11 Apr 2010
One of the City Opera’s happiest ventures over the years has been their Handel series.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.
One of the City Opera’s happiest ventures over the years has been their Handel series.
Admirers of the company and the composer may look back with happy nostalgia upon Sills, Forrester and Treigle in Giulio Cesare, Carol Vaness and D’Anna Fortunato in Alcina (the mylar one), Lorraine Hunt and David Daniels in Xerxes, Daniels and Christine Goerke in Rinaldo (with exploding harpsichord), Goerke in the second Alcina (the one with the sexy trees), David Walker in Flavio, Bejun Mehta — his New York debut — in Partenope and, later, in Ariodante and Orlando, Sarah Connolly in Ariodante, Nelly Miricioiu in Agrippina, and Elizabeth Futral and Vivica Genaux (playing Marilyn and Jackie) in a madcap Semele. It is wise of the company to revive one of these works in its shortened season this year, to remind us of a specialty we’d come to appreciate on this side of the plaza.
The work chosen for revival was Partenope, an opera seria that combines the usual musings, tune by tune, on this or that aspect of love with a not-too-serious story of the founding Queen of Naples (a retired siren), her heart and hand sought by three altos and a tenor. Confusing matters only moderately (for a Handel libretto) is the fact that only two of the altos are male (castrati in Handel’s day, countertenors now); the other is a woman in disguise, pursuing the man who done her wrong — one of those very countertenors. At the evening’s climax, after multiple gyrations, each nuance of passion depicted in a da capo aria, Eurimene/Rosmira obliges Arsace — who has loved not wisely but too often — to fight him/her in a duel. This means Arsace has the choice of manner of combat, and he chooses — bare to the waist. I suspect that in Handel’s day Arsace did not tear off his shirt at this point, but what countertenor worth his salt would resist the hint? No matter: Rosmira, her bluff called, admits she’s not a man. Partenope takes the other countertenor, shy Armindo. They have a duet, lifted from another Handel opera (by Handel, actually).
Partenope is a silly piece despite its Handelian glories. If you have the singers to put it over it can be a delight, but it has its longueurs, and for those less than addicted to Handelian vocalism — for those who crave, for instance, two or three voices singing at once now and then in the course of an opera — three acts can exhaust the appetite well before that splendid duet. The duet is worth waiting for, but I know I’m not the only person who wishes one or two of the earlier numbers might have been omitted and perhaps the last two acts compressed into one. But these are forbidden thoughts, notions of our medieval Victorian forebears — the kind who trammeled that notorious Giulio Cesare back in the sixties — and they will find little favor among opera producers today.
Clockwise: Stephanie Houtzeel (Rosmira), Iestyn Davies (Arsace), Anthony Roth Costanzo (Armindo), Cyndia Sieden (Partenope), and Nicholas Coppolo (Emilio)
Francesco Negrin’s production, played in modern dress (color coded: blue for Arsace, changeable as water; red for Armindo’s repressed passions; green for the huntress Rosmira) against John Conklin backdrops that sometimes comment symbolically on the emotional content of the aria being sung, is chic and contemporary without forfeiting elegance or the courtly mood of the work being staged. Andrew Chown restaged it a bit since I saw it last (at Lyric Opera of Chicago), and has suited the actions of his cast to the physiques of the performers at hand — which is admirable.
All the singers sang with style, acted with brio, ornamented with taste in what is currently recognized as the proper baroque style — though none of them were flawless and, which may or may not have weight with opera-goers, the men were perhaps less tasty than other casts one has seen in this production. Welsh countertenor Iestyn Davies possessed the most beautiful voice of the night, an opulent, sensuous alto that easily filled the house, calling to mind both David Daniels and Bejun Mehta in its quality, ardor, intensity of emotional focus and mastery of fioritura — though for ornament, the great “Furibondo” aria that closes Act II still belongs to Mr. Daniels. A local boy making his debut, Anthony Roth Costanzo cut rather a skinny figure in the red costume in which Mr. Mehta made his celebrated debut. Though Costanzo’s instrument thins out on top and in recitative, he acquitted himself very well, especially in the rapturous duet with Cyndia Sieden that concluded the evening, to which both contributed the proper vocal delirium: Those of us who had waited all night wanted a rich dessert, and that’s what they gave us. Sieden, after a shaky start in the title role, got the measure of the hall and ascended her proper throne. Stephanie Houtzeel, the tallest member of the cast and one with a sizable, bigger-than-baroque mezzo, had little trouble pretending to be a man — once she had donned a false mustache that made her far more credible than other singers one has heard in this role. Nicholas Coppolo has a pleasant, agile tenor, if lacking the tragic sense that can give this defeated warrior some much needed dimension. Daniel Mobbs was effective as Ormonte — who often “walks on” without singing in this staging, in order to give this small character some presence in the wider drama.
Iestyn Davies (Arsace), Cyndia Sieden (Partenope), Nicholas Coppolo (Emilio), and Daniel Mobbs (Ormonte)
Christian Curnyn, making his debut with a cut-down baroque-sized orchestra in the pit, proved a splendid Handelian, dancing at one moment, tugging heartstrings at the next, and supporting the vocal flights of fancy of his singers at all times. He joins the ever-growing list of baroque specialists who are also great men of the theater.
I had hoped that the City Opera, under its new management team, would not forget its Handelian triumphs and would resume this beloved series. Clearly they still know how to cast them, and the only reasonable response is: More, please.