Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“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.
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.
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.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
27 Apr 2010
Towards the light: Juilliard students present Poulenc’s Dialogues
It started with a bang and ended with a whimper. Juilliard’s
production of Francis Poulenc’s opera Dialogues des Carmélites
opened on Wednesday, April 21 and the performance started out strong.
dramatic swath of red fabric dominated the stage in the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre
and the Juilliard orchestra, lead by Anne Manson, launched bravely into the
In the first scenes, set in the home of the Marquis de la Force in the midst
of Revolutionary Paris, tenor Paul Appleby sang with great dramatic and musical
impetus as the Chevalier de la Force. He sounded at ease singing in French and
was among only a small number of the cast able to carry off Poulenc’s
syllabic vocal setting with both fluid phrasing and a clear line reading of the
text. As his father the Marquis, Timothy Beenken looked and sounded out of
place. A truly terrible wig did him no favors and, as can only be expected in a
student production, he simply seemed too green for the role. This was also the
case with Tharanga Goonetilleke as his daughter Blanche.
In an opera full of compelling characters, Blanche is the most crucial
because, by inhabiting both the outside world and the sanctuary of the convent,
she becomes the lynchpin of the action and the audience’s proxy.
(Furthermore, as Poulenc was famously called a half monk, half delinquent by
the Paris press, she also serves as a surrogate for the composer himself.) Her
intense fears and ultimate moral and existential dilemma should evoke empathy,
not sympathy. Rather than seeming troubled or conflicted, Ms. Goonetilleke
seemed mercurial or even coquettish. Blanche need not be likeable, but her
moods must follow the psychology of Poulenc’s vivid orchestration. From
her awkwardly timed entrance, it was clear that Ms. Goonetilleke, while a
competent and attractive performer and singer, needs more time to develop the
sensitivity required for this role.
Poulenc’s opera is filled with moments of dramatic prescience that
parallel a building musical foreboding. To create a compelling momentum in this
opera of short scenes and tableaux, it is necessary for these moments to be
connected in a sort of symbolic storyline that is as crucial as the actual
plot. For example, in the interview between Blanche and the Old Prioress, it
must be made clear that Madame de Croissy has taken the young girl’s
measure not because the older woman is prophetic, but rather because she
identifies with Blanche and shares her fears. As the Prioress, Lacey Jo Benter
sang and acted well but the impact of her death was lessened by the pallid
approach to her first scene with Blanche.
All of the singers, not just Ms. Benter, suffered from director Fabrizio
Melano’s choice to connect the various scenes and interludes by stringing
them together without blackouts. At best this was awkward for the singers left
onstage, but it occasionally had confusing consequences, especially in the
instances where two scenes set months or years apart became effectively elided.
Furthermore, because the lights remained on in between scenes, the audience sat
and watched as Ms. Benter walked onstage and climbed into bed immediately
before the death scene in which the Prioress asks if she might finally be well
enough to sit in a chair, bedridden as she is with her fatal illness. Her
death, which should be excruciating to watch, was therefore a little
Such inconsistencies aside, many elements of Melano’s direction served
the drama well. The red curtain was particularly inspired as it subtly evoked
not only the typical theatrical curtain, but also a patriotic flag and even the
guillotine itself. The beam of light used to delineate the convent from the
outside world was visually arresting, and the intense glare from the stage
right entrance produced silhouettes on the convent wall – clear physical
projections of the worldly illusions mentioned in the libretto.
Among the rest of the student cast, Renée Tatum and Haeran Hong made strong
impressions as Mother Marie and Soeur Constance, respectively. Tatum imbued her
role as the Assistant Prioress with the required gravitas and she used all of
Poulenc’s generous musical substance as inspiration for her subtle
acting. Not only did Ms. Hong perform with the same musical style and charm she
exhibited during the Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition finals, but
she also portrayed a fully realized character from the moment she entered as
the young novice. She exceeded expectations of any student and could easily
perform the role in a professional production. Both her voice and her face have
an angelic beauty and she appeared both brave and vulnerable in the
opera’s crushing final moments, when Constance is left alone as a single
voice at the end of the Salve Regina only to be joined by Blanche at the last
In the end, it speaks to the level of the students at Juilliard that the
school is able to present such a complex, demanding opera. But it is an even
greater testament to the quality of Poulenc’s opera that only rare
performers can truly do it justice.