29 Jan 2010
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s The Merry Widow
Melodic and scenic gaiety predominates in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.
On Thursday 19th January, opera lovers around the world started bidding online for rare and prized items made available for the first time from Opera Rara’s collection. In addition to the 26 lots auctioned online, 6 more items will be made available on 7 February - when online bidding closes - at Opera Rara’s gala dinner marking the final night of the auction. The gala will be held at London’s Caledonian Club and will feature guest appearances from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Melodic and scenic gaiety predominates in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow.
Paris in the opening years of the twentieth century is evoked in shifting venues from the Petrovenian embassy in Act I to the widow’s mansion and to Maxim’s in Acts II and III. The widow Hannah Glawari is sung by Elizabeth Futral in a performance ranging from touching sentimentality to lyrical purity and joyous sparkle in duets and ensembles. Her suitor from the past, Count Danilo Danilovich, as portrayed by Roger Honeywell moves convincingly from the pleasure-seeking rake to the man who still loves Hannah despite circumstances that interrupted their earlier courtship. A secondary romantic involvement is pursued between the married Valencienne and her admirer Camille de Rosillon, sung and acted plaintively in this production by Andriana Chuchman and Stephen Costello respectively. A large supporting cast is drawn into the comedic and wistful resolution of Hannah’s fortunes and amorous interests.
Paul La Rosa, Elizabeth Futral and David Portillo
After a spirited orchestral introduction led by conductor Emannuel Villaume the first act of Lehár’s operetta introduces both celebration and conflict. This scene, as staged in Lyric Opera’s new production, communicates an appropriate amount of business, replete with arrivals, wooing, and worries over the homeland. Baron Zeta broaches this latter topic by accepting congratulations in behalf of the Petrovenian head of state while at once lamenting the precarious financial issues of the homeland. In his portrayal of Zeta, Dale Travis assumes a Central European accent and delivers an effective mix of enthusiasm and anguish. After summarizing the economic concerns, he insists that the recently widowed Hanna Glawari must remarry a Petrovenian citizen so that her inheritance might remain in the domestic treasury. During Zeta’s distracted narration of such details his wife Valencienne is subjected to the repeated attentions of the nobleman Camille de Rosillon. Although obviously flattered by these advances, Valencienne expresses her irritation when Camille writes “I love you” on her fan. In the duet “Listen please” Valencienne reminds him of her intentions to remain faithful to her husband Zeta and suggests that he marry another. Chuchman and Costello fulfill the individual roles of Valencienne and Camille admirably yet their vocal and dramatic talents seem transformed to a still higher level when they sing together. In this first duet they epitomize the conflicts of love and duty as their voices blend to communicate a convincing emotional fervor.
Stephen Costello and Andriana Chuchman
Once the young couple leaves, the widow Hanna Glawari appears, trying to deflect the repeated attempts at adulation from men who wish to curry her favor. In her first aria (“Gentlemen, how kind”) Ms. Futral strikes a balance between a woman who demonstrates a vocally receptive sense of being flattered and the realistic widow who suspects any suitor of opportunism. As Hanna, for the present, leaves and repeated calls for Danilo’s needed presence are sounded (“Affluent widows double in charm”), the bachelor enters a near-empty stage. While staggering in apparent inebriation from the top of a staircase Roger Honeywell portrays Danilo not so much as dissolute but rather as one avoiding the confrontation of daily responsibility by losing himself in the swirl of activity at Maxim’s. In his aria “Oh, Fatherland” Honeywell muses with wistfulness on the duties of a minor nobleman that he fulfills for his country, but activities of the evening cause a suspension of the sense of homeland. When Hanna reenters she finds Danilo, in utter exhaustion, asleep on a divan. Ms Futral attempts to mask the surprise of Hanna, just as Mr. Honeywell’s Danilo can only appear confused while he recovers his composure. A renewed attraction between the principals, interrupted by the realities of an earlier, societal marriage, is evident for a moment before distance again sets in. Danilo insists that he will never express love for Hanna, while others vie for a dance with the widow. When she suggests such a dance with Danilo, he offers it to any other man for 10000 francs. Hanna is incensed and Danilo seems, at first, resolved in his sullenness. Yet Honeywell shows his character softening, and both agree finally to the proposed dance. As the act concludes Hanna and Danilo, as portrayed here, seem temporarily reconciled, if only for the evening, in a dance and song that bears a glimmer of more for the future.
In Act II of the operetta the action takes place in the garden of the widow’s Parisian home. Hungarian dances are performed first to celebrate the ruler’s natal day: in Lyric Opera’s production both colorful costumes and skillful choreography assure a lively introduction to the celebration. As an extension of these festivities the widow sings the traditional Hungarian song of the vilja. Ms. Futral performed the justly famous song of the wood-sprite, or vilja, with moving emotional force. As she described the feelings of the huntsman who becomes enamored of the sprite in the forest, Ms. Futral’s character itself seemed to bloom, so that buried emotions could again be kindled. A further encounter with Danilo, who arrives to participate in the widow’s reception, contributes to renewed confusion and bruised emotions, with both characters stomping away in opposite directions. The scene is then left to the naïve pair Valencienne and Camille, who both avail themselves of the solitude to discuss openly the state of their love. Despite the protestations of Valencienne, Camille serenades her with the aria “Just as the rosebud blossoms in the light of May.” Mr. Costello flourished here as an ardent lover in the solo aria in which his vocal modulations and use of legato were especially well received. The two withdraw into the garden’s pavilion in time for Valencienne’s husband Zeta to return and peer curiously into the enclosure. Although he at first believes that he sees his wife with Camille, Hanna changes places with Valencienne in order to save her reputation. The widow and Camille emerge from the pavilion declaring their intention to marry, an announcement which confuses Zeta and irritates even further Danilo. Mr. Honeywell gave convincing expression to his pique in the aria “Fall in love often,” as he rushed off at the close of the act to console himself in diversion at Maxim’s.
Roger Honeywell and Elizabeth Futral
It is indeed here at Maxim’s that the numerous conflicts and emotional tensions are ultimately settled during Act III of the operetta. After the mood is set by an orchestral introduction including strains from the “Merry Widow Waltz,” we see the various girls of the club along with Valencienne dancing to entertain Danilo. Further communication from the homeland prompts the widow to admit that she never intended marriage to Camille and that her motives consisted in the protection of another woman’s honor. At this Danilo admits his love for Hanna, and they sing the duet “Strings are sighing.” Futral and Honeywell express their bond, leading eventually to the consent of marriage, in touching unison as they conclude aptly on the lines “We’ve gone soaring to the heights” and “It’s you I love alone!” Only the breach between Valencienne and Zeta must be repaired. When the jealous husband discovers the fan on which Camille had written of his love, Valencienne convinces Zeta to read the declaration on the reverse: “To my loving husband from his adoring wife.” All is now well in the emotional world of The Merry Widow, as depicted in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s delightfully musical production.