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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.
06 Jun 2010
Bostridge and Pappano at Wigmore Hall
Bringing their recent recording of Schubert’s late songs to the concert stage, Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano swept through a sequence which ranged from bitter-sweet regret to angry self-reproach, from hesitant hope to turbulent despair, in this the second of two performances at the Wigmore Hall.
Serious, earnest, meticulous, intense
such qualities we have come to expect of any Bostridge performance. Some may find his cool, even severe, stage presence and arch gestures, occasionally distracting or overly mannered; but there is no doubting his commitment to the music and, equally, to the emotional drama of the texts. As ever, his diction was crisp and clear; the desire to convey every nuance of the poetry at times took precedence over pure vocal beauty or melodic lyricism, but was evidence of absolute dramatic integrity.
Although there was no continuous ‘narrative’ running through this recital, which was performed without an interval, two archetypal Romantic themes to which the texts repeatedly returned provided unity — unattainable love and alienation. The opening song, ‘Widerschein’ (‘Reflection’), established a subdued mood. Coloured by the lower registers of piano and voice, a halting, melodic line tells of the fisherman who waits ‘sullenly’ on the bridge for his absent love; as he dreams, a radiant vision is reflected in the water — a fitting metaphor for the unfulfilled yearning revealed in so many of the songs that followed. Here, Bostridge’s placement of the faltering vocal line was precise and controlled, but in ‘Der Winterabend’ (‘The winter evening’), his tone was more melancholic above restless semi-quavers in the right hand of the accompaniment. The melismatic close, ‘Seufze still, und sinne und sinne’ (‘Sign in silence, and muse and muse’), plaintively conveyed the old man’s ceaseless meditations as he awaits the coming of night and death. It is such attention to textual and musical detail that reveals Bostridge’s immersion and genuine involvement in the world of each song.
‘Die Sterne’ (‘The stars’) was more assertive, driven by the piano’s dactylic rhythm which mimics the stars’ heavenly shining. At times, however, Pappano’s boisterous accompaniment overwhelmed the voice; indeed, throughout the recital his playing, while undoubtedly committed, often lacked discretion and restraint, and was marked by over-use of the sustaining pedal and some cloudiness of texture.
‘Schwanengesang’ (‘Swan Song’), gathered into a collection — and shrewdly titled — by the Viennese publisher, Tobias Haslinger, comprises seven settings of Rellstab and six of Heine. This was an anguished account: not a ‘story’, rather variations on the theme of emotional vulnerability. Extreme contrasts characterise the Rellstab songs. The subtly shifting modulations of ‘Liebesbotschaft’ (‘Love’s message’), matched by a perfectly understated dialogue between the voice and the inner lines of the accompaniment, were followed by Pappano’s turbulent drum rhythms at the opening and close of ‘Kriegers Ahnung’ (‘Warrior’s foreboding’), where dreams of his beloved disturb the soldier’s intimations of imminent death. Bostridge and Pappano highlighted the inner contrasts too, underlining affective harmonic movements, drawing out the lyricism of the soldier’s bitter-sweet recollections, “How often have I dreamt sweet dreams/ resting on her warm breast!” Such melancholy brooding was deftly swept away by the feverish questioning of ‘Frühlings-Sehnsucht’ (‘Spring longing’); Pappano’s tremulous triplets precipitated a frenetic rush to the poet’s last passionate plea, “Who shall finally quell my longing?” The answer, “Nur Du!”, (“only you!”) was an exhausted cry of despair.
‘Ständchen’ (‘Serenade’) was fittingly more restrained; and here Pappano did sustain a deft staccato throughout, underpinning the gentle nocturnal imploring of the poet’s song, which rise to a suggestive final call, “Komm, beglücke mich!” (“Come — make me happy!”). ‘In der Ferne’ (‘Far away’) was a sombre rendition of the Romantic wanderer’s alienation: the voice sank to its lowest registers, a desolate pianissimo revealing that “alas, no blessing follows him/ on his way!” Bostridge balanced detailed attention to individual words — “Nirgend verweilender” (“you who never linger”) — with carefully shaped melodic arches, bringing a fleeting warmth to the protagonist’s memories of whispering breezes and sunbeams. ‘Abschied’ (‘Farewell’) was a jauntily ironic conclusion, with its tripping accompaniment rhythms and deceptively nonchalant “Farewells!”
The Heine songs are more concentrated in their intensity, and as the performers moved swiftly from one song to the next, there was a disturbing accumulation of dramatic tension. The misery and self-pity of ‘Der Atlas’ (‘Atlas’) was shocking in its honesty; the oppressiveness of ‘Die Stadt’ (‘’The town’) — with its diminished harmonies and bare, profound close — overwhelming. Bostridge brought a gentle tenderness to the major-key second verse of ‘Ihr Bild’ (“Her likeness”), striking after the cold unisons of the opening, and dashed away by the forceful admission in the last line, “I have lost you!” The stillness at the opening of ‘Am Meer’ (“By the sea”) seemed to offer the hint of some repose and consolation, but rapidly declined into a pained and angry revelation of a woman’s betrayal. But it was the closing song, ‘Der Doppelgänger’ (‘The wraith’), that brought forth the most remarkable display of emotional catharsis, building from veiled beginnings to tormented self-castigations. With astonishing courage, Bostridge relished the free declamations, interpreting every detail, fully becoming the man “wracked with pain” in both voice and body.
Seidl's 'Die Taubenpost' was performed as a brief encore, momentarily alleviating the anguish but not fully dispelling the darkness as we exited the Hall, into the fading evening light.