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Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
07 Feb 2010
Donizetti revealed: Lucia di Lammermoor, ENO, London
Donizetti’s original concept of Lucia di Lammermoor is revealed in its true glory in this ground breaking production by the English National Opera, first heard in 2008. The opera is loved in its familiar form, but the new critical edition reveals the depth of Donizetti’s musical creation.
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.
Barry 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.
Anna 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.
Anna 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.