Recently in Performances
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement,
but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment
“is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga
Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.
Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.
Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.
On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.
Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.
You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.
If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.
Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.
I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.
For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.
Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.
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.)