Recently in Performances
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by
the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
Time was when many felt compelled to ‘make allowances’ for ‘smaller’ companies. Now, more often than not, the contrary seems to be the case, instead apologising for their elder and/or larger siblings: ‘But of course, it is far more difficult for House X, given the conservatism of its moneyed audience,’ as if House X might not actually attract a different, more intellectually curious audience by programming more interesting works.
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.