Recently in Performances
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
10 May 2010
Heggie’s Moby-Dick a whale of an opera
It’s glorious and it’s gripping; it’s grand — and
it’s good! Indeed, Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick,
premiered by Dallas Opera in its handsome new Winspear Opera House on April 30,
is a work that restores meaning to basic vocabulary made banal by overuse
through the decades.
Heggie — assisted by his seasoned librettist Gene Scheer — has
achieved something with Moby Dick that American opera has
not experienced in a long time: they have created a work of quality that should
garner itself an immediate place in the repertory of opera houses around the
Announcement of the commission — Dallas Opera’s first for the
Wiinspear — raised eyebrows, for few could imagine a less operatic novel
than Hermann Melville’s 1851 detailed account of sailing and whaling.
Running 500 to 700 pages in standard editions, the book is often dark and
diffuse — everything that an opera cannot be, if it is to reach an
audience with its story. In a sense, of course, Melville made it easy for
Sheer, for the many exegesis on whaling were easily excised as the librettist
laid bare the soul of the novel in his focus on its characters.
As told in the opera Moby Dick is now a story that
explores the raw basic forces of life, underscoring the darkness that drives
men and sends them to perdition. The Great White Whale is only a means to that
end. Indeed, Sheer’s Ahab, the man who has lost a leg to the animal upon
whom he seeks revenge, is yet another Faust out to defy the
less-than-benevolent god embodied in the whale.
It is this confrontation with “the basics,” the unembellished
dark drives that send men on impossible adventures, that the audience feels
first-hand in this three-hour opera. “Feels,” one emphasizes, for
Heggie has written music — always accessible — that requires no
major act of mediation through performers. The score speaks always with telling
directness. There is never “time out” to be mere opera. It is
visceral music; now and then one puts up one’s hand in defense.
That’s why one is wrung out at the end of Moby Dick,
for one has been through it all with the many sailors on the Pequod. The opera
keeps attention riveted on the stage; the mind is not allowed to wander. Most
amazing aspect of the opera is that there is no feeling of condensation or that
anything has been left out. Heggie more than compensates in mesmerizing music
for the liberties taken with Melville’s text.
Heggie’s progress as a composer is documented throughout the score,
which is largely through-composed with arias and ensembles seamlessly woven
into it. The orchestral interludes are destined to take their place next to the
Sea Interludes from Benjamin’s Peter
Moby Dick is a Dallas co-commission with San Francisco,
San Diego and Calgary Operas and State Opera of South Australia, and one can
only hope that the other companies have the high-tech facilities that enabled
the Winspear to take full advantage of an awesome world of effects —
photos, projections and sets — that added so much to this initial
Director Leonard Foglia worked with the hand of a sorcerer to blend
projection designs by Elaine McCarthy into an overpowering and effective whole
with designs by Robert Brill and lighting by Donald Holder. Never did these
visual aspects threaten the primacy of Heggie’s score, in which there is
not one superfluous note.
Scheer achieved dramatic concentration by pairing Ahab — sung to
perfection by veteran Ben Heppner - with first mate Starbuck — stunningly
portrayed by Morgan Smith, a baritone at home in top German opera houses. They
interlock with a second pairing: native and noble Queequeg, engrossingly
portrayed by New Zealand Samoan Jonathan Lemalu, and Greenhorn, the young man
out — Parsifal-like — to learn fear — so touchingly sung by
young American tenor Stephen Costello.
Only in the final minutes of the work does Costello reveal that he is the
man called Ishmael who opens the novel. He is of special interest as the one
character who — in confronting fear — develops. The other three of
this basic quartet remain what they were when the curtain rose.
Sole female in the cast was Talise Trevigne, whose touching incarnation of
Cabin Boy Pip offered little hint of the successful Violetta, Lucia and Pamina
that have made her famous in Europe.
Moby Dick is rich in powerful choruses — the
major show-stoppers of the debut performance — admirable prepared by
Patrick Summers, Heggie perennial collaborator, evoked magnificent playing
from the Dallas Opera Orchestra in giving birth to what is obviously a modern
masterpiece of music theater.
(The opera will enlighten a young generation by revealing the source of the
name Starbuck — even if it fails to explain the coffee company’s
aversion to apostrophes.)