Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
20 May 2010
La Fille du régiment, Royal Opera
Expectations were running high for the opening night of Elaine Kidd’s
revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s mad-cap romp,
La Fille du regiment — almost as high as Tonio’s infamous
First staged to glorious reviews in 2007, in fact this co-production
with the Vienna State Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, New York, has seldom
been ‘out-of-production’ during the last two years; but Covent
Garden has reassembled almost all the members of the original stellar cast,
re-uniting French soprano, Natalie Dessay, as the gamine, gambolling Marie,
with Juan Diego Flórez’ charming, heart-winning Tonio.
Even by the standards of 1840s opéra comique, the libretto is
wildly implausible. But Pelly relishes the improbabilities and excesses,
envisaging Donizetti’s trifle as a Gilbert & Sullivanesque caper; his
staging abounds with visual gags which inject much energy humour into the text,
which is itself enlivened by some smart one-liners (‘It’s raining
soldiers’) and a co-mingling of English and French which neatly
complements the franglais accents on stage. Certainly, the manic
visual stimuli — lines of dancing long-johns, balletic dusting routines,
a coup de théâtre tank - deftly keep at bay any potential dramatic
languors; but, while satire is undoubtedly a vital element of the
genre there is perhaps a danger that Pelly’s farce indulges in just a
touch too much self-ridicule — surely Donizetti is sincere in his
flippancy and frivolity?
As the regiment’s adopted daughter/skivvy, Natalie Dessay is certainly
committed: from her first entrance — stumbling beneath a toppling mound
of regimental laundry — she flounces and flops, stamps and strops, wildly
throwing herself around the stage in a ceaseless comic routine à la
Chaplin. Not afraid to squawk and screech, she savours the dialogue,
spitting out Gallic ‘Merde!’s a-plenty, and confirms her reputation
as one of the finest actors currently on the operatic stage. This is fast
becoming a signature role — and indeed it is hard to imagine this
production without Dessay — but there some alarming signs of
dramatic and vocal wear-and-tear. Her comic timing may be exemplary, with
coloratura pinging perfectly to a twang of the braces; and the top Ds and Es
may ring true and clear even as she is tossed and twirled by her military
‘daddies’; but the price to pay for such a breath-taking
performance may literally be the taking of Dessay’s breath. On more than
one occasion she seemed exhausted by her own exuberance and, worryingly, in
quieter moments her voice became rather pale, on occasion fading completely.
Punching out the regimental song as she darted up and down the map-inscribed
mountains of Chantal Thomas’s Act 1 set, Dessay effectively captured the
drive and ambition of the military milieu, but if familiarity breeds excess and
exaggeration, there is a danger that her performance could become a caricature
If Dessay never quite attained a true bel canto lyricism, Juan Diego
Flórez’ light, high tenor is perfect for this part. Nonchalant leaps to
the 9 successive high Cs in ‘Ah, mes amis’ were more than matched,
even outshone, by a moving, tender declaration of love in his Act 2 aria,
‘Pour me rapprocher de Marie’. Although the voice is a little
unyielding, the homogenous, even beauty of tone is astonishing, and it was hard
to believe that the sweet, tenderness of the daringly hushed closing phrase
could fail to touch the heart of the daughter-denying Marquise de
Dawn French as La Duchesse De Crackentorp and Ann Murray as La Marquise De Berkenfeld
For all Pelly’s attention to dramatic detail, there was however a
disappointing absence of genuine ‘chemistry’ between the star pair.
Fortunately, Ann Murray’s self-important Marquise and Alessandro
Corbelli’s soft-hearted Sulpice more than made up for this lack of erotic
spark, with masterly embodiments of haughty elegance and paternal indulgence
respectively. Her voice may lack some of its former sheen, but Murray knows how
to command a stage and her entrance aria, 'Pour une femme de mon nom', was
instantly engaging and convincing. Amusingly accompanying Dessay at the piano
during the singing-lesson scene, she more than matched the master Corbelli for
Queen of TV comedy, Dawn French, in the speaking role of the Duchess de
Crackentorp, reprised her Vicar of Dibley trademarks, eliciting laughs by the
mere raising of the eyebrow and stopping just a whisker short of overkill.
Donald Maxwell as Hortensius completed the ‘dream cast’. They were
complemented by a superb male chorus, although their female counterparts,
admittedly less busy, were not quite up to the rest of the regiment’s
Alessandro Corbelli as Sulpice Pingot
Bruno Campanella conducted a rather scruffy performance from the Royal Opera
House orchestra: although the pit-stage balance was excellent, the tempi were a
bit ragged, and cast and band were occasionally out-of-step. However, things
tightened up in the second Act, and a stunning solo ’cello introduced
Dessay’s ‘C’en est donc fait’.
Florez’ light elegance shows no signs of waning, but Dessay can surely
not reprise this role indefinitely. Although her Marie is at times less
hyperactive tomboy and more hysterical Lucia, this is not a show to miss. Grab
a ticket — even if you have to mount a military campaign to hunt one