Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

Handel's Brockes-Passion: The Academy of Ancient Music at the Barbican Hall

Perhaps it is too fanciful to suggest that the German poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) was the Metastasio of Hamburg?

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

The Maryland Opera Studio Defies Genre with Fascinating Double-Bill

This past weekend, the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS) presented a double-billed performance of two of Kurt Weill’s less familiar staged works: Zaubernacht (1922) and Mahagonny-Songspiel (1927).

Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall: Focus on Sir Harrison Birtwistle

The Nash Ensemble’s annual contemporary music showcase focused on the work of Sir Harrison Birtwistle, a composer with whom the group has enjoyed a long and close association. Three of the six works by Birtwistle performed here were commissioned by the Nash Ensemble, as was Elliott Carter’s Mosaic which, alongside Oliver Knussen’s Study for ‘Metamorphosis’ for solo bassoon, completed a programme was intimate and intricate, somehow both elusive in spirit and richly communicative.

McVicar's Faust returns to the ROH

To lose one Marguerite may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. But, with the ROH Gounod’s Faust seemingly heading for ruin, salvation came in the form of an eleventh-hour arrival of a redeeming ‘angel’.

A superb Semele from the English Concert at the Barbican Hall

It’s good to aim high … but be careful what you wish for. Clichéd idioms perhaps, but also wise words which Semele would have been wise to heed.

A performance of Vivaldi's La Senna festeggiante by Arcangelo

In 1726 on 25 August, Jacques-Vincent Languet, Comte de Gergy, the new French ambassador to the Venetian Republic held a celebration for the name day of King Louis XV of France. There was a new piece of music performed in the loggia at the foot of Languet's garden with an audience of diplomats and, watching from gondolas, Venetian nobles.

Matthew Rose and Tom Poster at Wigmore Hall

An interesting and thoughtfully-composed programme this, presented at Wigmore Hall by bass Matthew Rose and pianist Tom Poster, and one in which music for solo piano ensured that the diverse programme cohered.

Ekaterina Semenchuk sings Glinka and Tchaikovsky

To the Wigmore Hall for an evening of magnificently old-school vocal performance from Ekaterina Semenchuk. It was very much her evening, rather than that of her pianist, Semyon Skigin, though he had his moments, especially earlier on.

Hubert Parry's Judith at the Royal Festival Hall

Caravaggio’s depiction (1598-99) of the climactic moment when the young, beautiful, physically weak Judith seizes the head of Holofernes by the enemy general’s hair and, flinching with distaste, cleaves the neck of the occupying Assyrian with his own sword, evokes Holofernes’ terror with visceral precision - eyes and screaming mouth are wide open - and is shockingly theatrical, the starkly lit figures embraced by blackness.

La Pietà in Rome

Say "La Pietà" and you think immediately of Michelangelo’s Rome Pietà. Just now Roman Oscar-winning film composer Nicola Piovani has asked us to contemplate two additional Pietà’s in Rome, a mother whose son is dead by overdose, and a mother whose son starved to death.

Orfeo ed Euridice in Rome

No wrecked motorcycle (director Harry Kupfer’s 1987 Berlin Orfeo), no wrecked Citroen and black hearse (David Alagna’s 2008 Montpellier Orfée [yes! tenorissimo Roberto Alagna was the Orfée]), no famed ballet company (the Joffrey Ballet) starring in L.A. Opera’s 2018 Orpheus and Eurydice).

Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel - a world premiere at English National Opera

Jack the Ripper is as luridly fascinating today as he was over a century ago, so it was no doubt sensationalist of the marketing department of English National Opera to put the Victorian serial killer’s name first and the true subject of Iain Bell’s new opera - his victims, the women of Whitechapel - as something of an after-thought. Font size matters, especially if it’s to sell tickets.

Tosca at the Met


The 1917 Met Tosca production hung around for 50 years, bested by the 1925 San Francisco Opera production that lived to the ripe old age of 92.  The current Met production is just 2 years old but has the feel of something that can live forever.

Drama Queens and Divas at the ROH: Handel's Berenice

A war ‘between love and politics’: so librettist Antonio Salvi summarised the conflict at the heart of Handel’s 1737 opera, Berenice. Well, we’ve had a surfeit of warring politics of late, but there’s been little love lost between opposing factions, and the laughs that director Adele Thomas and her team supply in this satirical and spicy production at the ROH’s stunningly re-designed Linbury Theatre have been in severely short supply.

Mozart’s Mass in C minor at the Royal Festival Hall

A strange concert, this, in that, although chorally conceived, it proved strongest in the performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto: not so much a comment on the choral singing as on the conducting of Dan Ludford-Thomas.

Samson et Dalila at the Met


It was the final performance of the premiere season of Darko Tresnjak’s production of Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. Four tenors later. 

The Enchantresse and Dido and Aeneas
in Lyon

Dido and Aeneas, Il ritorno d’Ulisse and Tchaikowsky’s L’Enchantresse, the three operas of the Opéra de Lyon’s annual late March festival all tease destiny. But far more striking than the thematic relationship that motivates this 2019 festival is the derivation of these three productions from the world of hyper-refined theater, far flung hyper-refined theater.

The devil shares the good tunes: Chelsea Opera Group's Mefistofele

Every man ‘who burns with a thirst for knowledge and life and with curiosity about the nature of good and evil is Faust ... [everyone] who aspires to the Unknown, to the Ideal, is Faust’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

The Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne
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.

Francis Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmélites

Tharanga Goonetilleke (Blanche de la Force); Paul Appleby (Chevalier de la Force); Lacey Jo Benter (Madame de Croissy); Emalie Savoy (Madame Lidoine); Renée Tatum (Mother Marie of the Incarnation); Haeran Hong (Sister Constance); Timothy Beenken (Marquis de la Force); Carla Jablonski (Mother Jeanne); Naomi O'Connell (Sister Mathilde); Javier Ernesto Bernardo (The Chaplain); Daniel Curran (First Commissary); Drew Santini (First Officer); Adam Richardson (M. Javelinot); Adrian Rosas (Second Commissary); Andreas Aroditis (Jailer); Timothy McDevitt (Thierry). Juilliard Opera and the Juilliard Orchestra. Conductor Anne Manson. Director Fabrizio Melano.

 

A 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 action.

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 bizarre.

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 second.

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.

Alison Moritz

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):