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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.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
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’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
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.
28 Jun 2010
Die Walküre in San Francisco
Ring fever rages on. San Francisco has just unveiled its Walküre the completed cycle to take place next June. Gratefully the price of the SFO effort has not become a topic of conversation, as has the cost of the just completed L.A. Ring
Whispers about the price tag of the upcoming Met Ring suggest the proportions of a foreign war.
Gratefully as well the SFO Rheingold and Walküre have looked like opera, and not like crazed imitations of Star Wars, so they are easier to talk about. Though not necessarily a more or less compelling take on Wagner’s mega opera, this plain SFO Ring is unfolding as conceptually direct and wonderfully human.
Two years ago Rheingold got the San Francisco Ring off to a rocky start with its light weight cast and unfocused staging. Still it was a promising beginning with lots of ideas, some of which did not work all that well (the Nibelheim special effects as example). But lots of fun came out of its director Francesca Zambello who imposed a light touch on the divine machinations that initiate this long saga of greed and love, affectionately capturing the naivete, optimism and entrepreneurial fun that built our cities.
Conductor Donald Runnicles got right to the point in Walküre, not even allowing the applause that greeted him to die before attacking the complications motivated by Wotan’s insecurities. The War Memorial Opera House is particularly kind to Wagner, allowing the transparency within his massive orchestral sound to project the depth of his mountainous landscapes, and as well the myriad of musical motivations to coexist amongst themselves and within this cosmic nature. Mo. Runnicles exploited the Walküre score to its utmost, a remarkably rich reading.
Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde, Raymond Aceto as Hunding and Christopher Ventris as Siegmund
Die Walküre is no place for lightweights (as in fact Rheingold is not either), and San Francisco Opera rose to the occasion with a nearly stellar cast. The Siegmund of English tenor Christopher Ventris captured the youth of a young hero, his voice beating with energy, the Sieglinde of Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek soared vocally over the maelstrom with the unborn hero in her womb. But it was Swedish sopranto Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde whose voice rose over all else as the energy and psychic spirit of Wotan, her creator and the world’s master builder.
This is an American Ring (the mountains are surely our California Sierras, though there is no defining land or river-scape). Hunding’s cabin is an American primitive wood facade with a screen door that can be found no where else in the world other than in middle America. American bass Raymond Aceto in a long sleeved winter undershirt with suspenders was a medium voiced Hunding, his strut and menace hiding this character’s predestined impotence. Paired with his unhappy, beaten and defeated wife, Sieglinde in a ill fitting, sad pale blue dress Hunding, strangely, evoked sympathy.
Costumer Catherine Zuber dressed German mezzo Janina Baechle as Wotan’s wife Fricka in a sort of purple beaux arts long gown in which she stolidly prevailed as a wet-blanket moral conscience. Meanwhile Wotan, American bass Mark Delavan from the Rheingold cast, muttered and spat effectively as some sort of railroad tycoon, but was vocally pallid even before running out of voice (June 22).
Wendy Bryn Harmer as Gerhilde, Suzanne Hendrix as Schwerleite, Tamara Wapinsky as Helmwige, Pamela Dillard as Grimgerde, Daveda Karanas as Waltraute, Maya Lahyani as Siegrune, Priti Gandhi as Rossweise and Molly Fillmore as Ortlinde
Wotan’s Valhalla is seen through the window of a massive high rise. It was not specifically San Francisco but a high rise city profile that is specifically American, with echoes of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Set design for this American Ring is by Michael Yeargan who, with Mme. Zambello is working in a determined post-modern vocabulary, Wotan’s desk a huge table with four huge wooden claws as legs, the following scene moving onto the contemporary detritus under an abandoned elevated freeway, and finally an abstract space for the Valkyries and the Wotan farewell to Brünnhilde.
Beautiful, detailed lighting by Mark McCullough subtly caught a real life wolf-dog and his cub racing across the stage as Wotan was about to kill his son, connecting the innocence of real nature to the tragedies of cosmic destiny. McCullough magically captured the steel gray folds of Wotan’s coat covering the sleeping Brünnhilde as a ring of real fire began to encircle the stage, this real fire somehow making the fairytale ending of the Ring’s second installment humanly real, and unusually moving.
Everything in this Ring was ordinary, and that was its triumph. Rarely has operatic acting achieved this level of realism delicately sitting on the verge of expressionism. This accomplishment signals heroic efforts of stage direction plus determined commitment from singers. Miraculously this staging melted effortlessly into the Runnicles reading of the score, the abstract musical motivations from the pit rendered on the stage in movement that effortlessly and truly portrayed complex dramatic motivations. Gesamtkunstwerk indeed!
It was a good night at San Francisco Opera.