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“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
28 Mar 2010
Angels in America, Eötvös at the Barbican for the BBC
Angels in America, Peter Eötvös’s opera based on the Tony Kushner plays, received its London premiere. This was very high profile. David Robertson conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a performance that will be broadcast internationally, online on www.bbc.co.uk/radio3.
Angels in America depicts the first phase of the AIDS pandemic, in the very early 1980’s. Back then, the disease wasn’t even identified. Healthy young men were dying gruesome deaths from “Karposi’s sarcoma”, a cancer of the very old. Then apparently straight people succumbed, even bullying homophobes. It’s hard to appreciate how bad those times were, if you didn’t live through them. Yet AIDS was a turning point in society, because it exposed hypocrisy and prejudice.
Thirty years on, much has changed. In the west, people don’t die of AIDS as long as they can afford healthcare and medication. Now it’s entrenched in the Third World, particularly in Africa. We cannot be complacent.
Eötvös compresses Kushner’s seven hour saga into 2 1/2 hours.In the first part, vignettes of people experiencing death in their own way. Prior Walter (David Adam Moore) is a gay man dumped by his frightened lover. (Scott Scully). Roy Cohn (Kelly Anderson), the bully who thinks he can’t be touched, and Joe Pitt (Omar Ebrahim), the hapless married Mormon, who has to face the contradiction in his life. This concentrates dramatic focus on human relationships, and is very moving. Kushner doubled the parts, so the drama could extend beyond the immediate victims making it relevant for all society.
All roles, except the main protagonist Prior Walter, are doubled in the opera, too, Anderson and Ebrahim sing Ghosts of Plagues past, but Brian Asawa stands out. He sings no major role but a variety of subsidiaries, yet brings such assertiveness to them that they register well. His bright countertenor, these days mellowing lower in the range, extends Kushner’s ambiguity into the music.
Julia Migenes was impressive, too, as Harper Pitt, (male name, female role), Joe’s drug-ravaged wife who intuits his true nature and makes him confront his identity. She’s also Ethel Rosenberg, Roy’s nemesis and Angel Antartica. These are pivotal roles, which Migenes carries off with conviction. Janice Hall is less well served by the opera, her roles bordering on shallow stereotype.
Eötvös’s music illustrates the text nicely. Marimbas and electronics to create weird, surreal sounds, percussion to mark tension, lovely cello and violin melodies to enhance moments of individual reverie. As an extension of the play, the music is usefully mood-enhancing, so in that sense it works. He works following the text as it unfolds, which perhaps accounts for the episodic, reactive nature of the music. This works well in the first part, where the opera is spurred on by the dramatic momentum of Kushner’s vision.
In the second part, Kushner’s venturing into much more abstract territory, depicting Heaven and life after death. In the opera, the narrative isn’t coherent. Life (and the afterlife) isn’t necessarily coherent, so in a sense this unintelligibility is valid. But because music is abstract, this would have been an opportunity for Eötvös to write something distinctive. Opera is much more than film music. It’s more than illustrating text. It can reinforce the narrative with another dimension of original commentary, for opera is as much a composer’s response to a play than just the play itself.
I enjoyed this concert staging (directed by David Gately) because it showed how the simple resources of a concert staging can have a huge impact, done as thoughtfully as this. The lighting effects were superb, evoking huge vistas in the imagination. I “saw” the stars in the heavens and the lights of a night time city.
Ultimately, Angels in America works on stage because the subject is so powerful. It packs such an emotional punch that it would be hard not to be moved by the human drama in the first part. A lot of choices had to be made when Eötvös and his librettist reduced Kushner’s seven hour saga. That’s all the more reason why decisions had to be taken for maximum dramatic and musical effect. As an opera, Angels in America might have served the subject better had it been less dependent on replicating the play, and taken a more original vision.