Recently in Performances
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
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.