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On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
17 Mar 2010
The Saint of Bleecker Street, Marseilles
It takes some courage these days for an opera company to program a Gian Carlo Menotti opera. Nonetheless last month the Opéra de Marseille defied current sensibilities to give us a new production of The Saint of Bleecker Street.
In his prize winning account of music in the twentieth century The Rest is Noise New Yorker magazine critic Alex Ross accords Menotti two mentions — 1) a composer invited into Jacqueline Kennedy’s newly art responsive White House, and 2) an openly gay composer. There is no reference to Menotti’s art perhaps because musically it was a dead end street, and because Menotti’s melodrama, like the broad, latter day melodramma of Italian verismo had soon morphed first into cinematic realism and then disappeared into populist television.
Ironically Menotti did leave a significant artistic legacy. He founded the Festivals of Two Worlds first in Spoleto (1958) and then in Charlotte (1977), stalwart bastions of everything that is progressive in opera and music — a contradiction left unaddressed by Alex Ross.
The Saint of Bleecker Street premiered in 1953, rife with the baggage of the post WWII era. This was when operatic art was expected to abandon its high perches and descend onto Main Street and long runs in Broadway theaters. The Saint of Bleecker Street endured 72 performances. Its has had sporadic revivals in the U.S., notably a 1978 televised version from New York City Opera with Catherine Malfitano (once a Marseilles Butterfly) and a 2007 revival at Central City Opera directed by Mme. Malfitano.
Immigrant life in New York, the quintessential melting pot of the early and mid-century America, is the background for Menotti’s tale of alienation, a subject deeply explored in the ’50’s by artists like Edward Hopper and George Tooker. In fact Tooker’s iconic painting of alienation The Subway (1950) was the basis of the design of the original Broadway production. But Menotti complicated his take on the alienation of Italian immigrants by slathering on a lurid, melodramatic overlay of questionable religious fervor.
If nothing more Menotti’s Broadway success spawned a true masterpiece, Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story that had its premiere in 1956, just three years later. It is a work so similar in subject that its provenance from Menotti’s little opera is blatantly obvious. But where Bernstein incorporated and expanded the musical discoveries of the twentieth century in his score Menotti kept his tonalities banale and his structures derivative of traditional sources.
The Marseilles Saint of Bleecker Street production was in the hands of British director Stephen Metcalf and British designer Jamie Vartan (neither boast American credits) who placed all the action in a courtyard between two nineteenth century oddly un-New York tenement facades. This confined space supported the scene changes uncomfortably, cramping Menotti’s facile music into a dramatic focus it could not support. Missing was the punctuation of Broadway’s quick-change theatricality, changes that in fact Menotti cleverly incorporated into his descriptive music — à la Puccini.
The Broadway style thrives on razzle-dazzle, and messieurs Menotti and Metcalf obliged with a couple of good, lively scenes — the murder of Assunta and the assumption of the Bleecker Street saint Annina — but the overall scenic rhythm was in fits and starts that missed a Broadway crescendo.
Somehow the underlying theme of incest was always gnawing, perhaps this was subtle direction by Mr. Metcalf or more likely it is latent Menotti, an active participant in the sexually giddy circles of New York’s artistic crème de la crème of that era. This thread carried a potential wallop that never materialized, impossible obviously for Main Street art of the 1950’s but not for the jaded sensibilities of this new century — a missed opportunity for a new production of this potentially shabby little shocker.
There was not an American in the cast, unusual for almost any opera production in the south of France these days. Though she gave a fine, detailed performance French soprano Karen Vourc’h did not capture a saintly rapture, or the crazed rapture of a consenting sexual victim. She was a too plain, too real Annina. Hungarian tenor Attila B. Kiss used a Broadway style voice to expound the trails of the lover Michele when a more beautiful voice could have added dimension to this role. His too careful enunciation of the American underscored the homelessness of this Marseilles production.
Armenian mezzo soprano Juliette Galstian was a good Assunta, capturing a convincing, grandly temperamental jealousy as Michele’s jilted girl friend. But her character was betrayed by the too stylish lines of her costume, in fact the period haute couture look of all womens’ costumes in this production was more important than the character they clothed (a typical complaint to the hereabouts ubiquitous costume design of Katia Duflot).
Russian bass Dmitry Ulyanov was a fish-out-of-water as the priest Don Marco, simply to young and too green to inhabit the soutane of the spiritual and temporal shepherd of Menotti’s needy Italian immigrants. The myriad of supporting roles were however well cast and uniformly effective.
British conductor Jonathan Webb played the Menotti score for all it was worth. The Friday (02/19/10) evening audience indicated by its warm but limited enthusiasm that it had not been duped into believing it had had a significant opera experience.