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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“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.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“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!”

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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.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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.

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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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

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English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

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Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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Luca Pisaroni as Figaro [Photo by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
04 Dec 2009

Le Nozze di Figaro at the MET

The best news about the Met’s eleven-year-old Jonathan Miller production of Le Nozze di Figaro is that it has been restaged by Gregory Keller, more tautly spun, many elegant jokes or character moments inserted, several idiocies discarded and with plenty of room remaining for singers with a flair for it (such as Luca Pisaroni and Isabel Leonard) to invent comic business of their own.

W.A. Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro

Susanna: Lisette Oropesa; Countess: Annette Dasch; Marcellina: Ann Murray; Cherubino: Isabel Leonard; Barberina: Ashley Emerson; Figaro: Luca Pisaroni; Count: Ludovic Tézier; Don Bartolo: Christophoros Stamboglis; Don Basilio: Greg Fedderly. Conducted by Fabio Luisi. Metropolitan Opera, performance of November 30.

Above: Luca Pisaroni as Figaro

All photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera


I’m particularly pleased that the ring is in its proper place at the final curtain. Remember the ring? (as Anna Russell would say.) This ring is the diamond the Count gives Susanna in the dark in Act IV, as down-payment on her imminent seduction, never realizing that it is not Susanna at all but his own wife on whose finger he has placed it. Subsequently, at the end of the opera, when all stratagems are unveiled, the Countess shows him the ring is on her finger — and only then is he forced to face, and publicly repent, his follies — which she forgives — appropriately concluding this longest and most sublime of buffo operas. In Miller’s original staging — in keeping, perhaps, with that gentleman’s professed disdain for sentimental tradition — she did not show her husband the ring, and he had no reason to believe she was the woman he had wooed in the dark. In other words, though we knew who was who, the Count never found out and we never knew what or whether he was repenting. The heavenly ending became acrid, uncertain, irritating. There was no resolution. Why bother? Why bother ending the music in the proper key? Why not stop five bars short at some other note? Because all things are synchronized here, as Mozart and da Ponte designed them to be, and the palace of Aguasfrescas becomes an idealized version of our own imperfect world, that’s why. Anyway: the ring is now on the right finger, shown to the right man at the right moment, and all’s that much righter with the world.

Another nice touch: Susanna and Marcellina symbolize their new friendship when they bump heads while heading out the same door in Act III — and we are reminded of their feud to the death back in Act I — but this time, as allies, they burst into giggles and squeeze through arm in arm. The effect may be borrowed from Verdi’s Falstaff (and he set it to music there), but it wasn’t an original bit with him either: Figaro, like Falstaff and so much great humane comedy, is about irreconcilables who forgive and reconcile. The audience also loved it when Susanna demonstrated the way a “lady” sashays, and “masculine” cross-cross-dressed Cherubino imitated her — but the audience (and I) loved that silly flounce when my grandmother took me to my first Figaro forty years ago.

Whoever is running the surtitles this year, by the way, is clever enough to know when to let them go dark — so the audience is obliged to look at the stage — and the laughs may come from the activity going on there — and they do.

I wish I’d liked the music-making of this revival half as much as I enjoyed the mugging. None of it was less than major house quality, but few moments transported me. Ah, where have they gone? Those sweet moments of joy and pleasure?

Oropesa_Susanna_Met.pngLisette Oropesa as Susanna

Luca Pisaroni, a lithe, handsome fellow, spry as an acrobat and very much the self-important barber of Seville, has a dark and pleasing voice, suave musicality, and his every word means something — or two things — sometimes three. It is not, however, a voice, on this showing, of supreme power or authority. He was born to please but he does not overwhelm. Still: This was a performance of star quality if not incandescent gleam.

Lisette Oropesa’s light, pert soprano and light, pert performance seemed too American, sassy and shallow, for Susanna, this bride of sense but also considerable sensibility. Susanna experiences much of the pain that gives depth to true comedy, when confused by the Count’s advances, or upset by Figaro’s apparent betrayals. Oropesa’s voice lacks the heart-stopping thrill, the passion of a girl on the brink of true consummation, that the finest Susannas bring to the part. “Deh, vieni, non tardar” was a showpiece, prettily sung — but this is song that must have feeling in it. Oropesa is not a leading lady yet.

Leonard_Cherubino_Met.pngIsabel Leonard as Cherubino

Cherubino got the second biggest hand of the night, after Figaro’s, and Isabel Leonard, quite the most boyish, adolescently awkward Cherubino of my experience, earned that hand with her delicious acting. Her singing was slightly less on target, a bit under pitch in “Non so piú,” but I hope she can build on her good will to give us more feeling in the arias in time.

Annette Dasch has a sizable, attractive voice, and if a run or two got away from her during her arias, that is regrettably normal. She played the cut-up rather than the grand Countess (Countesses are usually one or the other), and she was funny, which suits most of this production, but one missed aristocratic bearing, vocal and otherwise. I missed, too, Hei-kyung Hong’s graceful trick of reclining into visible reverie while singing “Dove sono” — but it probably isn’t easy to sing persuasively in that position if one is not Madame Hong. As with many debutante Countesses lately — and a great many sopranos have made their house debuts in that role in this production — I sensed that Dasch was giving it her best shot but would rather have been singing something else. (Her bio mentions performances as Elettra, Donna Anna and Verdi’s Desdemona, which are all within the Countess’s fach.)

Ludovic Tézier made a colorless Count, lacking both the brutality of Dwayne Croft and the dangerous attractiveness of Mariusz Kwiecien. The Count must have authority, we must believe he is terrifying — at least, that the rest of the household are terrified of him — or none of their desperate plots make much sense. In a production of Beaumarchais’ play some years ago, Christopher Reeve played the Count, looking as majestic as Apollo — and then tripping over his own feet in pratfalls all the funnier for their contrast with his affect. But as soon as he recovered and stood commandingly upright again, we were once again stirred to reverence and fear — and that should be our feeling for the Count. Tézier was gentlemanly (and those damned scene-stealing hunting dogs are happily gone), and the fioritura in his aria were graceful if not quite angry, but he seemed too hangdog to be a threat to anyone. Pisaroni’s Figaro didn’t have much respect for him, so why should anyone else?

Christophoros Stamboglis, a replacement, sang Don Bartolo. He sang the part effectively and played it to the hilt, slipping nimbly into the many ensemble scenes. Greg Fedderly sang Don Basilio well but with a bit — how shall I put it? — too strong a flame. This is partly the fault of the costume — it’s hard to be masculine in lavender satin, with pink stockings and a red wig. Ann Murray made rather a shrill and wobbly harridan of Marcellina, but was most affecting on finding her long-lost son. Tiny Ashley Emerson brought an impressive sweetness to Barberina’s lines.

Fabio Luisi led a brisk, well-paced account of the score — nothing dragged in this long evening of a mad day.

John Yohalem

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