Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Götterdämmerung in San Francisco

The truly tragic moments of this long history rich in humanity behind us we embark on the sordid tale of the Lord of the Gibichungs’s marriage to Brünnhilde and the cowardly murder of Siegfried, to arrive at some sort of conclusion where Brünnhilde sacrifices herself to somehow empower women. Or something.

Siegfried in San Francisco

We discover the child of incestuous love, we ponder a god’s confusion, we anticipate an awakening. Most of all we marvel at genius of the composer and admire the canny story telling of the Zambello production.

Boris Godunov in San Francisco

Yes, just when you thought Wotan was the only big guy in town San Francisco Symphony (just across a small street from San Francisco Opera), offered three staged performances of the Mussorgsky masterpiece Boris Godunov in direct competition with San Francisco Opera’s three Ring des Nibelungen cycles.

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

A culinary coupling from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

What a treat the London Music Conservatoires serve up for opera-goers each season. After the Royal Academy’s Bizet double-bill of Le docteur Miracle and La tragédie de Carmen, and in advance of the Royal College’s forthcoming pairing of Huw Watkins’ new opera, In the Locked Room, based on a short story by Thomas Hardy, and The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have delivered a culinary coupling of Paul Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner and Sir Lennox Berkeley’s The Dinner Engagement which the Conservatoire last presented for our delectation in November 2006.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari by Brightcecilia Classical Music Forum
07 Jun 2010

I Gioielli della Madonna, New York

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, son of an Italian mother and a German father, was born in Venice but acclaimed only when he took his operas to Germany, where he became quite popular during the first decades of the twentieth century.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: I Gioielli della Madonna

Maliella: Julia Kierstine; Carmela: Eugenie Grünewald; Gennaro: Raúl Melo; Rafaele: Joshua Benaim. Westfield Symphony Orchestra and Cantori New York Chorus and Long Island University Chorus, conducted by David Wroe. Teatro Grattacielo, at Frederick P. Rose Hall. Performance of May 24.

Above: Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari by Brightcecilia Classical Music Forum

 

When Italy and Germany went to war, his career languished, and his music has not endured — perhaps because his most notorious work, the brief, comic Segreto di Susanna, arouses modern prejudices: it’s a hymn to the joys of cigarette addiction. Or perhaps it’s because he never quite settled on a single style, and his tuneful, professional operas do not fit into any easy category.

I Gioielli della Madonna (The Jewels of the Madonna), a story of passion, sacrilege and madness among superstitious Neapolitan hoi polloi, composed in 1911, is Wolf-Ferrari’s sole contribution to the Verismo genre. It was quite popular in its day, especially in Chicago, where the great Polish soprano Rosa Raisa made it a celebrated vehicle. Maria Jeritza (and, later, Florence Easton) triumphed in it at the Met, in an all-out superspectacular production in 1926 with street scenes in anthropological detail, giving the snooty Times reviewer the chance to condemn its vulgarity in a group with Cavalleria Rusticana and Tosca — names unlikely to deter opera fans today. On the strength of the excellent concert performance presented by Teatro Grattacielo at Rose Hall last Monday, Wolf-Ferrari might be worthy of more attention, though there are few Raisas or Jeritzas around today who could do the role of Maliella justice.

Wolf-Ferrari’s gifts for depicting character with melody, his skill at taut plotting and abrupt turns from festival to horror were rather greater in his youth than were evidenced in the much later Sly, when the Met produced that dreary vehicle a few years back. As a composer, Wolf-Ferrari is not so much of the manner of such contemporaries as Giordano and Montemezzi as a harkener back to the melody of Ponchielli, Boito and the young Mascagni. If the crowd scene that opens I Gioielli takes a lot of time (and would cost a fortune to stage — peddlers, street kids, folk making the evening passaggio, the full panoply of local color) and the orgy in the den of brigands in Act III goes on for rather a bit, there is always a pleasing tunefulness to pass the time. Too, the composer has the orchestral skill for not one but two intermezzi and a ballet — though I did not find them as evocative as Mascagni’s or Ponchielli’s.

The story was devised by the composer, probably after being fleeced during a Neapolitan vacation. Venetians are reluctant to admit that Neapolitans belong to the same nationality as themselves, and the Camorra, who figure loudly in the opera, are still the real rulers of the city.

I_Giioelli_10.gifPhoto by David Samsky

Gennaro is lustfully obsessed with young, arrogant Maliella. As Maliella, a girl of low birth, has been raised as his foster sister, she finds his possessive attitude grotesque; she is attracted to the sexy local Camorra boss, Rafaele, who offers her anything she likes — even the jewels that adorn the wonder-working local statue of the Madonna, Queen of Heaven. Of course Maliella would never ask such a sacrilegious gift, and even Rafaele wouldn’t really steal them, but she tosses the offer in Gennaro’s face — and he, maddened, does just that, decorating the girl with the stolen jewels and using her shock (and her lust aroused by a duet with Rafaele) to seduce her. Now that she’s damaged goods, Rafaele, who has boasted of her virginity, no longer wants her and the Camorra are horrified by the accusation they will surely receive when the theft is discovered. Maliella drowns herself. Gennaro goes mad, prays for repentance, and stabs himself in religious ecstasy — yes, this is another opera composed in the era of turn-of-the-century Catholic revival (Suor Angelica, Le Jongleur de Notre Dame) where the Madonna makes a climactic, fatal appearance.

There is no one to like very much in this story, and its erstwhile popularity may be credited in part to the audiences’ cheerful contempt for the superstitious lower orders. In an earlier era, Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne and Bellini’s La Sonnambula tickled sophisticates with tales of naïve peasant love — how happy we might be if we were as poor and simple as they! In the Verismo era of Cavalleria Rusticana, Tiefland and I Gioielli della Madonna, the pitying sneer was again not unmixed with envy: we’re too civilized to believe in the miraculous or to avenge betrayal with blood, but aren’t these peasants passionate? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could feel like those simple folk? Among later works in a similar strain, one can think of Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera (in which German lowlifes paraded their passions for a cheerfully shocked bourgeoisie), Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and Bernstein’s West Side Story. This patronizing attitude has not died out. Why should it? Sophisticates who have no intention of renouncing their sophisticated privileges, love to think they bear a burden.

For the Grattacielo performance, Julia Kierstine wore a red spangled gown as loud as, well, Rosa Raisa — she was fun to watch. Her voice had the heft and the lyric lilt for sexy Maliella, but the annoying quality of singing around rather than precisely on the pitches. I did not get the sense (which the composer clearly wished to convey) of a flaunting but naïve sexpot, and am not sure if it was her technique or the melody that failed. Kierstine did better with the sensuous duet in Act II (which does not get pornographically out of hand because the composer has cleverly put a locked and barred garden gate between the two passionately lusting lovers), and the brief Verismo mad scene that accompanies her seduction at the act’s climax.

Joshua Benaim tossed off Rafaele’s addresses with the proper casual and sexy address — one believed in the sincerity of his passion for Maliella — until he finds she’s no longer a virgin, and discards her in disgust. Benaim has a sturdy, well-focused, slightly rough-edged baritone, and he cleverly makes use of its roughness to display the nastier sides of Rafaele’s personality, barking the lines in disgust in contrast to his elegant phrasing of serenade and yearning duet. He is a gifted, intelligent singer, and Italian opera of this era rewards that sort of skill.

Raúl Melo sang the tormented role of Gennaro with fervor that never interfered with an attractive lyric line. Gennaro is rather a one-note character until his final magnificent scene of repentance and suicide, and the character is not a pretty one, but the quality of Melo’s singing kept us eager to have him return, to hear what he would give us next.

Eugenie Grünewald sang Gennaro’s mother Carmela with the right broad and earthy spaciousness, not unmixed with an unfortunate wobble. The many small roles were cast with Teatro Grattacielo’s usual expertise.

David Wroe, the company’s music director, kept impressively on top of this elaborate score, which his large orchestra, enormous chorus (on the rear tiers of the hall), mandolins for local color (not overdone, thank you Maestro Wolf-Ferrari), and expert children’s chorus performed with great panache until the final slightly uneven pianissimo. There was even a mime for one intermezzo and four dancers for the orgiastic ballet — capable no doubt, but for me the least interesting part of the night; I kept my eyes closed to focus on the music-making.

Rose Hall is not enormous and the acoustic varies greatly — I found my seats in the front orchestra awkward due the brassy explosions of the opening scene, the balances much better from the rear of the section for the other acts. A loud, elaborate orchestration calls for sitting farther back — as in any hall.

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):