Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
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.