Recently in Reviews
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
05 Jun 2010
Lulu, New York
Alban Berg died in 1935, but his music was generations ahead of his time
– as one could not help but conclude during the recent revival of
Lulu at the Met whenever the vibraphone played “doorbell”
music, reminding us of the intrusion of cell phones into theaters.
home painfully five minutes before the performance ended, at the tense moment
when the humiliated Lulu entreats her latest client, a black-bag-toting
Englishman named Jack, into her bedroom. Somebody’s watch began to beep
and kept on beeping. Happily, the music at this point is pretty loud, depicting
what Jack is doing to Lulu just off stage, and Fabio Luisi let it out and
drowned the beeping.
Nothing given at the Met this not-very-triumphant year (with the possible
exceptions of The Nose, From the House of the Dead and
Ariadne auf Naxos) has been of the across-the-board excellence,
brilliantly sung, flawlessly acted, sublimely played, appropriately staged, of
this Lulu. This fact brings to mind questions: Why does Lulu
– seldom a crowd-pleaser (though the house was packed for the performance
I attended, all enthusiastic) – merit this level of care from the Met
while such more traditional fare as Aida or Turandot or
Der Fliegende Holländer or Tosca are allowed to sink or swim,
survive on lingering reputation, the staging haphazard, the singing mediocre?
Is it because Lulu, being notoriously difficult, gets extra attention?
Is it because the Met cannot find anyone capable of singing Aida or Radames or
Turandot, but can easily come up with Lulu and Dr. Schön? It’s difficult
to believe a Lulu of the caliber of Marlis Petersen is to be found on every
street corner of the opera world, and if she has been located and lured to the
Met, why has there been hardly a decent Aida in decades? The
production is there, and Great Isis knows the audience is there, eager to hear
Anne Sofie von Otter as Countess Geschwitz
Well, enough about Aida: this was a Lulu to remember. John
Dexter’s handsome thirty-year-old Jugendstil production, with its
Austro-Hungarian curlicues, its air of Klimt-Schiele decadence, is still
handsome enough to satisfy. The direction was largely appropriate, though
characters occasionally sing of going out of doors when in fact they are
climbing the staircase to an upper floor. Lulu behaved as if on a different
wavelength from that of the men – and women – obsessed with her,
and that is as it should be: she is their idol, their destroyer, their
plaything, their posession. No one ever sees her as human, including Lulu
herself, and when she does show signs of humanity, it’s far too late.
In a cast giving exceptional performances across the board, even in such
minuscule roles as the pimp who tries to blackmail Lulu into entering a brothel
in Cairo in Act III – Graham Clark, sinister and funny, as he was also as
Lulu’s butler in Act II – and the pageboy who obligingly changes
clothes with Lulu, allowing her to escape the pimp – Ginger
Costa-Jackson, who manages the trick of looking and moving like a boy
uncomfortably in drag – the star of the evening, besides Marlis
Petersen’s Lulu, was Fabio Luisi, recently announced as the Met’s
visiting music director, who once again demonstrated that his control, his
musicianship, his dramatic flair rank every him every way as worthy as James
Levine. This was a taut, elegant, alive performance. There was time to notice
such witty details as the concertato in the final scene of Act I – when
the various men in Lulu’s life savage each other vocally in an atonal
parody of a bel canto sextet, while Lulu, the only treble voice on stage, seems
to pay no attention to them.
Petersen, the vocal star of the Met’s Hamlet this spring,
wherein she sang the most old-fashioned of suicidal mad scenes in a luscious,
gratifying manner, might almost be another singer when she sings Lulu. Mind
you, the part could hardly be farther from bel canto Ophélie – it is all
Sprechstimme, high-flying taunting, snarling, giggling, dreaming phrases
pointed here and there on the scale, all of them produced with dramatic intent.
Lulu, the child of nature, is no sensualist like Carmen or Musetta: she likes
the physicality of sex. She does not develop a soul, a self, until she becomes
desperate in Act III, having lost her money, her husbands, her position, almost
her freedom. The transformation in Peteren’s vocal delivery in this act
was matched by her movements; her entire figure seemed that of another woman,
yearning no longer for sex but for death – the equal and opposite urge,
as Freud might have suggested to Berg, his contemporary.
A scene from Act I with James Courtney as the Theater Manager, James Morris as Dr. Schön, Marlis Petersen in the title role, Gary Lehman as Alwa, Graham Clark as the Prince, and Ginger Costa-Jackson as Wardrobe Mistress
James Morris seemed on the ropes when he sang Claudius in Hamlet, his voice
dry and tending towards wobble. As Dr. Schön, Lulu’s most possessive
possessor, he sang with authority and irony. Each syllable was acted, and each
sung note had a degree of menace and self-loathing. A very classy act.
Anne-Sofie von Otter, whom I have found dull in more conventional parts, sang a
most affecting Countess Geschwitz. Gary Lehman was stocky but sympathetic as
Alwa Schön. Bradley Garvin brought particular menace not only to his movements
but to each phrase of his vigorous baritone as the Acrobat. It was a cast
without a flaw, a Lulu to remember forever, the new standard.