Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
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.