Recently in Performances
On May 25, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of the Herbert Ross production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La bohème. Stage director, Peter Kazaras, made use of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s wide stage by setting some scenes usually seen inside the garret on the surrounding roof instead.
On May 21, 2016, Ars Minerva presented The Amazons in the Fortunate Isles (Le Amazzoni nelle Isole Fortunate), an opera consisting of a prologue and three acts by seventeenth century Venetian composer Carlo Pallavicino.
While Pegida anti-refugee demonstrations have been taking place for a while
now in Dresden, there was something noble about the Semperoper with its banners
declaring all are welcome, listing Othello, the Turk, and the hedon Papageno as
Opera houses’ neglect of Leoš Janáček remains one
of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the
‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas
would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa,
Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely
hook most for life.
It’s not easy for critics to hit the right note when they write about musical collaborations between students and professionals. We have to allow for inevitable lack of polish and inexperience while maintaining an overall high standard of judgment.
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
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.