26 Mar 2010
Mark Lamos’ production of Chabrier’s L’Etoile is perfectly ridiculous.
It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
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.