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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.
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.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
08 Jun 2010
Nabucco at Masada
Israel Opera Nabucco includes three Va pensiero’s It’s apocrypha, of course, but legend has it that since its 1843 premiere at La Scala audiences have wanted an encore of the chorus Va pensiero when Verdi’s Nabucco is on stage.
In the opera house encores are out the question — except at youthful Israel Opera, where on June 3 the audience got to hear it three times — and they loved it. This was only one feature of this production in the new, 6500-seat outdoor theater at the foot of Mt. Masada that made this Nabucco fresh and exciting.
Oren, music director of Opera Israel, knows his Verdi. He understands the composer’s style. He knows Verdi was not a subtle musician and — unlike others — he makes no effort to make something of him that he is not. Oren unashamedly relishes the oom-paah of the score, and for him the confused identities of the plot are unhackneyed. For Oren it’s all fun — and that’s what this 25th-anniversary staging that launched a new international summer opera festival was.
But back — to make this case — to Va pensiero. Having performed the chorus and given it again as an encore, Oren then made it a community sing — but not before turning to the audience to tell them that they must not applaud until he brought down his hand at the end of the final note.
The capacity crowd — all five performances of Navucco were sold out — followed his instructions, and then went wild. It was a hoot, and it’s safe to say that Opera Israel at Masada is here to stay. To underscore the prestige of this production IO assembled a cast as committed as it was impressive.
Sterling senior Paata Burchuladze, who came West long ago from Soviet Georgia, sang a majestic Hebrew high priest Zuccaria. (In 1995 Burchuladze sang the title role in the production of Boris Godunov that opened Israel Opera’s new home in Tel Aviv. Since then he has appeared regularly with the company.) Italian baritone Alberto Gazala, who made his IO debut in the title role in this production, went straight to the heart of the troubled Babylonian emperor and portrayed his breakdown and recovery with great dramatic skill. As Abigaille, Greek soprano Dmitra Theodosssiou handled the shifting vocal demands that Verdi makes on the central female figure in the cast with amazing ease, while Italy’s Tiziana Carraro was appropriately gentle and loving as Fenena. (In the alternate cast Mongolian-born Baysa Dashnyam sang Abigaille and Italians Eugenia Tufano, Fenena and David Cecconi, Nabucco.)
The exuberance that Oren brought to the production was an obvious inspiration to everyone on stage and to members of the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon Le Zion, pit band of the company back home in Tel Aviv. It carried over to the audience as well, leaving them in a state of animated excitement when the performance ended at 1 a.m.
Behind the joyous success of Nabucco at Masada lay much more than the selection of a work and the assembly of a cast and production crew. We had to create the entire infrastructure for this project, said Opera Israel general director Hanna Munitz at a press conference before the June 3 performance of Nabucco. We had no example to follow; we had to figure it all out ourselves.
This meant not only building a modern theater in the middle of the dessert, but also arranging transportation from Israel’s major cities, organizing packages with the many hotels at the Dead Sea and providing shuttle service from them to the theater. It’s a dream that began four years ago, Munitz said. In the last four months it’s involved up to 600 people all working at one time. Of special importance was the choice of Britain’s Bryan Grant as sound designer for Nabucco. A totally natural sound prevailed throughout the performance.
Photo by Yossi Zwecker courtesy of Israeli Opera
The stage at Masada is 35 by 64 meters — three times as large as in OI’s home theater in Tel Aviv. Director Joseph Rochlitz worked largely without props, distributing the chorus and extras over the broad staircases at either side of the stage and in the area above it. Sets were by Nitzsan Refaeli; costumes by Alberto Spiazzi and lighting by Avi Yoni Bueno.
Munitz announced plans for the staging of Verdi’s Aida in 2011 and mentioned Samson et Dalila by Saint-Saens as a probable future choice for the festival. Nabucco, however, was the obvious opera to launch the festival. And that does in no way imply that Verdi thought of the story that plays following the destruction of the first temple down the road in Jerusalem as a Jewish Opera.
For the composer it was rather a veil for his concern about the state of his native Italy in the mid-19th-century. Be that as it may, you cannot hear Va pensiero — at least not in Israel — without hearing it as an anthem of the Diaspora. It is thus not surprising that the gala concert that celebrated the opening of Israel Opera’s new home in Tel Aviv ended with Va pensiero.
Israel Opera at Masada is further a cultural endeavor committed to an environmental cause: it is supporting a drive to see the Dead Sea named one of the seven new Wonders of the World. The level of water in the Sea is currently falling one meter per year. If this continues, it will be the end of the many hotels there and the tourism that they encourage.
Among projects under consideration is the building of a canal from the Mediterranean — a project envisioned by father of Zionism Theodor Herzl in his 1902 New Land, his Utopian vision of the Jewish state. Among sites under consideration for the new Seven Wonders list are the Amazon River, the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef. Nabucco — for those who might not know it — is short for Nebuchadnezzar.