26 Mar 2010
Mark Lamos’ production of Chabrier’s L’Etoile is perfectly ridiculous.
It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Mark Lamos’ production of Chabrier’s L’Etoile is perfectly ridiculous.
This would be most unsuitable — if this post-Offenbach operetta of 1877 were anything but a perfection of ridiculousness. The gentlemen in bowler hats, bouncing up and down like pistons! the ladies whose mourning frocks and veils are instantaneously transformed into the can-can frippery of rejoicing! the lead singers on scooters! the backdrop that itself becomes tipsy when the mad King Ouf sings a tribute to Chartreuse (the lighting changes at that point too)! the fun-house mirrors that enclose (and might as well describe) the action — which will strike Americans as “Gilbertian,” though Gilbert got his ideas from Offenbach, too.
In the City Opera’s quest to re-establish and re-present itself to New York as the opera company that does what the Met isn’t going to do, Chabrier (the production has already been seen there in 2002) is an excellent place to start. The melodies are light in a slyer way than Offenbach’s, with more opportunity for harmonious display, as in the “kissing” quartet in Act III. The choruses are not mere background, and in the Lamos production give the City Opera ladies and gents a chance to strut to a Broadway standard, all the while singing at a rather higher one. The wit of the piece is the kind of froth that so often evaporates when the Met attempts operetta, and it wouldn’t work at NYCO either if it were not so elegantly presented and if we were not all used to surtitles by now. Ideally, such a work should be given in the vernacular and in a small house, but that’s true of Rossini’s comic operas too — and of Shostakovich’s The Nose, for that matter, concurrently doing sell-out business across the plaza.
The story of L’Etoile makes one reflect on the deep philosophical import of The Mikado. The tyrant here, King Ouf I (I guess that should be le Roi Ouf Ier), always celebrates his birthday with festivities climaxing in a public execution. Knowing this, his subjects are on their best behavior at that time of year — but Lazuli, a boy from out of town, falls into the trap of resenting the world because he is unhappily in love with a strange girl he met on the road. Before he can be impaled on a booby-trapped armchair, however, the royal astrologer discovers that he — Lazuli — is destined to die precisely one day before the king does. (Date unspecified.) The king thereupon decides to spare the boy — which is good news for Siroco, the astrologer, whom the king has condemned to die fifteen minutes after the king does. But Lazuli does not want to live without his adored Laoula — despite the fond attentions of the ladies of the court — and attempts to drown himself. And Laoula, it turns out, is not a traveling cosmetics saleswoman (her disguise) but the princess next door, betrothed to King Ouf. Ouf, like Gilbert’s Koko, prefers life to love-death and orders the lovers wed. “And we’ll have two executions next year,” he consoles his delighted subjects.
Jennifer Zetlan as Laoula, Julie Boulianne as Lazuli, and Liza Forrester as Aloès
Everyone loves a comic villain, and Jean-Paul Fouchécourt’s King Ouf is the joy of this occasion — as he was in his NYCO debut as Rameau’s frog-nymph Platée. He is the joy of the costume designer Constance Hoffman as tiny Ouf stomps about “in disguise” in the largest overcoat in captivity, and the joy of the conductor, the joyous Emmanuel Plasson, as he warbles his song of Chartreuse ecstasy, his high tenor mated with François Loup’s low bass, and he is the joy of everyone present as he caricatures tiny men with too much power, in his bloodthirst, his lust, his cowardice, his egotism. I heard Fouchécourt last month singing Satie’s Socrate to accompany Mark Morris’s choreography; he was splendid, but he’s far too much fun on stage to let him languish in any pit. Morris should have let him dance.
I was less thrilled with Julie Boulianne as the boyish Lazuli, on purely vocal grounds. Like so many boyish roles in French opera (and theater), the part is written for a young woman, and when Frederica von Stade sang it, her famous charm and musicality conquered all. But Boulianne, though she has a solid technique and many pretty notes (at least high ones — she faded out on lower lines), suffered intonation problems throughout the first act, often landing just shy of otherwise good, clear tones. Too, her trilled “kisses” lacked body, and the joke is not a good one without genuine trills. Only in the quartet, when obliged to intone the extremely musical name “La-ou-la,” did her vocal appeal make the proper effect.
William Ferguson as Hérisson de Porc-Épic, Jennifer Zetlan as Laoula, Andrew Drost as Tapioca, and Liza Forrester as Aloès
Tiny Jennifer Zetlan was charming as the princess, but tall Liza Forrester, as her confidant and abettor in tickling strange sleeping men, had a mezzo that made me daydream of hearing her in many larger, more rewarding roles. The supporting parts in this opera are numerous and were all cast with City Opera folk who sang elegantly and cavorted stylishly. Style, the essence of Chabrier, was also the essence of the silly evening.