February 28, 2010

Kurt Streit takes on Tamerlano, Royal Opera House, London

Since this will be Streit’s debut in this role, it’s daunting. He ends run as The Marquis in Prokofiev’s The Gambler this week and starts Tamerlano next week, so he’s singing two major roles in two productions, back to back.

Streit’s facing quite a challenge. Barely an hour before the premiere of The Gambler, I asked him if he was bothered by first night nerves. “It all has to do with how well rehearsed the production is”, he said. Although he wasn’t scheduled to sing Bajazet until mid-March, Streit is experienced and very professional. He’s jumped into roles at short notice before, though taking on such a big, new role in such unexpected circumstances is quite a feat.

“Rehearsals are critical”, says Streit. “Long ago”, he adds, “I used to have fun in rehearsals, and get serious for performances, but I realized that there was a better way. Instead, I decided to think of rehearsals as seriously as performance, so there was a more consistent build-up towards creating the character. Nowadays, I’m always singing right from the start. I don’t mark anymore. The voice and bodywork grow from the music straight from the beginning.”

“When it’s all worked out in rehearsal, the voice is where it wants to be. So much goes gone into building the character that the role comes naturally. These days, my mantra is that there’s no real difference between rehearsals and performance, they flow together”.

Streit has sung many Handel roles but this is his first Tamerlano and his first Bajazet. How does he find his way? “I work with the nuts and bolts, reading the score and libretto carefully. I try to figure out the “arrows”, finding directions to motives and actions. Who wants what, from whom and why. What’s the character projecting to the public, and what’s his private image? What makes the role distinct”.

“Bajazet comes from a long line of kings. He’s so aristocratic that he has trouble with the idea that he’s been defeated by Tamerlano who once was a nomadic shepherd. He’s so stubborn that he can’t adapt. Unlike most characters, he doesn’t have an arc, he doesn’t develop. So all he can think of is death.”

“Tamerlano is the villain in Bajazet’s eyes, but at least Tamerlano has the ability to change the way he thinks. Bahazet assumes he thinks for everyone else. “I speak for my daughter”, he says, expecting her to take poison”.

When Streit sang the Marquis in The Gambler, he was able to make a fundamentally unsympathetic role seem almost human. Gamblers were, in Prokofiev’s account, shallow. But shallowness doesn’t make great music, which is why that opera came to life orchestrally only in the final act. Streit had to expand the character by his acting, since Prokofiev’s spare, experimental score didn’t give much to work with. “The Marquis is trying to hide his feelings”, says Streit. “I had to find those physical things that gave him away inspite of himself”.

For Streit, opera is drama, and acting is part of a singer’s job. He likes “thinking roles” like Aschenbach in Death in Venice, or even Emilio in Partenope which he sang in Vienna last year. One critic said, “If only there were Oscars for the art of acting in opera”, a sentiment understood by those who appreciate singers like Streit and John Tomlinson whose acting methods impressed him so much while they were working on The Gambler.

Tamerlano will be directed for the Royal Opera House by Graham Vick. “It’s good when directors reach out to singers and work together to reach deeper levels in a piece”, says Streit. He’s worked with directors like Christof Loy and Claus Guth, who “don’t treat singers like puppets on strings”. Even concert performances of opera work best when the singers have previous experience from full stagings. “We remember what we’ve learned from good directors”.

Striet is creating his first Bajazet in unusual circumstances. His approach will, naturally, be very different from Placido Domingo’s, because they come from different backgrounds. The memory of Domingo’s Bajazet (from past performances and the DVD) will stay in the minds of many in the audience. Even today, audiences attuned to late 19th century grand opera need to adjust to a true baroque aesthetic. Streit made his name in baroque and in Mozart, so he’ll have something different to bring to the role. Given the unexpected circumstances in which he’s taken on the part, he deserves respect.

Anne Ozorio

image=http://www.operatoday.com/kurtstreit.gif imagedescription=Kurt Streit courte4sy of the artist

product=yes producttitle=G. F. Handel : Tamerlano productby=Royal Opera House, London; 5th March -20th March 2010

Posted by anne_o at 1:27 PM

February 13, 2010

Otello in Montpellier (version concert)

In recent years Donizetti’s Il Duca d’Alba (2007) is an example, or Ildebrando Pizzetti’s Fedra (2008), both conducted by Enrique Mazzola. Lalo’s Fiesque (2006) conducted by Alain Altinoglu boasted tenor Roberto Alagna in the title role (Léonore was to have been la Gheorghiu …). Montpellier’s long list of concert operas includes rare Baroque titles as well as familiar titles like Fidelio — but in the 1812 version. The usual criteria seems to be musically brilliant operas that likely will not be staged ever again (and some of them were not even staged in their own time).

The announcement of a version concert of Verdi’s Otello, hardly the usual contender for such an honor, engendered some mid-winter operatic excitement, and anticipation of possible new revelations into the mysteries of one of the pinnacles of all opera.

Montpellier is sometimes denigrated as “that provincial town that thinks it is Paris,” and in fact the same architect who redeveloped les Halles of Paris took on the urban renewal of Montpellier centre, creating a giant, always lively promenade with the 1888 Comedie opera house at its head and the 1990 Opéra Berlioz at its foot. The Opéra Berlioz is used for the larger nineteenth century repertory, the Comedie for eighteenth century and smaller repertory. Consequently the massive Otello was in the splendid new opera house. The acoustic of the Opéra Berlioz has proven itself better adapted to opera, i.e. pit and stage, than for concert. Otello is loud, sometimes very loud. The orchestra shell amplifies these forte’s even more resulting in a shattered treble, and very limited transparency, faults rarely apparent in its staged operas.

The distinguished American conductor Lawrence Foster is the new music director of the Orchestra National de Montpellier. He too boasts an impressive resume of concert opera.

Without the stage opera loses its essential persona, and becomes an abstract form that is very transparent and unforgiving. Just now in Montpellier, after the initial excitement of the Verdi’s opening storm, and the titillation that something magnificent was going to happen it became very much opera business as usual. Revelations were in short supply, and in fact there were even periods of tedium. This Otello never ignited after its initial sparks.

Possibly Otello is a poor choice for a concert piece. Its reputation as one of the few masterpieces of the repertory that truly melds music with drama demands that it be musically driven to be dramatically alive. With Verdi’s actors behind the conductor (i.e. not on stage facing the conductor in the pit) a vital communication link was missing. Two major scenes underscored this lack — the hugely complex Act I fight and the daunting Act III septet when Mo. Foster focused on keeping his orchestral and choral forces in order, and out right abdicated his dramatic responsibilities. Had his actors been under his baton perhaps they would have inspired some theater into his beat. As it was Mo. Foster delivered these scenes as squarely paced measures of music you had to get through somehow. We were deprived of the build-up to the exposition of Otello’s triumphal strength and the horror of his public denigration. Both were decidedly pale moments in this concert performance.

The Otello was Georgian tenor Badri Maisuradze, a bear of a man who did not need black face to distinguish himself as an exotic creature. But Mr. Maisuradze could not get his words out. Though he sang with almost enough super-human force to qualify as a real Otello his text projection was non-existent, eviscerating his character. Mr. Maisuradze is a fine artist to be sure, his Act III monologue and his death were beautifully sung.

The one interpreter who succeeded in inhabiting her character was Dutch soprano Barbara Havemen, and this despite some troubling pitch approximations. Mme. Haveman possesses a large voice of sterling clarity, and perhaps the pitch issue is a by-product of this voice. She delivers brilliantly clear high notes, and she descends expressively into a guttural chest voice. The high point of this concert Otello was her Willow song, and particularly her Ave Maria when all the pathos of this first heroine of Italian melodramma was keenly present. The actual presense of the English horn rendered this great Verdi number musically vivid, and vindicated opera as concert for these few minutes.

Iago was Russian baritone Sergey Murzaev, a facile artist who served up a vocally exuberant villain but did not succeed in imbuing any sense of malice into his character, even with the help of Verdi’s exuberant Act II woodwinds. Neither Mo. Foster nor Mr. Murzaey touched the nuances of this subtle character who does in fact sing very loud, and that Mr. Murzaey did.

Otello and Iago’s nemesis Cassio was sung by Italian tenor Maurizio Pace. At least this singer was not snatched from an opera company’s young artist program to attempt this pivotal role. Mr. Pace seemed to be a mature artist, almost of the size needed to thwart Iago’s ambitions and ignite Otello’s jealosy. The fine vocal accomplishment of French bass baritone Christian Helmer as Lodovico was compromised by his youth, unable to embody the majesty and power of Venice.

Concert opera is staged. Not only do we obviously associate the interpreter with the character (and we do not have the costume to help us) but we place every movement on the stage in a musico dramatic context. The striking motions of the double basses performing their solo at the opening of Act IV creates musical and dramatic excitement, as does Verdi’s wrenching solo cello, not to mention watching the bassoons double the cellos, and the oboe morph into the serpent. And the list goes on. This is the domain of concert opera.

This concert performance was a mess with performers walking on and off the stage throughout the performance, often during musical passages of primary importance. A large children’s chorus trooped on and off the stage during Act II. Apparently there was no one in charge of the staging of this concert opera. Otello deserved better.

Michael Milenski

image=http://www.operatoday.com/verdiotello.gif imagedescription=Giuseppe Verdi: Otello

product=yes producttitle=Giuseppe Verdi: Otello productby=Otello: Badri Maisuradze; Desdemona: Barbara Haveman; Iago: Sergey Murzaev; Emilia: Muriel Souty; Cassio: Maurizio Pace; Roderigo: Franck Bard; Lodovico: Christian Helmer; Montano: Alec Avedissian.Orchestre National de Montpellier LR. Chorus of the Opéra National de Montpellier LR. Conductor: Lawrence Foster. Chorus Director: Noëlle Geny. product_id=

Posted by michael_m at 1:25 AM

February 11, 2010

Ex-EMI Executive Leads Salzburg Easter Festival, Magazine Says

By Catherine Hickley [Bloomberg, 10 February 2010]

Peter Alward, the former head of EMI Group Ltd.’s classical music division, will take over the scandal-ridden Salzburg Easter Festival as soon as next week, the Austrian weekly magazine News reported.

Posted by Gary at 3:05 PM

Armide by Opera Lafayette

The voices filled the small theater, the string section of the small orchestra was full enough to thrill, the dances were delicious, the French diction superb.

Armida (in French Armide), the heartless pagan sorceress who hopes to undermine the Crusades by capturing the Christian champion, Rinaldo (Renaud), only to fall in love with him herself, first appeared in Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata, last of the great Italian Renaissance epics. Until the nineteenth century, all literate folk knew these stories (and, in Italy, read them), and their tales of love and magic were familiar tropes, each presenting a particular love problem. In Armida’s case, can the enchantment of love, which corrupts her ability to perform witchcraft, outweigh the allure to Rinaldo of glory and duty? In other words, can a woman balance a career with amour? And would a man give up for love what a woman is willing to give up for love? And should he? Innumerable composers contributed Armida operas to the debate, among them Lully, Handel, Haydn, Rossini, even Dvorak. In these works, Armida often gets — but never holds — her man.

That fine line between love and hate attracts audiences, not just composers. At the climax of Gluck’s opera — as a stunt, he had set the same Quinault libretto Lully had used in his Armide ninety years before, just to show he could write a “modern” opera without the help of a “modern” poet — Armide, determined to subdue her passion for Renaud, invokes La Haine, the goddess Hatred, to drive this love from her heart — only to call off the Furies in mid-spell. La Haine is offended by Armide’s shilly-shallying, and Renaud soon abandons her. The Crusade must go on, and Renaud, another Aeneas, must go to Italy to found the House of Este, Tasso’s patrons.

Armide2_creditLouisForget.gifJunichi Fukuda, Rachel List and Joy Havens of the New York Baroque Dance Company with Opera Lafayette.

Thirty years ago, when Armide was presented at Carnegie Hall by an organization calling itself the Friends of French Opera, the producers were unable to find a cast capable of performing Gluck’s declamatory melody. Among the variously maladroit styles that evening long ago, the one thoroughly enjoyable performance was given by the late Bianca Berini, an old-fashioned Verdi mezzo, portraying La Haine. Lacking scenery, Berini chewed Carnegie Hall itself down to the lath and plaster. Today, when the grand Verdi manner is almost extinct, a crop of singers capable of performing Gluck adeptly has appeared on the scene — I am thinking, in particular, of Christine Brewer’s Alceste, David Daniels’s Orfeo, Danielle de Niese’s Euridice, Vinson Cole’s Admète, Krassimira Stoyanova’s Iphigénie en Aulide, Ekaterina Gubanova’s Clytemnestre. We must now add Dominique Labelle’s Armide for Opera Lafayette.

Labelle has an unusual voice, pastel fire in a broad palette of hues, carefully displayed here to indicate haughty indifference, voluptuous flirtation, strident rage and, ultimately, despair. Gluck puts Armide through her paces, but Labelle could handle everything he tossed her way.

Stephanie Houtzeel, as La Haine, was a treat for connoisseurs of audible and visible over-the-top hauteur, but she lacked the depths of voice ideal for this contralto role. I found William Burden — a notable Pylade in Iphigénie in Tauride at the New York City Opera — pallid and uncertain in the early, heroic scenes of his role, though his pretty tenor grew in size and warmth as the amorous duets progressed and the intensity of his feelings evolved. Judith van Wanroij displayed a glossy soprano of generous size in three small roles. Nathalie Paulin, her companion in three others, gave pleasure but with less fullness and more classic restraint. Veteran William Sharp sang a pagan king of great glamour. Robert Getchell, who drew particular applause, and Darren Perry did well by the comic roles of the knights sent to reclaim the lost Renaud for the Christian cause — constantly distracted by spirits masquerading as the girls they left back home.

The orchestra takes its place as a full participant in any performance of Armide. The score is full of scene-painting: tempests rise and fall, ravines and ghoul-haunted woodlands are traversed, Furies are summoned from the depths of Hell, and sylphs glide on from some poetic Arcady. Gluck seizes every opportunity to depict activity, atmosphere and setting — curiously enough, not with the winds and brasses that most composers rely on for such things (though these are present), but almost entirely through the strings, the ways they are played, the rhythms they record or interrupt: basses slash and grumble, violins surge and tremble. Is Gluck consciously recalling, for this libretto from a previous century, that Louis XIV’s first court orchestra consisted entirely of violins (the first time in history that twenty instruments ever played in tune) and that composers were long reluctant to add flutes to such a mix, much less bassoons or horns? Or is it merely that he’s so good with strings he doesn’t need to bother with anything else? Certainly, without drowning anyone out, the music carries the singers in Armide rather than merely accompanying them. Ryan Brown’s dancing and ardent conducting inspired great melodramatic storms of sound to alternate with the elegant dances that make up so much of any French grand opera of the period.

This being the case, Opera Lafayette was content to leave the scenery and costumes (aside from the six dancers of the New York Baroque Dance Company) to Gluck’s music and our imaginations. The Rose Theater — which I estimate is barely twice the size of the jewel-box Residenz-Theater in Munich where Mozart’s Idomeneo premiered — is an ideal space for Gluck or almost any other eighteenth-century opera other than those depending on special scenic effects. Voices sound big and juicy without forcing, a small orchestra and chorus sound enormous.

Dance always played a large part in French grand opera, and reconstructing French court dance has long been Catherine Turocy’s specialty. Her dancers here enacted battling warriors, masked temptations, courting shepherds and rag-headed demons with steps that hovered between mime and formal dance. They were always entertaining and generally relevant to the story, and when masked evincing an impersonality appropriate to spirits summoned and embodied by a great and enigmatic witch.

John Yohalem

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Armide_creditLouisForget.gif image_description=Caroline Copeland of the New York Baroque Dance Company with Opera Lafayette. [Photo by Louis Forget courtesy of Opera Lafayette] product=yes product_title=Christoph Willibald Gluck: Armide product_by=Armide: Dominique Labelle; Renaud: William Burden; La Haine: Stephanie Houtzeel; Sidonie: Judith van Wanroij; Phénice: Nathalie Paulin; Artemidore: Robert Getchell; Hidraot: William Sharp; Aronte: Darren Perry. Opera Lafayette Orchestra and Chorus and the New York Baroque Dance Company, at the Rose Theater. Conducted by Ryan Brown. Performance of February 3. product_id=Above: Caroline Copeland of the New York Baroque Dance Company with Opera Lafayette. [Photos by Louis Forget courtesy of Opera Lafayette]
Posted by Gary at 2:28 PM

Opera San Jose revisits the "Marriage of Figaro"

By Mort Levine [San Jose Mercury, 10 February 2010]

If you sit back and simply take in the “heavenly frivolities” of Mozart’s masterpiece, “The Marriage of Figaro,” with its rapid fire array of eminently memorable melodies, you might well miss the undercurrent of sexual tension and class resentment between nobles and those who serve them.

Posted by Gary at 6:53 AM

February 10, 2010

Gabriela Ortiz — An Interview

Her vibrant music can be characterized by its exuberance and rhythmic energy. In March 2010 her first opera, Unicamente La Verdad, based on a narcocorrido (a popular narrative genre talking about the drug business in Mexico) will be premiered in Mexico City, after a workshop production at Indiana University in 2007. We spoke via Skype on February 4, 2010.

TM: You were born in Mexico City, and your parents were active as folk musicians.

GO: My father is an architect, and my mother, who has passed away, was a psychoanalyst, but they also played in a folk music group called Los Folkloristas, which was very well-known in the sixties and the seventies.

TM: How did they start to do that?

GO: On my father’s side, my grandfather is from the city of Guadalajara, in Jalisco. He was a doctor, and had a very interesting life. He studied at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and when he came back to Mexico, the Mexican Revolution had just started in 1910, and he went to fight with Pancho Villa. When he came back, because he came from a very wealthy family, the family moved to the United States, but he decided to stay in Mexico City, and he met my grandmother in Chihuahua, in the north of Mexico, and they got married. My grandfather loved classical, and saw Mahler conducting in New York while he was studying in Washington, so the musical interests of my father come from that part of the family. Because my grandfather was from Guadalajara, my father loved mariachi and son jalisciense and all this folk music from Jalisco. He started playing guitar and folk music when he was very young. He had these two sides — classical music and folk music. My mother studied piano for fifteen years. I was around music throughout my childhood.

TM: What were your first musical activities?

GO: I started by playing guitar and folk music, and joined my parents. When I was nine, my mother suggested that I start playing piano and reading music, so that I would have a more formal musical education. So I started playing piano when I was nine or ten years old. By fifteen I realized that I could compose melodies, so I knew very early that I wanted to be a composer.

TM: In addition to the folk music, were there kinds of international pop music that were part of your life when you were an adolescent?

GO: I loved all kinds of music — the Beatles, the Rolling Stones. My uncle was a mathematician, and he would play the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin — I loved those bands too. I love salsa, mambo, jazz — but jazz was something that came later, not at that time.

TM: What did adolescents listen to?

GO: There were three different kinds of people. There were people who loved to dance disco — I remember people dancing to the Beegees, and Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta. And then there were people who were nostalgic for older bands, like the Who, the Doors, Janis Joplin, and all of that kind of stuff. And there were people who listened to folk music from all over Latin America.

TM: Much of the Mexican music that we hear in the United States must be from northern Mexico — corridos and so forth. Perhaps that is different from what is listened to in Mexico City.

foto-corazon.gifGO: Not that much — we listen to corridos as well. I have an opera which will be performed in March, Only The Truth, which will be done by the National Opera company here in Mexico City, and in fact it is based on a corrido, so it is interesting that you mention it. Corridos are famous throughout the whole country.

TM: Where did you study music as an adolescent?

GO: I had a private piano teacher, and studied at a private school. I also studied harmony and solfege with her. She introduced me to the Bartok Mikrokosmos which was my exposure to twentieth-century music, and this was the moment when I decided that I wanted to be a composer rather than a pianist. I realized that being a pianist would be very difficult, and that composing would be one of the greatest things in my life. I felt like music chose me — I didn’t choose to study music, but music chose me.

TM: Are there pieces from those years that you still have in your archives?

GO: Yes — obviously all the pieces are for piano, since I didn’t know anything about orchestration. I still have the manuscripts, although I don’t consider them to be part of my catalog.

TM: Please talk about your university years.

GO: When I finished high school I went to Paris for one year. I knew that I wanted to be a musician, but my mother was telling me “Why don’t you take a year off, and think about it? Music is very difficult, you need time to know what you want to do.” After three months of being in Paris, I knew that I wanted to be a musician and I wanted to be a composer, so I went to a conservatory in the area where I was living in Paris, and then got a scholarship to the Ecole Normale de Musique. But my mother got ill with a kidney problem, so we returned to Mexico City; I gave her a kidney, and lost my scholarship.

In Mexico City I studied at the National School of Music at the University, which is the place where I now teach, the National Autonomous University (UNAM), one of the most important universities in Latin America. I studied there, and also at the Conservatory with Mario Lavista, one of the really good composers in Mexico, who studied with Carlos Chavez. Mario is a wonderful person, and a very important mentor for my career.

TM: Perhaps you could say a little about his style of music, and his approach to teaching, because Americans may not be so familiar with his music.

GO: I think that Mario has a very personal way of writing, which is something that I really admire. He has his own voice. His music is very delicate, very refined — let’s say that it is as refined as Takemitsu, but in a completely different esthetic. It’s mystic, almost religious — very beautiful music, very evocative. He’s a wonderful teacher who always respects the esthetic expression of his students, and never imposes his own point of view. He’s a very cultivated man, very sensitive, and very supportive. A really, really great teacher.

TM: How would you describe the style of the music you were writing while studying with him?

GO: Rhythm and strength are characteristics of my music, I guess. Even while studying with Mario, I had a very strong voice. I love rhythm, so my music was always very energetic, very rhythmic, and it still is. I was trying to discover my own voice while I was working with him.

TM: Who were composers from the twentieth century who made an impact on your esthetic, on your listening?

GO: Debussy, Ravel, Bartok, Stravinsky, Mahler — among more contemporary composers Ligeti, I admire Lutoslawski, I like Takemitsu very much. I love John Adams’ music. I like Thomas Adès, I like Kaija Saariaho, I like Ginastera, I like Revueltas very much– a great Mexican composer. I could mention many more.

TM: When you completed study at UNAM, where did you go from there? Did you go directly to graduate study in England?

GO: I got a scholarship from the British Council, and went to study in England, at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and did one year there with Robert Saxton. I then got another scholarship from UNAM, and did my Ph.D at the University of London, where I did electroacoustic music. So I ended up living in England for five years.

TM: Could you talk about your study with Saxton?

GO: Robert belongs to a European tradition where the compositional process is very important. In working with him I had to design a lot of harmonic schemes and work on the pre-compositional process before starting to write a piece. It was a rational way of processing composition. I don’t always compose like that these days — I like to trust in my intuition and my ear. However, it was interesting to work like that, to involve mathematics and other ways of approaching composition.

TM: At the University of London you were working with electroacoustic music. Was that the first time that you had been working in that medium?

GO: Yes, absolutely. When I was at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, for the first time I had a computer at my disposal, and there was an electronic class there, and for me it was fascinating and completely new. At the time in Mexico (1991) it was very difficult to have access to studios and computers , so I realized that I had to take advantage of the fact that I was there in England in order to explore that area. I did my Ph.D in electroacoustic music with my tutor, Simon Emmerson. That was the right decision. It was very interesting to work with electronics at that time.

TM: Do you feel that the same processes are relevant in constructing an electroacoustic piece, or are there other factors at work?

GO: I think it is a different process. When you write an electronic piece, you write in real time. You compose, and you hear what you are doing. You are in total control of the results. If you write acoustic music, you have to hear the music inside — you have to imagine all these sounds, and you won’t hear the music until the players are performing. For electroacoustic music, it’s different.

TM: Could you talk about a piece from that period?

GO: My first electroacoustic piece is called Magna Sin, for steel drum and tape. I had an opportunity to participate in a festival, and the producer wanted composers to write for ethnic instruments, or uncommon instruments. Other composers wrote for shakuhachi and tape; there was a Bolivian composer who wrote for charango (a very small guitar from Peru and Bolivia, made from an armadillo) and tape; and they asked me to write a piece for steel drum and tape, and I didn’t know anything about steel drums. And at the time I didn’t know anything about computers, either, so it was a big challenge.

I wrote the piece for a Mexican percussionist, Ricardo Gallardo, a very good percussionist, who didn’t have steel drums, so he bought one, and showed me the layout, and we took some samples, and from manipulation of those sounds I produced the tape part. The tape part functions as an extension of the live instrument.

TM: How did the two relate in the context of the piece?

GO: All the sounds for the tape came from the steel drum. One example would be register. If you manipulate the register, you can transform the sound into something that the acoustic instrument cannot do. This is more or less how the tape interacts with the steel drum.

TM: When did you complete your Ph.D?

GO: I finished in 1996, and returned to Mexico City.

TM: You are presently teaching at UNAM. How long have you been there?

GO: Since 2000.

TM: And you have also taught at Indiana University.

GO: Yes. This took place because I did my sabbatical there. I got a Fulbright, and went to Indiana, because I was working on my opera Only the Truth. When I got a Guggenheim to do the opera, I wrote to Carmen-Helena Tellez, who is the director of the Latin American Music Center at Indiana University, and she loved the idea of doing a workshop production at the university. As well as being a wonderful friend, she contributed generously to developing the work. She believed in what I was doing and applied for a grant (Indiana University New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities). Fortunately, we got the grant, and I got the Fulbright, so I went to Indiana for one year. While I was there, Dr. Freund, who is the head of the composition department, invited me to teach for one semester.

TM: Listening to the works that are up on your website, they seem to be exuberant, almost tropical — full of lots of activity — romantic, lyric. Could you speak about Patios, or some of your other works for orchestra?

GO: Patios is my first piece for orchestra, but the first version was for piano, an homage to a Mexican architect, Luis Barragán. I wrote it while I was studying with Mario Lavista — so it is one of the oldest pieces in my catalog. I went to an exhibition at the Museo Rufino Tamayo in Mexico City for work by Barragán, and I was inspired by his architecture. His work usually includes natural landscapes as a part of his own perspective. It’s very peaceful. He likes water very much — it is always present, as fountains, or as small mirrors of water. I wanted to translate the atmosphere, the quietness, the beautiful landscapes of Barragán into music. This is the original, and then I decided to orchestrate that piano version.

It’s interesting that you asked me about Patios, because it is one of the sides that I really like in my music, but perhaps it is not the most representative, because it is not rhythmic at all — it is more contemplative, and the harmony is more consonant, more about fifths — there is more of the influence of Debussy and Takemitsu. I have other pieces that are much more rhythmic, with other influences.

TM: For example, the piece that plays when you open the website.

GO: This is the end of the first movement of a piece called Altar de Piedra. This was an LA Philharmonic commission from a few years ago, a piece for four percussionists and orchestra.

TM: And has a very insistent rhythm.

GO: This is one of the most complex pieces that I have ever written — it’s very difficult for the orchestra. I have other versions of the work, including one for Amadinda — the Hungarian percussion quartet — and the Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s a wonderful version, for which we had seven rehearsals. Can you imagine!

I am not saying that I write difficult music, but rhythmically speaking that piece is very, very tricky.

TM: Tell me, is this rhythmic aspect something that expresses you, or Mexico, or expresses something having to do with latinidad?

GO: It is something that expresses me. It is natural — it is just there. Of course, because I live in Mexico, this is what I am exposed to — but basically this is me. Absolutely me.

TM: Do you ever think consciously about how your music would reflect Mexican character?

GO: When I compose, I am not trying to sound Mexican. I am just doing what I have to do. It is like an inner force that is just there, and I have to express that in sound. It probably has a Mexican identity, because it’s me, I live in Mexico, and I like my country. But I am not trying to write Mexican music — it comes out in a very natural way.

Mexico has many different composers. Arturo Marquez has been very interested in the danzon, and has been exploring that in his own work. Mario Lavista is very personal in a way, and if someone hears his music, they may not hear archetypes of Mexican music, let’s say. Carlos Sanchez’s music is very different, and so is Ricardo Zohn. Mexican composition is really strong, with many different voices at the moment. So it’s difficult to say that there is one school. We have many expressions, many esthetics.

This is not only true for Mexico. We have New Complexity, we have music that is more accessible — even in the States, we have Elliott Carter, we have Golijov, we have John Adams, and all of them are so totally different.

TM: Perhaps you could speak in more detail about Only The Truth.

GO: It is based on a corrido called Contrabando y Traicion (Smuggling and Betrayal), a corrido that was written in the seventies in Mexico City. It tells the story of a woman who crosses the border. She hides weed (marijuana) in the tires of her car. She travels with her lover, Emilio Varela. In Los Angeles, they get paid, and suddenly he betrays her. He decides to go to San Francisco with his true love. Then Camelia becomes very angry and kills him. And then she disappears.

This corrido became famous in the seventies through the recording of Los Tigres del Norte, and by now Camelia has become a very interesting figure in Mexican popular culture. People believe that she really exists and that she is still alive. My opera is about the construction of this myth, about this woman, about why she has become so important, why people believe that she is still alive — this is more or less the theme of the opera. I wrote the opera two years ago, it was performed at Indiana as an avant-premiere, and now we will have the Mexican premiere on March 11 at the Festival de Mexico, as a co-production with the Compañía Nacional de Ópera de Bellas Artes.

TM: Will that be recorded for CD or DVD?

GO: It will be recorded for the cultural channel on TV. We are in the middle of rehearsals, so I am very excited.

TM: Do you have plans already for the next opera?

GO: Yes, I have ideas for another opera, and have been talking to a few people, but I will keep it under wraps for now, since I am crossing my fingers that it will happen. I want to do another opera — definitely. It was a wonderful experience to write Only The Truth.

TM: Did you collaborate with a librettist on this?

GO: Yes — the librettist is my brother, Ruben Ortiz. The libretto is a compilation of texts. Ruben is a visual artist who lives in Los Angeles, and is a professor at UCSD. The concept of the opera is his idea.

TM: What other projects do you have for the near future?

GO: I have so many projects right now. I am writing a piece for the OFUNAM — the National University Philharmonic Orchestra. In September the University will be celebrating the centenary of its foundation, and the piece is a commission for that celebration. I also have commission from the Mexico City Philharmonic to mark the centenary of the Mexican Revolution. I am very busy right now writing these two pieces.

TM: Do the works have titles yet?

GO: Not yet. The piece for the university is a piece for choir and orchestra.

TM: For you, does the concept come first, and the title afterwards?

GO: It depends. Sometimes I already have the title, and sometimes not. It depends on the project. In the case of the opera, I had the title, but not the music.

TM: A question about compositional process. Some composers plan an architecture for a piece, and then fill in the details. Some start from the level of the details, and then grow a structure, perhaps a more narrative or organic approach. Are you more architectural or organic?

GO: Probably more organic. But sometimes I have to be very architectural. In the case of an opera, for example, you have to be architectural, too, because the dramatic text is giving you the overall shape of the music. In the case of the piece for the university I have a text, which gives me a layout to follow. It depends on the project. For the piece I wrote for the LA Philharmonic I wanted to explore polyrhythmic textures, so I did a lot of compositional process before I started writing the piece — I was trying to develop for getting the polyrhythms together, and the pitches of the notes…

Sometimes I am very intuitive — I start playing the piano and find something I like, analyze what I have, and then I start composing.

TM: Does your music grow from a playing approach, or a singing approach?

GO: If the music is vocal, definitely I will sing — it is very important. But I play a lot — the piano is a very important tool for me. I can’t compose without a piano — my playing is very important. Improvising is also a very important process.

TM: Are there future projects that you want to address in the next few years?

GO: I would very much like to write a piece for Steven Schick, a wonderful percussionist at UCSD. We have been talking about that. I would also like to write a piano concerto. I am also involved in collaborations, for example with choreographer Adriana Castaños from the La Lagrima Dance Company.

If I do the new opera, it will take a lot of my time.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/gabrielaortizfoto09.gif image_description=Gabriela Ortiz product=yes product_title=An interview with Gabriela Ortiz product_by=By Tom Moore
Posted by Gary at 8:51 PM

Rossini: La Cenerentola

A series of DVDs devoted to Hampe’s stagings of minor Rossini works has been available for awhile: La Scala di Seta, Il Signor Bruschino, for example. Those productions hailed from a small but lovely theater. Now ArtHaus Musik releases what must have been a career highpoint for Hampe - his production of La Cenerentola from the Salzburg Festival, 1982. With the handsome but monochromatic sets and costumes of Mauro Pagano, Hampe stages La Cenerentola as a fairly naturalistic, slightly somber fairy tale. Only in the usual Rossini storm scene, when Don Ramiro races his horse-drawn carriage to claim his princess, does Hampe allow a broader stroke. Machine-driven wind blows the hats off the riders and the legs of the carousel horses swing wildly. The audience breaks out into sustained applause, perhaps desperate at that point for some visual excitement.

After all, La Cenerentola (with libretto by Jacopo Ferretti) takes two and a half hours to tell its familiar tale. This version differs in many details from the familiar “Disney”-ized confection most Americans know, but suspense is out of the question. Although Rossini’s score doesn’t boast the melodic richness of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, beautiful and enjoyable moments come around, with the best saved for last - the aria for the tenor that Rossini had dropped from Barbiere (Juan Diego Florez likes to include it these days) and re-wrote for his Angelina: “Non piu mesta.” Hampe’s approach has undeniable style and grace, but it isn’t much fun. In the end, with a story as slight as this, a little questionable taste would go a long way toward making the length of the opera less noticeable.

Walter Berry, nearing the end of a remarkable career, utilizes his worn but intelligent vocal skills effectively as Don Magnifico, and Gino Quilico makes for a gruff but appealing Dandini. As the two stepsisters, Angela Denning and Daphne Evangelatos don’t camp it up much, in keeping with Hampe’s dictates, with the result that they don’t make much of an impression.

Ann Murray and Francisco Araiza are well-matched as the romantic leads, for both good and bad. On the positive side, they are skilled, pleasant professionals, who know bel canto and can meet each role’s vocal requirements. Both are also able enough stage performers, moving and emoting with naturalness. Murray does better by the put-upon Angelina. In an effort to be gentlemanly, your reviewer will just say that designer Pagano does what he can to make her an appealing fairy tale princess. Araiza pulls off his transformation from servant to prince, but a blandness in his vocal delivery keeps him from total success. Neither lead has that extra factor that makes a performer riveting, fascinating. In the muted colors of Hampe’s staging, they both blend into the surroundings.

Riccardo Chailly later conducted a studio recording of this opera with Cecilia Bartoli, and the sharpness and detail of that performance is already established here, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, no less.

Recent productions of La Cenerentola tend to be colorful, even cartoonish affairs, and a more subtle staging such as Hampe’s might be seen by some as an antidote for that sort of over-the-top theatricality. It’s all a matter of taste, but a little more star wattage would have made this Salzburg production much more memorable.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Arthaus100215.gif image_description=ArtHaus Musik 100 215 [DVD]

product=yes producttitle=Gioacchino Rossini: La Cenerentola productby=Angelina (La Cenerentola): Ann Murray; Don Ramiro: Francisco Araiza; Dandini: Gino Quilico; Don Magnifico: Walter Berry; Clorinda: Angela Denning; Tisbe: Daphne Evangelatos; Alidoro: Wolfgang Schöne. Vienna State Opera Chorus. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Riccardo Chailly, conductor. Michael Hampe, stage director. Mauro Pagano, set and costume design. Recorded live from the Kleines Festspielhaus, Salzburg during Salzburg Festival 1988. productid=ArtHaus Musik 100 215 [DVD] price=$26.99 producturl=http://astore.amazon.com/operatoday-20/detail/B000JLQS7Y

Posted by chris_m at 10:49 AM

February 9, 2010

Lulu, Grand Théâtre, Geneva

By Francis Carlin [Financial Times, 9 February 2010]

Come in all dirty men in macs from Geneva and neighbouring cantons. Olivier Py’s new Lulu comes with a health warning that the film used in the staging might shock sensitive souls; children under 16 are advised to stay away.

Posted by Gary at 7:01 AM

February 8, 2010

Ariadne auf Naxos, Metropolitan Opera, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times 8 February 2010]

If all had gone as originally planned, the offering at the Met on Thursday would have been Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. But, facing economic exigencies, Peter Gelb decided to put on Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. It may not be a sure-fire box office attraction, but it apparently costs less to restage and certainly seems less forbidding to conservative New Yorkers.

Posted by Gary at 7:03 AM

February 7, 2010

Lucia di Lammermoor at the Coliseum

Geoff Brown [Times Online, 8 February 2010]

So, once more we plunge into that melodramatic cauldron, that brooding nonsense, that is Lucia di Lammermoor. On its first outing in 2008 David Alden’s grimly stylised, psychopathological take on the opera that Donizetti squeezed from a capacious Sir Walter Scott novel gathered assorted praise. This time round, the director’s shock treatment of life in Lucia’s Scottish manse — think Grand Guignol reimagined by Ibsen — shocks and impresses rather less.

Posted by Gary at 11:59 PM

MARTIN: Der Sturm

Music composed by Frank Martin. Libretto by the composed based upon William Shakespeare’s The Tempest as translated by A. W. Schlegel.

First performance: 17 June 1956, Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna.

Prospero, the usurped Duke of Milan Baritone
Miranda, Prospero’s daughter Soprano
Ariel, an airy spirit Dancer
Caliban, enslaved by Prospero Bass
Alonso, the King of Naples Bass
Sebastian, Alonso’s brother Bass
Antonio, the usurping Duke of Milan and Prospero’s brother Tenor
Ferdinand, Alonso’s son Tenor
Gonzalo, counsellor to Prospero and Miranda Bass-Baritone
Adrian, a lord Tenor
Trinculo, jester Tenor
Stephano, a drunken butler Baritone
Boatswain Baritone
Master of the ship Speaker
Iris, Ceres and Juno spirits Dancers

Synopsis of play:

The magician Prospero, rightful Duke of Milan, and his daughter, Miranda, have been stranded for twelve years on an island after Prospero’s jealous brother Antonio—helped by Alonso, the King of Naples—deposed him and set him adrift with the then three-year-old Miranda. Gonzalo, the King’s counsellor, had secretly supplied their boat with plenty of food, water, clothes and the most-prized books from Prospero’s library. Possessing magic powers due to his great learning, Prospero is reluctantly served by a spirit, Ariel, whom Prospero had rescued from a tree in which he had been trapped by the Algerian witch Sycorax. Prospero maintains Ariel’s loyalty by repeatedly promising to release the “airy spirit” from servitude. Sycorax had been banished to this island, and had died before Prospero’s arrival. Her son, Caliban, a deformed monster and the only non-spiritual inhabitant before the arrival of Prospero, was initially adopted and raised by him. He taught Prospero how to survive on the island, while Prospero and Miranda taught Caliban religion and their own language. Following Caliban’s attempted rape of Miranda, he had been compelled by Prospero to serve as the sorcerer’s slave, carrying wood and gathering berries and “pig nuts” (acorns). In slavery, Caliban has come to view Prospero as a usurper and has grown to resent him and his daughter. Prospero and Miranda in turn view Caliban with contempt and disgust.

The play opens as Prospero, having divined that his brother, Antonio, is on a ship passing close by the island, has raised a tempest which causes the ship to run aground. Also on the ship are Antonio’s friend and fellow conspirator, King Alonso of Naples, Alonso’s brother and son (Sebastian and Ferdinand), and Alonso’s advisor, Gonzalo. All these passengers are returning from the wedding of Alonso’s daughter Claribel with the King of Tunis. Prospero, by his spells, contrives to separate the survivors of the wreck into several groups. Alonso and Ferdinand are separated and believe one another to be dead.

Miranda_-_The_Tempest_JWW.pngMiranda — The Tempest by John William Waterhouse (1916) [Source: Wikipedia]

Three plots then alternate through the play. In one, Caliban falls in with Stephano and Trinculo, two drunkards, whom he believes to have come from the moon. They attempt to raise a rebellion against Prospero, which ultimately fails. In another, Prospero works to establish a romantic relationship between Ferdinand and Miranda; the two fall immediately in love, but Prospero worries that “too light winning [may] make the prize light”, and compels Ferdinand to become his servant, pretending that he regards him as a spy. In the third subplot, Antonio and Sebastian conspire to kill Alonso and Gonzalo so that Sebastian can become King. They are thwarted by Ariel, at Prospero’s command. Ariel appears to the “three men of sin” (Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian) as a harpy, reprimanding them for their betrayal of Prospero. Prospero manipulates the course of his enemies’ path through the island, drawing them closer and closer to him.

In the conclusion, all the main characters are brought together before Prospero, who forgives Alonso. He also forgives Antonio and Sebastian, but warns them against further betrayal. Ariel is charged to prepare the proper sailing weather to guide Alonso and his entourage (including Prospero himself and Miranda) back to the Royal fleet and then to Naples, where Ferdinand and Miranda will be married. After discharging this task, Ariel will finally be free. Prospero pardons Caliban, who is sent to prepare Prospero’s cell, to which Alonso and his party are invited for a final night before their departure. Prospero indicates that he intends to entertain them with the story of his life on the island. Prospero has resolved to break and bury his staff, and “drown” his book of magic, and in his epilogue, shorn of his magic powers, he invites the audience to set him free from the island with their applause.

[Synopsis source: Wikipedia]

Click here for the complete libretto.

Prospero’s Epilogue — Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Prospero:

image=http://www.operatoday.com/prospero_miranda.png image_description=Prospero and Miranda by William Maw Egley (c. 1850) [Source: Wikipedia] audio=yes first_audio_name=Frank Martin: Der Sturm first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Martin_Sturm.m3u product=yes product_title=Frank Martin: Der Sturm product_by=Alonso: Ethan Herschenfeld; Sebastian: Josef Wagner; Prospero: Robert Holl; Antonio: James Gilchrist; Ferdinand: Simon O'Neill: Gonzalo: Andreas Macco; Adrian: Marcel Beekman; Caliban: Dennis Wilgenhof: Trinculo: Roman Sadnik; Stephano: André Morsch; Boatswain: Thomas Oliemans; Miranda: Christine Buffle. Groot Omroepkoor. Radio Filharmonisch Orkest. Thierry Fischer, conductor. Live performance, 11 October 2008, Concertgebouw Amsterdam.
Posted by Gary at 11:09 AM

Donizetti revealed: Lucia di Lammermoor, ENO, London

Donizetti’s music is so lyrical that we could be lulled, but he understood the true horrific nature of the narrative. In his time, the glass harmonica was believed by some to induce insanity. In theory, it’s surreal drone would have added an extra frisson of danger to early performances, enhancing the dramatic impact. Restoring the glass harmonica makes good dramatic as well as musical sense, even though the full impact may be lost on modern audiences used to horror movies and the ondes martenot. This ENO production, directed by David Alden, and designed by Charles Edwards, significantly places a luminous green object left stage, glowing menacingly. It represents the glass harmonica, played in the pit by Alexander Marguerre, one of the few glass harmonica specialists in the world. It reaffirms the importance of the musical character in this opera.

Two centuries of flamboyant performance practice have shaped our assumptions, but the evidence is that Donizetti’s approach was more restrained. There’s plenty of drama inherent in Lucia’s personality, so this production shifts the balance back to the inherent drama in Donizetti’s music. Anna Christy’s high soprano isn’t as magnificent as, say, Maria Callas, but it fits well with the cleaner bel canto aesthetic. Christy also evokes the fragility so fundamental to Lucia’s personality. Her timbre is clean and pure, almost shrill at times, but that’s psychologically astute. When Lucia finally breaks down in wild frenzy, it’s all the more disturbing.

Lucia_di_Lammermoor_006.gifBarry Banks (Edgardo)

This Lucia’s still in the nursery, playing with dolls, wearing a dress that shows her ankles. When Enrico (Brian Mulligan) fondles her legs, it shocking. But then selling his sister into marriage is shocking too. Nonetheless, Enrico recoils in horror at what he’s done and regresses, playing with a toy cart. Mulligan’s baritone is surprisingly delicate, so even if his physique isn’t child-like, he conveys the idea that Enrico — just like Lucia — doesn’t want to grow up and face the struggles that adulthood brings..

Donizetti Italianizes Sir Walter Scott’s fantasy of Scottish myth. Because the setting is ambiguous, this set design (by Charles Edwards) plays an important role in commenting on and expanding the themes implicit in the drama. What we need to know is that once powerful , families have been destroyed. In hues of grey, green and white, we see the faded glory of a marble mansion falling into ruin, paint peeling, windows boarded. Lammermoor is on the brink of collapse. Lucia is being traded off so the family can survive. Enrico’s not a craven brute, but a victim of overwhelming circumstances.

Lucia_di_Lammermoor_002.gifAnna Christy (Lucia) and Company

The mad scene takes place in an alcove above the main stage, complete with curtained backdrop. The marriage chamber becomes a stage where the ritual of marriage is acted out. This is Lucia’s “sacrifice” on the altar of social pressure. Even though Arturo is kind, losing her virginity is an act of violence, to which Lucia responds with extreme force.

Lucia is clearly unstable long before the wedding. She sees the ghost of a dead maiden, and falls suddenly in love when Edgardo kills a wild animal at her feet. Blood, love and death inextricably linked. Even in Donizetti’s time, some would have intuited the connection, but the Victorian costumes (Brigitte Reiffenstuel) in this production allude to images of rigid respectability. Beneath the buttoned up bombazine, sexual repression corrodes, just like the rusting windows in the Ashton mansion. Obviously, Lucia wants to die because she’s let Edgardo down by signing the marriage contract. But she’s also choosing death to avoid losing her innocence.

Edgardo (Barry Banks) is just as weighed down by family tradition as Enrico is, but he’s already lost everything but his father’s tomb. Here he’s dressed in a kilt, the last remaining wild Highlander in a new world of Victorian propriety. Walter Scott’s novels about a lost past appealed to the Romantic imagination because they offered an alternative to convention, in an era before there was a vocabulary for psychological concepts. Perhaps that’s why Alden has Edgardo killing himself with a gun instead of a sword. Edgardo, a throwback to a wild Highland past, can’t buck “modern” society.

Lucia_di_Lammermoor_011.gifAnna Christy (Lucia) and Brian Mulligan (Enrico)

With Lucia, Edgardo and Enrico destroyed, the future, as such, rests with figures like Raimondo Bidebent (what a name!). Clive Bayley’s portrayal is sympathetic — no Calvinist hellfire and brimstone here. Even when he attacks Normanno (Philip Daggett), he’s not specially vindictive. But he doesn’t understand the passion that drove Lucia and Edgardo. Something’s been lost in this new world of genteel reticence.. This superb production of Lucia di Lammerrmoor does justice to the drama and to the depth of Donizetti’s music, revealed in this lucid new edition.

Anne Ozorio

image=http://www.operatoday.com/LuciadiLammermoor001.gif imagedescription=Anna Christy as Lucia [Photo by Robert Workman courtesy of ENO]

product=yes producttitle=Gaetano Donnizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor productby=Lucia: Anna Christy; Enrico: Brian Mulligan; Edgardo: Barry Banks; Lord Arturo Bucklaw: Dwayne Jones; Raimondo Bidebent: Clive Bayley; Alisa: Sarah Pring; Normanno: Philip Dagett. Orchestra and Chorus of the English National Opera. Glass harmonica: Alexander Marguerre. Conductor: Anthony Walker. Director: David Alden. Set Designer: Charles Edwards. Costumes: Brigitte Reiffenstuel. Lighting Adam Silverman. English National Opera, The Coliseum, London. 4th February 2010 product_id=Above:

All photos by Robert Workman courtesy of ENO

Posted by anne_o at 6:29 AM

Manon Lescaut in Lyon

May this caveat lay to rest all complaint that the new Manon Lescaut just now unveiled in Lyon had little to do with anything that resembles Italian verismo and melodramma.

If the Genovese Manon Lescaut belonged to the conductor, the Lyonaise edition went to the director, Lluís Pascal — though its conductor, Kazushi Ono, did make brilliant music. And this Manon Lescaut disproved the notion that Puccini’s first masterpiece is a fragile one. If it could survive Mr. Pascal’s treatment it can survive nearly anything.

The production is brilliant. Spanish theater director Pascal lavished a theatrical gloss over Puccini’s four brutal episodes in the rather brief but quite eventful life of the Abbé Prevost’s eighteenth century heroine, Manon. It was witty theater, the bold emotional strokes of verismo replaced by heady concepts — the mind was stunned with striking images.

Each of Puccini’s acts is a decisive action — deceit and flight, boredom and theft, deportation, and lastly death in the deserts of Louisiana. For metteur en scène Pascal it was all theater. Act one was evoked by a circus ringmaster. This was des Grieux’ friend Edmondo sporting the signature white tie and tails. Act two was a quotation. Manon starred in a sumptuous made-for-TV pastoral complete with the dowdily dressed Andrews Sisters crooning off-camera (radio is not visual). Act three was easier. It was a public parade of hissing prostitutes. Act four was the end of the line, Manon and des Grieux blasted by the light of an a vista (in view) large theater spotlight hammering home that all this could only happen in theater since we now know that there is too much water in Louisiana anyway.

Like in theater Mr. Pascal’s setting was functional rather than descriptive. Trains and tracks brought actors on and off the stage, save in the salon act where a motorized cart carried the camera. The desert act was the end of the line — train tracks terminated at a lone buffer stop, or bumper (the familiar shock absorbing structure you see at the end of tracks in train stations). This small structure on a bare stage served valiantly to absort the throes the dying Manon in her over-the-top sola, abbandonata, io, la deserta donna when in fact des Grieux had merely gone off to find some water (the desert horizon sky split discretely to let him leave the stage). Otherwise the splendid, svelt Manon, Bulgarian Svetla Vassileva sang the entire act flat on her back on the floor, resplendently.

To put it lightly tenor Misha Didyk gave it his all to the point that in the third act it seemed he was giving too much, and we feared that the several months between this performance and his promised Hermann in Lyon’s Pique Dame (April) would not leave enough time for him to regain his vocal composure. To put it mildly the several physical scenes with Mme. Vassileva seemed like they might possibly be quite real. Mr. Didyk is the same handsome, blond Russian who played des Grieux to Karita Mattila’s Manon in San Francisco.

How you might ask did the Puccini score fit into all this. Conductor Kazushi Ono enriched and enlivened the orchestration by emphasizing its coloristic details, reveling in them and then catching up with Puccini’s punch by effecting dizzying accelerandi for the final moments of each act.

Maybe Lluís Pascal got it right. Opera is a circus.

Flip back to Genoa a couple of years ago. The show was all in the pit. While conductor Daniel Oren is hardly Puccini, he can embody Puccini’s music pure and simple. On the podium he may at first be immobile, but he soon stomps and jumps, emitting grunts and snorts. He sings along (in good baritone) in the big numbers while expansively pulling his orchestra together to emote in one huge voice along with his inspired collaborators on the stage. He then appreciatively applauds his singers right along with the applause of a thrilled audience. Mo. Oren is a phenomenon.

These artists keep us coming back for more.

N.B. The Lyon matinee audience (January 24) did not indulge itself or the performers by applauding the arias.

Michael Milenski

Click here for a video clip from this production.

Click here for a photo gallery of this production.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/manondeath2.jpg imagedescription=Des Grieux Buries Manon

product=yes producttitle=Giacomo Puccini: Manon Lescaut productby=Svetla Vassileva: Manon; Misha Didyk: Des Grieux; Lionel Lhote: Lescaut; Alexander Teliga: Géronte; Benjamin Bernheim: Edmondo; Stuart Patterson: Dance master; Franziska Rabl: A singer. Orchestre et Chœurs de l’Opéra de Lyon. Conductor: Kazushi Ono. Metteur en scène: Lluis Pasqual. Sets: Paco Azorín. Costumes: Franca Squarciapino. Lighting: Pascal Mérat. Choreography: Montse Colomé.

Posted by michael_m at 2:30 AM

February 4, 2010

Heidelberg’s Stumbling Spartaco at Schwetzingen Castle

The industrious Heidelberg City Theater is to be commended for excavating this early 18th century curiosity, composed by Giuseppe Porsile in 1726 for the Emperor’s Carnival celebration in Vienna. After considerable popular success, Spartaco (perhaps unfairly) disappeared. But just like Evita’s body, or a bad penny, it has now re-surfaced, alas tarted up in a mounting that aspires to be moralizing, scolding, Shabby-Chic but which only manages to succeed with the pre-hyphen portion of that label.

Happily, this performance lacks for nothing musically as it is exceedingly well sung and played. The period band assembled from the ranks of the Philharmonic Orchestra of the City of Heidelberg augmented by Baroque specialists gave great pleasure and offered variety and consistency in equal measure under the propulsive baton of Michael Form. There were especially fine contributions by Julian Behr (theorbo) and Marc Meisel (continuo). At the very end of the evening, a sudden welcome addition appeared with a brilliantly accurate piccolo trumpet solo by Laura Vukobratovic. Maestro Form seemed in good sync with his talented singers and instrumentalists and they collaborated to fine effect.

Perhaps the very recent financial scare that threatened to actually shut down the Stadttheater looms over the operation still. How else to explain the junk pile approach to the overall set “design”? I am not bothered by seeing an unadorned stage with all the rigging and escape doors in full view. But I take issue with the deliberate ugliness of all the motley, disparate, and worn out pieces that clutter that playing area. Well, it is not quite completely bare since a large projection screen dominates the upstage playing space fronted by a platform, and (uh-oh) contemporary microphones on stands (be afraid, be very afraid). The tawdry props and dressing seem to have been collected from the curbside, one step ahead of the garbage trucks on bulk trash pick-up day.

Ben Baur is not only on the blame line for this scenic hodge-podge, but also for devising the costumes. Drawing on the opera’s Carnival associations, he has attired most of the cast in what seem to be homemade costumes such as people without taste might throw together in an attempt to be “wild and crazy.” You know, you’ve seen them. They are of the ilk of pulling patterned underwear over outerwear, painting on freckles with mom’s mascara, and wearing Doc Martins with a tutu. While I made that up, none of it would have been out of place here or any less meaningful. Young Mr. Baur has some wonderful credits to his name, and it has to be said that Vetturia’s historical gown, wig, and crown were fetching. And even the clowns (yes, clowns, God-help-us) were visually arresting. Would that the rest of the cast had been treated to as much consideration, for their characterizations were not helped by their “look.”

Perhaps all of this could have had more impact had it been compellingly lit, but with no lighting designer even credited, the unimaginative wash and clumsy area lighting effects contributed nothing to the staging. Perhaps the Rococo Theatre has severe technical limitations? Although I did not much enjoy the content of Stefan Butzmühlen’s videos (or even see the need for them) they were in fact very professionally created. Highlighting just one of the movies, screened over ballet music: rowdy clowns have a take-no-prisoners cream pie fight. Yep, Bozo is up there hurling those pastries hither and yon, while the plot stops. Oh, and then two of the film actors force feed a piece of pie to a down-and-out street person crashed on the sidewalk in front of their house.

Spartakus02.pngEmilio Pons as Spartaco

The responsibility for this clutter must be laid at the feet of stage director Michael von zur Mühlen. Apparently borrowing from the titular hero’s slave status, there is a concept at work that decries oppression and slavery (and well, who can disagree with that, hmm?). But Herr v.z. Mühlen is not content to play the opera straight to make his point, but grafts on amplified shrill prose diatribes, made up out of whole cloth, shouted by three extraneous clowns. Part Stephen King’s evil It, part Clarabelle with a wireless mike, part Emmet Kelly in need of a distemper shot, actors Judith Achner, Alisabeth Schlicksupp, and Richard Hoppart strive to be ominous and creepy, but wind up being strident and irrelevant. In addition to these scripted ‘improvements’ to Posile’s opera, we are also subjected to the insertion of the rock recording “Wake Up” by Rage Against the Machine. Oh, and the cast passes the text around a dinner table and reads the lyrics to the finale instead of actually singing the concerted number. There are at least 25 minutes of additional, extra-musical material/scenarios dragging down the show’s considerable musical values.

Mr. Director, sir, there is a fine line between “shock” and “schlock.”

Which leads me to posit the question: If you don’t trust the inherent quality or message of the material, why bother? Why not make up something wholly new? Why subvert someone else’s hard work? This is facile, feckless, free-loading pretense, and it serves neither the talented performers nor the audience, as evidenced by the number of empty seats that only increased after intermission. But… may I return to praising the truly gifted performers?

Spartakus03.pngThe Clowns

In the title role, young tenor Emlio Pons revealed a highly appealing lyric voice, good stylistic acumen, and meticulous passage work in the fierier outbursts. His pleasing instrument goes easily above the staff, and he acts affectingly with the voice without ever sacrificing sound technique. On the “short” side of “tall” he nevertheless commands the stage with an easy, natural presence. Even when he is asked to do un-natural or insulting things. Like stand on an upended beer case to raise him above the height of his female co-stars. Or like taking off his clothes for all of Act Two.

That’s right, in his first aria at the top of Two, Emilio strips off every stitch of his Home-Made-Fasching-Faux-Centurion gear and plays the entire second act in the altogether like a nudist in search of a camp. Eye candy it decidedly may have been, but can you imagine Domingo submitting to this? (Would you want to???) Adding to the mutual discomfort, Mr. Pons eventually toted on two white plastic buckets and then proceeded to slather his body with…what? Mud? War paint? Godiva chocolate sauce? Eventually, his face was crudely got up like Al Jolson about to address Mr. Interlocutor, and he donned a clown ruff, paper Bart-Simpson-hair-do crown, and furry red overcoat meant to suggest a royal robe. But the dang fur-piece persisted in flapping inelegantly, contributing yet another distracting effect of Penis Peek-a-Boo. I am not sure that an artist this fine has ever been made to be so audaciously displayed.

Camilla de Falleiro was a bewitching stage creature as a love-lorn Gianisbe. This charismatic soprano contributed spot-on singing all night and conquered the high-flying challenges of her multiple arias with aplomb, offering crystal clear tone, beauty of sound, rapid fire coloratura, and warmth of personality. This was top-quality vocalism. Yosemeh Adjei has a very distinctive counter-tenor, his well-schooled treble laced with real bite and snap. He runs the risk of verging on edginess, but this is an exciting instrument. And he is a lively stage creature, filling his scenes with agile activity. He also got to show off his gym bunny torso in a square-off duel with the Popilius of Franz Vitzthum, another exceptional counter-tenor who commands a flexible range, creamy rich tone, and stylish phrasing.

Spartakus04.pngAnnika Ritlewski as Vetturia

Annika Ritlewski scored all of Vetturia’s musical points with her ample, womanly soprano, and provided even singing at both extremes of the range. Mariale Lichdi treated us to some bravura moments, and her pleasant timbre and assured technique were surely appreciated. Too bad Ms. Lichdi was hindered by being the director’s “symbol,” or rather two of them, impersonating first Rosa Luxemburg and then (no kidding) Ulrike Meinhof (yes, of the Red Faction Baader-Meinhof Gang). While baritone Sebastian Geyer was indisposed, he animatedly acted the role of Trasone while Lisandro Abadies provided richly detailed singing from the pit.

What of the piece itself? The production certainly short-changed us in making an informed decision, but there were many attractive set pieces that were beautifully rendered. There seems to be considerably more pleasure to be mined from Pisole’s Spartaco. I certainly would welcome the chance to experience another production of it, shorn of all the pseudo-socialist, politically provocative associations that have weighted down this clumsy rendition.

Halfway through Act Two, handbills rained down on us from the top tier that read: “We don’t want a piece of cake, we want the whole bakery.”

With the “whole bakery” thrown randomly on stage, including the kitchen sink, far too little time was spent savoring the one succulent piece of Kuchen that might have been the composer’s Spartaco.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Spartakus01.png image_description=Camilla de Falleiro (Gianisbe) and guest [Photo courtesy of Theater Heidelberg]

product=yes producttitle=Giuseppe Porsile: Spartaco productby=Camilla de Falleiro, Maraile Lichdi, Annika Sophie Ritlewski; Yosemeh Adjei, Sebastian Geyer, Emilio Pons. Franz Vitzthum: Dirigent. Michael Form: Regie. Michael von zur Mühlen: Bühne. Kostüme: Ben Baur. product_id=Above: Camilla de Falleiro (Gianisbe) and guest

All photos courtesy of Theater Heidelberg

Posted by james_s at 12:30 PM

February 3, 2010

Opera music part of junk hauler's treasure trove

By John Kelly [Washington Post, 3 February 2010]

The junk hauler figured they had to be worth something, these 15,000 black discs that filled an entire room in a Silver Spring house.

Posted by Gary at 3:52 PM

February 2, 2010

Wozzeck, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theatre, San Francisco

By Allan Ulrich [Financial Times, 2 February 2010]

Every enlightened artistic community needs an organisation like Ensemble Parallèle, pledged to staging significant 20th-century operas in relatively intimate spaces. Considering that the San Francisco Opera has not produced Berg’s still shattering expressionist masterpiece in a decade - and is not likely to under the current management - Nicole Paiement’s valiant band struck a blow last weekend for intelligent music theatre in which dedication triumphs over dollars.

Posted by Gary at 3:57 PM

Così fan tutte, Covent Garden

This is not a buffa trifle, which sends the audience home feeling amused and rather smug; indeed, discussing Charles Lamb’s description of the work as an ‘artificial comedy’, in the programme Miller himself notes that “within such as idiom the awkward improbabilities of the plot can be seen as a device that helps to make the opera more, rather than less, serious”.

Certainly, the visual impression created by the stark, but elegant, modern sets — scattered with a few throwaway allusions to the grand classical tragedies of Gluck — is one of coldness and aloofness. The ladies’ house is mid-refurbishment, and in such minimalist surroundings, with little to distract the eye or nourish the soul, it’s no wonder that the cast are enwrapped in solitude, absorbed by their mirrors, magazines and iPods. Having updated the original production, Miller cleverly uses such props to lighten the cynicism: Despina types the marriage contract on a laptop, and the ubiquitous mobile ’phones crop up in almost every scene — the sisters snap away with their cameras, Alfonso ‘calls a friend’ to summon a military drum roll, and a sweeping flourish on the continuo neatly serves as a tinkling ring tone.

Shimell_Cosi_ROH.gifWilliam Shimell as Alfonso

The uniformly accomplished cast certainly had the measure of the concept, and the acting was superb throughout. Relaxing into her glamorous boots, Nino Surguladze enjoyed flirting and flouncing as a coquettish Dorabella; 'È amore un ladroncello' proved that she was equally secure at both ends of her register, and displayed her warm, supple tone. Sally Matthews offered a controlled, detailed performance as Fiordiligi, alert to the subtle nuances, intensely introspective and self-restrained. Indeed, in her effort to totally embody the staid stoic, Matthews tried a little too hard, and her voice was at times rather too inflexible; she certainly had the technical arsenal to cope with the outlandish angular leaps of ‘Come scoglio’, and the high B at the end of 'Per pietà' was spot on; her unravelling in Act 2 was conveyed by a rich array of different vocal colours, and she displayed an impressively resonant lower register; but, overall her voice lacked a certain warmth, and her arias failed to move this listener. Maybe this was apt for Miller’s conception, but it felt a bit too flinty and dry for me — we marvelled at the technical prowess, laughed at her pride, pitied her fall, but did not genuinely feel for her in her disillusionment.

The boys enjoyed their outlandish disguises — flowing locks, bandannas, black leather and shades — indulging in much horseplay, posturing and melodrama. As a heavy metal aficionado, Gulglielmo (Troy Cook) was suitably cock-sure, and petulant in his comeuppance, angrily muttering uncharitable thoughts during the Ab canon at the wedding. Charles Castronovo has a light but emotive voice, perfect for the soulful hippie, Ferrando; he was on outstanding form all evening. His cavatina, ‘Tradito, schernito dal perfido cor’ was ravishing. And, in his duet with Matthews, ‘Per gli amplessi’, both characters were not only effortlessly seductive, but rightly and totally absorbed by the beauty of their own singing and by their romantic vision of Love.

Cast_Cosi_ROH.gif(Left to Right) Charles Castronovo as Ferrando, Sally Matthews as Fiordiligi, Helene Schneiderman as Despina, Nino Surguladze as Dorabella and Troy Cook as Guglielmo

Don Alfonso (William Shimell) was appropriately cool and debonair, elegantly reclining to observe the shenanigans with amused distaste, but sometimes too detached to be convincing as the arch manipulator. From the opening trio, he seemed underpowered vocally although he did warm up as proceedings progressed, playing a more decisive role in ‘Soave sia il vento’; and, in fact, the lack of lustre to his tone, and the frequent absence of vibrato, did lend him a sad, resigned air, as he subtly guided his dupes from the sidelines.

Helene Schneiderman was a natural as Despina, an amoral good-time girl who really couldn’t see what the fuss was all about, and who encouraged us to see the idiocy of her mistresses’ self-delusions. Both of her two short arias were proficiently despatched, but it was in the recitatives that she shone, as a sharp PA, soothing the over-anxious ladies with cups of Starbucks and Prozac, rattling off the witty barbs and lampooning their pretensions.

Scene_Cosi_ROH.gifA scene from Così fan tutte

Making her debut at the ROH Julia Jones created a light-hearted, flippant musical fabric, expertly teasing out the woodwind solos which play such a subtle role in the drama. Balance and unity between stage and pit was superb, although I would have liked a swifter pace at times.

It may be an opera of ‘pairs’ but ultimately Miller’s ‘couples’ are isolated individuals, alone with only their self-regard for companionship. Mozart’s music may evoke the supreme beauty of love, and suggest the sincerity of their affections, but the musical and dramatic irony is piquant. Miller’s vision punctures the profundity of their self-deceiving ardour, and his symbolism is apt: as the intense self-absorption of Fiordiligi, as she gazes adoringly into the mirror, suggests, the only thing these solipsists truly love is themselves.

Da Ponte’s libretto has been condemned as absurd, cynically immoral and tritely trivial — Miller’s reading is all these things … and utterly convincing! The great Charles Rosen complained that Così was not ‘true to life’ but merely faithful to an eighteenth-century view of human nature, but I would suggest that Miller proves him wrong. The opera is to some extent a ‘closed system’; but this is not to say that it is not relevant to the outside world, or a reflection of our own. While the mobile ’phone gags may be less fresh than they were fifteen years ago, Miller’s updating, with its unconsoling conclusion, succeeds in convincing us that not only are ‘they all the same’, but so are we.

Claire Seymour

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Surguladze_Dorabella_ROH.gif image_description=Nino Surguladze as Dorabella [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of Royal Opera House] product=yes product_title=W. A. Mozart: Così fan tutte product_by=Alfonso: William Shimell; Despina: Helene Schneiderman; Dorabella: Nino Surguladze; Fiordiligi: Sally Matthews; Ferrando: Charles Castronovo; Guglielmo: Troy Cook. Royal Opera. Director: Jonathan Miller. Revival Director: Daniel Dooner. Conductor: Julia Jones. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Friday 29th January, 2010. product_id=Above: Nino Surguladze as Dorabella

All photos by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of Royal Opera House
Posted by Gary at 2:53 PM

Parsifal on the Cote d’Azur

Nietzsche and possibly most everyone else have been ever after bewildered by Wagner’s renunciation of love. After all love had always been the overwhelming motivation for the antics of Wagnerian mythology.

In 1883 Nietzsche began his winter sojourns to Nice and the mild winters of the French riviera where he envisioned his diatribe Nietzsche contra Wagner. But neither Parsifal nor any other Wagnerian masterpieces have been frequent visitors to this gentle climate of subtle sensual beauty. And not only because climatic subtlety and cruel philosophy seem at odds with one another, but also because when Nice re-built its opera house in 1882 the city fathers looked to old Italian theaters as models rather than to the latest theatrical theories and techniques from Bayreuth. Wagner’s mature operas are simply too huge to stuff into a small horse-shoe theater of delicate decoration.

The Opéra de Nice is now considered one of the finest monuments of belle époque architecture. With recent renovations and modifications it adequately serves much of the repertory. But for the really big stuff the Opéra de Nice (the name of the opera company and its theater are the same) takes over the 2500 seat Salle Apollon in what is called the Acropolis, an architectural monstrosity designed in the late 1970‘s that holds five other performing spaces, an exhibition hall and a bowling alley or two as well.

The Opéra de Nice is in transition, its new management transforming it into a somewhat adventurous opera company with a serious production standard. This production of Parsifal was its first adventure, and a striking success. Not that artistic chances were taken — it was the 2004 production from the Grand Théâtre de Genève, the metteurs en scène were the Swiss minimalist designer Roland Aeschlimann and the American minimalist choreographer Lucinda Childs. In Nice their original Geneva staging was realized by Dagmar Pischel who imbued it with vibrant new life.

This superb production was well served by a strong cast, led by Kurt Rydl as Gurnemanz whose dramatic presence never faltered and fortunately his voice gained focus as the afternoon progressed (January 17) making his lengthy narrations a powerful frame for Wagner’s Easter saga. Parsifal himself was American Gary Lehman who has effected a transition from baritone to a splendid heldentenor of total security with power to burn. He was willing to attempt the acting of the innocent fool (surely one of opera’s more thankless tasks) redeeming his seeming dramatic naivete with fine vocal art. Russian soprano Elena Zhidkova defined the many facets of Kundry with dramatic precision, and sang securely and beautifully, her second act seduction and supplication convincingly delivered, her third act submission uncomfortable to watch (Nietzsche would have wretched).


The antagonist was English baritone Peter Sidhom, the truly mad magician Klingsor who raged with Wagnerian élan, and was suitably stricken dumb. Finnish bass Jukka Rasilainen can and did possess a black tinted, i.e. colorless voice, ideal for the pitiful state of Amfortas, and well used to document his long suffering. He was well costumed in dreadlocks and black cloth, and then in white face for his death made poignant indeed with the dead Kundry draped across his lap. These two figures in this touching pietà was the culminating moment of this sculptural production.

Aeschlimann and Childs made this Parsifal a ritual of death, the staging realized in poses and tableaus on a sloping stage platform broken by a long horizontal gash, its fore stage area embossed with the names of the knights of the Holy Grail, presumably their and perhaps our own tombs. The tabernacle was giant diminishing perfect circles where finally the grail appeared, a revolving faceted extra-terrestrial object that shone with all the cinematic panache of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001.

This inspired minimalism allowed the vivid vocal and musical performances to prevail, and bring us to a state of purification — even Nietzsche found the music of Parsifal to be sublimely beautiful (and maybe finding sublimity is redemption enough these days). Conductor Philippe Auguin paced the prelude very slowly, at first excruciatingly slow, but with time this unworldly pace took us to another realm — rarified teutonic mythology — and it was here that some of Wagner’s greatest music poured forth from the Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice for nearly five hours. Perhaps the poetry of Bayreuth was missing (and we did applaud after the first act), but very real Wagnerian musico-sensual pleasures were notably apparent making this Parsifal’s redemption an unforgettable afternoon on the Cote d’Azur.

N.B. All the subordinate roles were taken by quite accomplished, i.e. world class, performers. This Parsifal was an auspicious new beginning for the Opéra de Nice.

Michael Milenski

image=http://www.operatoday.com/ParsifalCote1.gif image_description=Parsifal, Opéra de Nice

product=yes producttitle=Richard Wagner: Parsifal productby=Parsifal: Gary Lehman; Kundry: Elena Zhidkova; Amfortas: Jukka Rasilainen; Gurnemanz: Kurt Rydl; Titurel: Victor von Halem; Klingsor: Peter Sidhom; Two Knights: Yuri Kissin, Richard Rittelmann; Four Squires: Caroline Mutel, Marie Gautrot, William van der Heyden, Antoine Normand; Six Florwer Maidens: Barbara Ducret, Stéphanie Loris, Marie Gautrot, Catherine Hunold, Caroline Mutel, Lucie Roche. Conductor; Philippe Auguin. Mise en scène and sets: Roland Aeschlimann. Choreography: Lucinda Childs. Stage Director: Dagmar Pischel. Costumes: Susanne Raschig. Lighting: Lukas Kaltenback. Orchestre Philharmonique de l’Opéra de Nice. Choir of the Opéra de Nice. Childrens Chorus of the Opéra de Nice. product_id=Photographs: Ville de Nice / P.Tallon

Posted by michael_m at 11:13 AM

Shohat’s The Child Dreams — A mature work

“I knew then that I would compose Dream, said Shohat in a post-performance interview in the Tel Aviv Opera House, where the premiere of the opera had taken place on January 18. Shohat’s plans were seconded by Israeli Opera general director Hanna Munitz, who had also sensed the operatic potential of drama when she saw it on stage.

Touched by the deep despair of the story and the genuine poetry of the text, Munitz commissioned Dream for her company. It is the first opera composed on any Levin text. Point of departure for Levin was the 1977 film Voyage of the Damned, the story of the St. Louis, the ship unable to attain landing rights for its fleeing refugees during World War II. But this, it must be stressed, is no more than raw material for what is now Child Dream.

True, the opera underscores the degree to which the Holocaust remains today a defining experience for the Israeli consciousness, yet the local critic who placed the new opera “among the most depressing and despair-radiating operas of the repertoire” missed the point of the transformation of the story through music achieved by Shohat and his director Omri Nizan. (Nizan, an old hand at the Cameri Theater, helped Shohat with minor changes in the text — nothing was added — and then served in the vastly more important role as director of the production.)

For through music the child at the center of the drama becomes much more than a single child and his story is far greater than the tale of one individual example of injustice. The Child is now a young Everyman with hopes for a better and more just world. That this world is closed to him — and not just by the near-criminality of captain of the ship that might have brought salvation — elevates Dream to the level of mythic universality. The story is quickly told. The Mother hopes to escape with her son on the ship. The Captain demands payment “in the flesh.” The ship reaches a ghost-like island, but passengers are not allowed to disembark by the despotic governor, the second evil figure in the story.

In one of the most moving moments in the score — 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission — a crippled child — mezzo Shira Raz — comments:

I’m a poet.
I write about you who come out of the fog
and return and disappear in it. I weep over your fate
and sketch it.
your faces approaching tell the tale of delusion;
but all human failure is stamped on the back of your
departing neck.

The Crippled Child speaks above and across the play for Levin himself who sees little but frustration and failure in the attempted escape.

The final act — an apotheosis of sorts — breaks with the seeming realism of the earlier three acts (and it was wise, therefore, to insert the intermission at this point). Dozens of “dead” children suspended above the stage whisper of their fate while the female nonet that opened the opera sings again of their sorry situation.

There is a Straussian sadness about this conclusion; it its muted melancholy it recalls the elder composer’s Metamorphosen, the “mourning for Munich” that he wrote after the destruction of his native city. It is deeply felt and moving music that might well become a concert piece in its own right.

And as the many who visit the memorial to children victims of the Holocaust in Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem experience not consolation but rather the hope beyond hopelessness so essential in any confrontation with the vast inhumanity of the 20th century, here too there is an elevation beyond meaningless suffering.

Child Dream is an ambitious work calling for a cast of 20, all drawn from the roster of the resident company. Outstanding among them were Larissa Tetuev as the Mother, a role she shared later with Ira Bertman, Hila Baggio as the child and Noah Briger as the Captain.

In only his second season as IO music director, David Stern extracted exemplary playing from the Rishon Le-Zion Orchestra, the company’s pit band. Sets and costumes were effectively designed by Austrian-born Gottried Helnwein. Lighting by Avi Yonah Bueno contributes to making this a colorful show engaging to the eye.

Shohat has documented his superlative command of the composer’s craft in an incredible long and diverse catalgue. In Dream, however, he travels on no new turf, but concentrates rather on giving musical meaning to an unusually demanding text.

Dream is written for reduced orchestra, and outstanding is the manner in which Shohat has woven the piano into the ensemble to achieve unusual effects. (The composer is a concretizing pianist as well.)

It is unavoidable that some find the opera with its focus on the death of children depressing and even morbid. In so doing, they overlook the strong element of empathy that Shohat’s music brings to Levin’s turgid story. In the final analysis, Child Dream is an affirmative work that deserves to be seen outside Israel.

The production celebrates the 35th anniversary of Israeli Opera; it further marks the 10th anniversary of Hanoch Levin’s death and the centennial of the founding of Tel Aviv.

Wes Blomster

image=http://www.operatoday.com/ChildDream.gif image_description=Child Dream by Gil Shohat product=yes product_title=Gil Shohat: The Child Dreams
Libretto based on a play by Hanoch Levin product_by=Click here for cast information. product_id=
Posted by Gary at 10:04 AM

February 1, 2010

Joyce DiDonato, Wigmore Hall

Rapturous applause greeted her entrance, and the audience’s fervent delight increased with every step of this journey through the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Italian romance. Tracing a path from the late Renaissance to the turn of the twentieth century, DiDonato clearly enjoyed herself, and the programme was certainly both eclectic and generous.

DiDonato did not give herself the easiest of openings, and did not wholly pull it off. Despite her careful self-restraint, and deliberate attention to breathing and phrasing, ultimately her voice is simply too large — its colours too overt, its textures too rich — for the subtle ambiguities and delicate sensibility of the miniatures from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which she selected from the Arie antiche, a collection gathered and edited by Alessandro.Parisotti in the late-nineteenth century. Teasing madrigalisms — the ‘playful breeze’ or ‘the sound of the waves’ — seemed somewhat mannered and a little heavy-handed, as DiDonato worked too hard to conjure an air of simplicity. The Italian texts were enunciated with a naturalness and ease, particularly in Raffaello Rontani’s ‘Or ch’io non sequo più’ (‘No longer will I follow you’), but — despite some mischievous rubato in the well-known ‘Se tu m’ami’ (‘If you love me’, Parisotti, attributed Pergolesi) — the necessary light-heartedness of spirit was not fully achieved.

Most successful was Caccini’s startlingly beautiful ‘Amarilli mia bella’ (‘Amaryllis, my love one’). Here DiDonato experimented with an understated, pure tone, her vibrato-less sound enlivened by thrilling ornaments — delayed appoggiaturas and tremulous, tense trills — while the piano sought to emulate the shudders and tremors of a Renaissance continuo. Indeed, the French pianist, David Zobel, was a thoughtful and imaginative accompanist throughout this sequence, whipping up the energy in the opening ‘Danza, danza fanciulla gentile’ (‘Dance, dance, young girl’) by Francesco Durante, deftly establishing the carefree world of the opera buffa in Paisiello’s ‘Nel cor più non mi sento’ (‘Why eels my heart’). DiDonato’s spirit of fun and her ability to slip from one persona to another were apparent in this song, a Cherubino-esque faux innocence characterising her interpretation of ‘the fire of youth divine’ — and fittingly so, as the page himself was to make an appearance later in the evening.

Whatever one’s misgivings, this was however an intriguing sequence, one which balanced the renowned with the unfamiliar, and which endeavoured to offer a fresh reading of the former and to make a convincing case for the latter. The four Italian ariettas by Beethoven which followed were perhaps less engaging, written during the young composer’s studies with Salieri, when he learned from the master how to set the texts of the doyen of opera seria, Metastasio. Not quite ‘student exercises’ — ‘L’Amante impaziente’ (‘The Impatient Lover’), for example, appeared in two guises, one frivolous, the other pathetic — these songs lack genuine depth. Nevertheless, their simplicity of form and style did allow the unity between singer and accompanist to shine: unisons and echoes were effortlessly coordinated and intertwined in ‘Hoffnung (Dimmi ben mio)’(‘Hope (say, my love, you love me)’) and the more melancholy, pianissimo rendering of the lover’s impatience; a graceful, shared lyricism shaped ‘La partenza’ (‘The departure’). Throughout, Zobel sought to characterise and dramatise, his ‘scotch-snap’ heartbeat pulsing through ‘T’intendo, si, mio cor’ (‘My heart I hear you well’) and a tumult of arpeggio triplets conveying the buffoon-like impetuosity of the desperate inamorato.

The first half of the recital closed with DiDonato’s signature Rossini - the ‘Willow Song’ from Otello, with obbligato harp performed by Lucy Wakeford. DiDonato’s relaxed demeanour was revealed when, just as she drew breath, a mobile ‘phone interrupted proceedings: “It’s Otello,” she quipped, “Tell him it's not true.” Unfazed and undistracted, the purity and transcendence of her performance was spell-binding. Eager to make the most of her harpist’s presence, DiDonato offered an unscheduled encore before the interval — the heavenly prayer, ‘Guisto Ciel’, from Rossini's Maometto Secondo. The tranquility and sweetness conjured by singer and instrumentalist was truly unearthly; which did, however, raise the question of why DiDonato did not explore the potential of the harp’s sonorities in the opening Arie antiche

The second half of the recital ranged once more over favourite pastures and new terrain, as DiDonato convincingly made the case for a reconsideration and re-evaluation of nineteenth-century Italian art song. The melodic arcs and yearning cadences of Puccini, the rich harmonic palette of Richard Strauss, the shimmering textures of Debussy … all echo through the liriche da camera of Francesco Santoliquido. His ‘I Canti della Sera’ are operatic miniatures, scaling emotional peaks and troughs, and perfectly suited to DiDonato’s innate musical and dramatic expansiveness. ‘Tristezza crepuscolare’ (‘Twilight sadness’) allowed the mezzo to reveal the dark opulence of her lower register, as she effectively exploited the textual repetitions to build urgency and passion. Songs by Ildebrando Pizetti, Enrico Toselli, Stefano Donaudy and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco followed. DiDonato delighted in indulging her feeling for dramatic contrasts: a silky velvet hue evoked the loneliness of the lover who waits in vain at the close of Pizetti’s ‘Oscuro le ciel’ (‘The sky is dark’), while an effervescent impishness characterised Tedesco’s ‘Ballad’.

The final group of four songs imported the strains of Spain, France and Arabia to Italian shores. In Barbara Guiranna’s eerie ‘Canto arabo’ (‘Arab Song’), DiDonato relished the angular slips and slides, floating dreamily between the pitches of the ‘off-key’ scales; while in Arturo Buzzi-Peccia’s ‘Lolita’ (popularised by Caruso) and Vincenzo Di Chiara’s ‘La Spagnola’, her voice lushly over-spilled: singer, actress, communicator — her warmth, joy and exuberance was exhilarating,

Despite the heights already reached during the evening, two encores served merely to show how much more there is in DiDonato’s arsenal. A cheeky ‘Voi che sapete’ brought Mozart’s insouciant page instantly to life; last came ‘Tanti affetti’ from Rossini’s La Donna del Lago. Oddly, it was as if for the first time in this stunning recital we were permitted a glimpse of the full range of DiDonato’s vocal capabilities, the expanse of her tessitura, at both ends, the sparkle and prowess of her coloratura. A triumphant end which left the ecstatic audience eager for more.

Claire Seymour

image=http://www.operatoday.com/DiDonato.png image_description=Joyce DiDonato [Photo by Sheila Rock courtesy of IMG Artists] product=yes product_title=Joyce DiDonato: Three Centuries of Italian Love Songs product_by=Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano; David Zobel, piano; Lucy Wakeford, harp. product_id=Above: Joyce DiDonato [Photo by Sheila Rock courtesy of IMG Artists]
Posted by Gary at 3:21 PM