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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
A Composer Grows before his Work — The Grapes of Wrath at Carnegie Hall
Many congratulations and thanks are in order to the Collegiate Chorale for
bringing Ricky Ian Gordon’s adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath to New York audiences this week.
However, while the evening at Carnegie Hall was more
theatrically compelling than most semi-staged performances, the compromise of
shortening the three-act opera into two acts of music-theatre with a crossover
cast seemed better intended than it was actually effective. Firstly, by
replacing the connective recitative with narration from novel (read by Jane
Fonda), Gordon’s musical diction was made less effective and, moreover,
Michael Korie’s rhyming libretto suffered in comparison to John
Steinbeck’s original prose. Secondly, changing the theatrical structure
of the evening necessarily altered the musical architecture. Reoccurring
motives effectively became musical theatre reprisals rather than the thematic
development post-Wagnerian opera audiences expect. At its best,
Gordon’s score evoked Ragtime more than Porgy and Bess.
The crossover casting, made possible by across the board sound enhancement,
was inspired in some instances but minimized the vocal demands on the singers
and did little to establish The Grapes of Wrath as an equivalent to the great
American novel. Christine Ebersole was in character from the moment she stepped
onto the stage, much more so than most of her counterparts from the world of
opera and concert repertoire. That said, while her brief appearance as the
waitress Mae should be lauded for the character arc created in a single scene,
Ebersole’s vocalism on Monday evening would be considered lacking on
either the Broadway or the operatic stage. Victoria Clark and Steven Pasquale,
both from the original cast of Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza,
fared better. As Ma Joad, it was Clark, rather than headliner Nathan Gunn, who
proved to be the both the musical and dramatic lynchpin of the evening.
Pasquale used Al Joad’s short second act aria “Hooverville”
as an opportunity for cynical showboating à la Gershwin’s Sportin’
Among the opera singers in the cast, Gunn had the easiest singing and, not
coincidentally, the most fun with his musical material. His duet with Sean
Panikkar (stepping in for Anthony Dean Griffey as the preacher Jim Casy)
featured the evening’s most exciting vocalism. Moreover, Panikkar dealt
with the Jiminy Cricket text of his aria “Things Turn Around” with
considerable style and dignity. It was unfortunate to hear such a fine
singer’s phrasing and coloring flattened by the so-called acoustic
In order to elide three acts into two, Gordon and Korie had to cut much of
the musical and dramatic exposition and development. Therefore, the aria
establishing Jim Casy’s character was actually his swan song. This was
also the case with Andrew Wilkowske in the role of Noah. Perfectly cast,
Wilkowske carried off the evening’s most challenging scene with sweet
singing, sensitive acting, and overall aplomb. As Uncle John, Stephen
Powell’s performance was fully realized both dramatically and vocally.
Within the ensemble cast, Matthew Worth played three parts, but should be
especially commended for his turn as the Ragged Man.
Nathan Gunn and Victoria Clark
Costuming by Jacob Climer and projections by Wendall K. Harrington helped to
actualize the opera’s considerable theatrical potential. Inexplicably,
though, Elizabeth Futral showed no visible signs of pregnancy as Rosasharn.
Some of the projections, a mix of black-and-white period footage and color
representations of Dust Bowl meteorological phenomena, were more literal than
evocative (as in the case of the burning crops during the riot at Hooper
Ranch). The evening’s rather abrupt ending, in particular, could have
been made more poignant with different projections and lighting. Perhaps this
was due to the limitations of the concert stage – a full orchestra of
music stand lights took away from the poetry of Rosasharn’s “one
star” in the night sky as a beacon of American hope – or, more
likely, the rushed feeling of condensing a five hours of original music into
In either case, as an evening of music-theatre Gordon’s The Grapes of
Wrath shows promise. Since its original production at the Minnesota Opera in
2007, members of the original team, including director Eric Simonson, have
overseen the subsequent productions at Utah Opera and Pittsburgh Opera as well
as this week’s performance at Carnegie Hall. If new creative teams can
work with the material as effectively as singers like Andrew Wilkowske, Sean
Panikkar, and Stephen Powell have assimilated their roles, then audiences have
something to look forward to.
Clearly, Gordon and Korie are open to the idea of re-tooling their opera in
order to make it more viable for today’s opera houses and audiences. It
would be interesting to see if, rather than featuring a large orchestra and
expanding the use of the chorus, the opera could be centered around a core
ensemble cast à la John Corigliano’s recent reconfiguration of The Ghosts
of Versailles. After all, the difference between a novel and a musical score as
a source document is that as a book stands the test of time it eventually
becomes a definitive example of something specific within its literary canon.
In order for an opera to become part of the standard repertoire, the score and
libretto need to inspire many different interpretations so that multiple
successful productions may be mounted. The Collegiate Chorale’s concert
version of The Grapes of Wrath should definitely be considered a success and a
step towards establishing both the composer and the work within the American