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On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“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.
23 Mar 2010
Genoveva — Schumann at UCL Opera, London
Genoveva and Lohengrin both premiered in the summer of 1850. Wagner disparaged Schumann, as he disparaged Mendelssohn (Schumann’s hero). Wagner’s opinions were influential. Genoveva has been eclipsed, saddled with a reputation for being hard to stage.
Yet Schumann could write dramatic music as the much-loved Overture demonstrates, and the music in the Overture infuses the opera. His songs prove how well he could write for voice. His range as composer was wider than Wagner’s, and he was formidably well-read. What might Schumann have achieved had he continued writing after the age of 45?
UCL Opera is an unusually adventurous company. Since 1951 it has staged no less than 19 world or British premieres, and last year staged Ernest Bloch’s Macbeth . Next year, they’re planning Weber’s Die drei Pintos (completed by Mahler). Because UCL Opera does repertoire where there’s little entrenched performance tradition, its approach can be fresh and imaginative.
The original folk tale on which Genoveva is based dates back to the Middle Ages. Indeed it’s the basis of stories like Snow White, for in legend, Genoveva lived in the forest, protected by animals and by her virtue. Significantly, though, Schumann rejected the medieval concept, choosing instead to base his opera on Friedrich Hebbel’s more psychological drama, published only four years previously. Schumann wanted a “modern” take on the story. As Hebbel said “Any drama will come alive only to the extent that it expresses the spirit of the age which brings it forth”.
Schumnann’s Genoveva focuses on fundamentals — good versus evil, integrity versus deceit, the individual against the mob. Such concepts apply just as much today as they did in Schumann’s time. Its basis is the dynamic between Golo and Genoveva, who isn’t as passive as the legend would have. This gives the opera inherent drama and energy, which a really good performance can bring out.
Schumann’s orchestration is colourful. Genoveva and Seigfried have just married, but he’s going off to war. Glorious trumpet fanfares, woodwind and drums depict the excitement of battle. Alone, and isolated, Genoveva’s music is tender, heightening her confrontations with Golo and the baying mob. Later, when Drago’s ghost appears, Schumann’s dark, gloomy textures would have evoked, to his audience, the Wolf Glen scene in Weber’s Der Freischütz.
There’s plenty of incident in this narrative - a rape, mob violence, murder and of course the ghost and the witch. The sharpness of the German original is muted in English. Although the translation is by David Pountney, it’s clumsy and doesn’t adapt well to the musical line. However, it’s unrealistic to expect a largely student cast to sing idiomatically in a foreign language, and audiences might justifiably complain if they don’t know the libretto.
Perhaps, too, the drama might have been much more pointed if the set wasn’t quite so self-consciously medieval. Although the story is supposed to happen at the time of Charlemagne, Schumann (and Hebbel) quite explicitly understood the setting as allegory for universal concepts. Yet again, though, it’s asking too much of a production like this to be too ambitious. Audiences who don’t know the opera need to be guided into it gently.
What was good about the direction (Emma Rivlin) was that it didn’t gloss over the violence. The rape scene is graphic. Drago is beaten to death by the mob, whipped into frenzy by Golo’s accusations. Later Balthasar and Caspar (Simon Hall and Dan Hawkins) take yobbish delight in humiliating Genoveva. The fight scenes were well choreographed.
Unlike most student companies, UCL Opera employs professionals in key roles. In Genoveva, this makes a difference as Schumann writes the parts using the full range of each voice type. The duets and trios are so well written that the voices are clearly differentiated. Bibi Heal and Richard Rowe as Genoveva and Golo, acquitted themselves well.
Adam Green’s Seigfried was unusually impressive. He’s a natural actor, who brings depth and credibility to the part. Green’s Seigfried is sexy and charismatic. You can understand why Genoveva will suffer so much for his sake. It’s more than conventional loyalty. Also impressive was Lynton Black as Drago, the servant who is murdered as a scapegoat. When he reappears as a ghost he frightens Golo’s fellow plotter Margarethe (Magdalen Ashman) so much that she tells Siegfried the truth.
Perhaps the Bloomsbury Theatre is on the small side for an opera like this, with fairly large chorus and orchestra, at times overwhelming the voices. Yet again, that’s not really a fault. It is much more important that performers are enthusiastic and energetic, and enter into the spirit of the music. Genoveva is raw drama, after all, and a few ragged edges are a small price to pay when performances are as committed as this. That, ultimately, is the point of UCL Opera, to raise new generations to learn and care about operas that are off the beaten track.