Recently in Performances
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
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