Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

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.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

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.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

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!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

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.

Opera Rara: new recording of Bellini's Adelson e Salvini

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

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.

Garsington Opera For All

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).

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

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.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

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.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

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.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

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 Symphony no 8 : Jurowski, LPO, Royal Festival Hall, London

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.

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

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.

The Royal Opera House announces its 2017/18 season

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.”

St Matthew Passion: Armonico Consort and Ian Bostridge

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.

Pop Art with Abdellah Lasri in Berliner Staatsoper’s marvelous La bohème

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.

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

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.

Two rarities from the Early Opera Company at the Wigmore Hall

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.

The "Lost" Songs of Morfydd Owen

A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.

Enchanting Tales at L A Opera

On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

José Cura as Stiffelio [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
18 Jan 2010

Stiffelio at the MET

Stiffelio was composed just after Luisa Miller — an opera that has had little trouble holding its own in the repertory — and just before the magic trio of Rigoletto, Trovatore and Traviata, the first Verdi operas to take their immediate place on the stages of the world and hold them without a break from that day to this.

Giuseppe Verdi: Stiffelio

Lina: Sondra Radvanovksy; Stiffelio: José Cura; Stankar: Andrzej Dobber; Raffaele: Michael Fabiano; Jorg: Phillip Ens. Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, conducted by Plácido Domingo. Performance of January 14.

Above: José Cura as Stiffelio

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera

 

You can’t say the composer was at the height of his powers, because he got better still. But there are stumbling blocks along any path to greatness, and Stiffelio long appeared to be one of them.

Verdi had great hopes for the piece. He was gradually renouncing the hackneyed traditions, seeking out new ways of expressing drama and new sorts of drama for Italian opera to express. A play about the love life of an evangelical minister — a married priest — struck him, as it would strike any discerning Italian of the day, as deliciously original — unfortunately, the Italian audience of 1850 simply found it weird. The minister in question, Stiffelio, is not only married, he’s the lead tenor in an Italian opera — stranger still. His wife has been seduced by a bounder — which means, in any Italian opera, the tenor ought to kill the fellow and perhaps his wife as well. The audience expected no less — on the stage — though in private life, even then, married couples often simply agreed to live apart with their subsequent partners and sometimes, in Verdi’s time and circle, managed to divorce. But Stiffelio, as a man of the cloth, much as he might want to kill, cannot do so. In the end, he cannot even fail to forgive his wife, on the advice of Jesus in re the matter of the woman taken in adultery and casting the first stone. The multiple ironies were precisely what tickled Verdi and led him to compose Stiffelio — but they went too far for the Italians, even the sophisticated audience of Trieste (polyglot Austro-Hungarians, not peasants). The opera failed. Verdi revised the score as Aroldo, but that only removed the priestly tang that made the opera interesting to begin with.

Stiffelio, says Julian Budden, is “worthy to stand beside its successor,” Rigoletto. Not exactly. Stiffelio’s a sturdy piece, full of attractive numbers and fascinating scenes, great fun for any lover of Verdi — but it is deeply flawed. Verdi threw out two early acts of the play on which he based the opera, and the personality of his villain went with them. The heroine’s motivations for her lapse are never clear either — Verdi focuses on her morbid regret. Stiffelio is the only rounded character, and him too we see only from the outside, never examining his own feelings — as Rigoletto does, and Violetta, and Otello, and King Philip, and even the Count di Luna and poor Master Ford. We see Stiffelio is torn, we feel his pain — but Verdi doesn’t prove he is worth our comprehension. The new musical language that would suit this new sort of drama did not come to him — he was still inventing it.

The opera, then, is rough-hewn — vigorous but shallow, workmanlike. Rigoletto, in contrast, is nothing of the sort — each of its pieces fits into place as tightly as a jigsaw puzzle, the characters tell us exactly as much as we need to know to care about their fate (or dislike them intensely), and yet the music is never businesslike for want of beauty or beautiful without attending to business. Stiffelio is an interesting experiment; Rigoletto is a miracle.

STIFFELIO_Cura_and_Radvanov.gifJosé Cura as Stiffelio and Sondra Radvanovsky as Lina

But good Rigolettos — and even decent Luisa Millers — are so frequent in any Verdi-lover’s life that a run of Stiffelio makes a pleasing variation. The Met’s production of Stiffelio was originally given to permit Plácido Domingo to add another tenor lead feather to his well-furbished cap. That ensured a sold-out run, and the sets were handsome and distinguished enough to attest to Domingo’s prestige, now that he merely conducts the opera. They are handsome, gaunt dark-wood veneers and furnishings, a romantic graveyard with ample space for duels, a stormy sky, a church somehow gothic on the outside (Act II) but eighteenth century within (Act III). David Kneuss has revised Giancarlo del Monaco’s direction, to the production’s decided benefit — there is now something like human psychology on the stage. (Del Monaco’s showy but often absurd stagings should be manhandled whenever possible.)

Sondra Radvanovsky, who has impressed me as Luisa Miller, Leonora (Trovatore) and Elena (in Vespri Siciliani), is a technically accomplished singer with a Met-sized voice; too, she is a slim, handsome woman and an ardent actress — a pleasant change in this role from the bovine Sharon Sweet. Radvanovsky’s Lina is very fraught, on the edge of depressive hysteria, which is as Verdi wrote her. Her voice has an interesting vibrato and expresses passion well. But there is something about its color that does not give pleasure. It is not a voice to relax with. She does not lack body or sensuality, but she lacks velvet — there is a metal, clash, a hardness, that makes her appearances thrilling but never ravishing.

José Cura sings Stiffelio. He is a pupil of Domingo’s and, like him, a conductor, and like him, a tenor with a baritonal approach. This suits Stiffelio better than most Verdi tenor roles — the part sits low, the high lines come only at emotional climaxes, and Cura does emotional climaxes well. His meditative moments are pleasing, his more passionate ones edge into growling lack of clarity. He does not always thrill at moments designed to thrill.

STIFFELIO_Dobber_as_Stankar.gifAndrzej Dobber as Stankar

Andrzej Dobber sings Stankar, a stock Verdi aggrieved father figure. When Juan Pons (in the Eve Queler Aroldo) sang this music, in the word “vergogna,” “shame,” you could hear the bile boiling up in his throat. Dobber does not attain such realism, and either he or Maestro Domingo got lost in his great Act III aria, but he sang with a clean, unforced line and a fine though dry command of Verdian legato. You can’t do Verdi without decent Verdi baritones; the world seems to be suffering a shortage, and Dobber generally holds his own. Phillip Ens sang the rich if unvaried bass role of Jorg most impressively, and Michael Fabiano made what could be made of the half-sketched-in figure of Lina’s caddish seducer, Raffaele.

For students of Verdi, the orchestration of Stiffelio gives the opera much of its interest. Maestro Domingo seemed to have trouble holding things together during the overture, but thereafter, especially in the concertato movements of the score and also in the rich scene-painting Verdi bestows on the graveyard scene, he generally kept things together and brought out the charming shades of this curious score. Still, singers sometimes had trouble following him and I remain unconvinced that conducting is among his many gifts.

John Yohalem

I returned to Stiffelio for the performance of January 19, the only cast change being the appearance - in her first major role at the Met - of Julianna Di Giacomo as Lina. Di Giacomo has a sweeter, more well-rounded soprano than Radvanovsky; if somewhat less powerful, still pleasurably audible over orchestra and ensemble. She is a young singer (early thirties), and lacks the full vocal body for later Verdi heroines just yet, but she has the intensity and the grace with ornament that his earlier roles demand. A short woman, on the plump side, she gave evidence of strong theatrical instincts, standing up for herself when Stiffelio suggests divorce, and sobbing on the ground at the conclusion of the opera in emotional exhaustion rather than stretching herself in theatrical supplication as Radvanovsky appeared to do. I had heard her before only in I Due Foscari for Opera Orchestra, an exciting night. She had a great success in Stiffelio and I would be eager to hear what she could do with Amelia Grimaldi, Luisa Miller, or the more dramatic roles of Donizetti.

Cura’s Stiffelio seemed muffled to the point of flatness, generally below the note, throughout Act II on this occasion, though his voice brightens at the top of his range. Dobber’s Stankar, his singing forceful and beautiful, gave the most constant pleasure of the night - plainly he and Maestro Domingo had sat down since last Thursday to work out the timing of that double aria. —J.Y.

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):