roberto: Carlo Ventrez; Moderatoren: Ingrid El Sigai and Marcus Hosch. Chor und Kinderchor der Oper Frankfurt. Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester.

Above: Ashley Holland (Uin-Scî; standing) und Peter Sidhom (Cim-Fen; sitting), in background Marcus Hosch (Moderator) as well as Chor, Kinderchor and Statisterie der Oper Frankfurt

All photos by Wolfgang Runkel courtesy of Oper Frankfurt


Don’t like it? Wait five minutes and it will change.

There is a good deal to admire in this double bill, not least of which is the rare opportunity to enjoy two seldom-performed pieces mounted by such a reputable company. However, too often during the evening, I found myself becoming engaged by a tender moment, or beginning to relish a powerful musical development…only to be interrupted by a crass directorial “improvement.”

There are really two separate productions going on here (See: “wait five minutes,” above). One is the relatively straight-forward and conventional telling of the musical drama in rather traditional and genuinely pleasing theatrical staging. Then there is a concurrent, wholly invented television studio experience that is part reality show. Part game show, part National Enquirer, and all colossally ineffective.

Not that I disapprove of the concept outright. Frankfurt Opera itself used this device to brilliant effect with its televangelical Rape of Lucretia two seasons past. What I object to is that director Sandra Leupold took a cheap, easy way out of having to deal with the (admittedly naïve) pleasures to be mined from the two operas at hand.

Hmmmm, how to make these curiosities palatable to today’s audiences? Hmmmm…I know, let’s tart them up with game show “Moderators”! The glitzily-attired actors Ingrid El Sigai and Marcus Hosch do what they can with these irrelevant creatures, but seemed quite self-conscious (maybe pre-occupied with the pay check they would at least be getting…)

The three blue-sequin-gowned Vanna White’s seemed to have wandered in from another show, waiting in vain for a vowel to be bought or a letter to be turned. But worst of all was the inconsiderate and considerable obstruction by the “cameramen” and “stage managers” who would interpose themselves between the soloists and the audience. No fooling I spent one touching soprano aria relegated to looking at a burly extra’s butt as he “televised” her performance to a giant on-stage screen…that…again, no kidding…had a sound delay! Looked like a badly dubbed movie on German TV.

Where the hell to look then? The viola section? The surtitles? The exit????

Heike Scheele’s set and costume design was at its worst in the utilitarian television studio which comprised the encompassing space for the shows. However, within the confines of the raised circle on which the actual operas were performed, there was much that was pleasantly colorful, representational, and traditional.

I especially found Mr. Scheele’s Chinese costumes for the Leoni to be character-specific and beautifully rendered; the rustic Puccini clothing was also quite delightful, although perhaps the tutu’d chorus nod to Giselle was just too over the top. I also appreciated the clever and appropriate scenic insets that he devised for both pieces,and the competent lighting from Joachim Klein. The show-within-the show, that is to say the actual operas, was often very agreeable.

The credit for that has to begin with the fine idiomatic playing elicited from the pit by conductor Stefan Solyom. He never once flagged in presenting these two (let’s be honest) weaker compositions with commitment and authority. He seemed to wring every bit of musical excellence he could from his orchestra, and kept the evening buoyant and forward-moving. He also ably partnered his hard-working singers. Matthias Koehler’s chorus, and Michael Clark’s children’s chorus were likewise also very well-prepared, but suffered the fate of being clumsily and busily deployed in this mess of a concept.

oracolo_HQ_18.pngMarcus Hosch (Moderator), Peter Sidhom (Cim-Fen), Ingrid El Sigai (Moderatorin), Katharina Magiera (Hua-Quî), Tobias Jantsch (Hu-Cî) and Chor, Kinderchor and Statisterie der Oper Frankfurt in background

While L’oracolo may have its confusing pseudo-Asian dramaturgy, any minor musical longeurs were glossed over with committed performances. As Cim-Fen (opium den owner) Peter Sidhorn may not have offered the most suave singing, but compensated with great presence, the same that could be said of his interpretation of Guglielmo (Le Villi). Ashley Holland’s mellifluous voice was arguably the finest performance in Chinatown, as the learned doctor Uin-Sci. Franz Mayer put his soft-grained, affecting instrument to good use as the rich tradesman Hu-Tsin and Katharina Magiera made the most of her brief moment as Hua-Qui revealing a gorgeous, creamy mezzo.

One of the reasons for this mounting had to be to showcase local favorites, Annalisa Raspagliosi and Carlo Ventre, both of whom were cast in both operas.

Ms. Raspagliosi has already had a big career with big credentials, not least of which was a happy association with the legendary Pavarotti. Here she is undertaking Ah-Joe and more notably Anna in Le Villi. The latter suits her gifts more than the former. At this point in her development, she reminds me of the great Renata Scotto for Anna also commands an unerring sense of projecting the text, effortlessly embodies the character at hand, and seems incapable of a musical false move.

villi_HQ_06.pngAnnalisa Raspagliosi (Anna) and Carlo Ventre (Roberto)

That said, like Renata of yore, she also is beginning to sound a bit like a supremely gifted lyric soprano who has ventured a bit too far into heavier territory (Tosca, anyone?). Her high notes still float, but not without some discernible effort. Her sense of line still commands, but not without a bit of gear-shifting here and there. And the vibrato has gotten a bit more, shall we say, generous? Still, she offers an assured assumption of these two heroines, is lovely as lovely can be, and her Frankfurt public adore her. And why shouldn’t they? In an era of pretenders to the throne, her singing is still a connection with Old World Glories.

Before the Puccini, tenor Carlo Ventre was announced as indisposed, something I had suspected during the Leoni where his vocalizing as San-Lui seemed a bit cautious with meslimas a bit labored. Once our indulgence was requested so he could continue as the second opera’s Roberto (and who the hell else knows the role?), Mr. Ventre actually sang with more assurance, and even with real abandon. He is a fine singer with a burnished tone, and if a few phrases were husbanded carefully and a few notes grew rough-edged, he not only gave a pleasurable account of his two assignments, but also saved the night!

Like with the German weather then, while I had a great time discovering these two operas in staged versions for the first time, and while I enjoyed so many of the components, I found myself waiting, nay wishing for a change for sunnier horizons. Were the staging to be re-imagined losing the television concept entirely, I can predict the remaining elements would make a far superior evening at the opera.

James Sohre

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):