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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … 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.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“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!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

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.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“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.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.



Ricky Ian Gordon [Photo Wikimedia]
19 Jun 2010

Orpheus & Euridice at Long Beach Opera

Early Greek writings say that Orpheus was the son of the muse Calliope and either Apollo, the god of prophecy and music or Oeagrus, the river god.

Ricky Ian Gordon: Orpheus & Euridice

Euridice: Elizabeth Futral; Orpheus: Todd Palmer. Concept/Director: Andreas Mitisek. Choreography: Ken Roht. Costumes: Marcy Froehlich. Videography: John J. Flynn. Scenery Designer: Alan Muraoka. Lighting Designer: Dan Weingarten.

Click here for libretto and other information concerning this production.

Above: Ricky Ian Gordon [Photo Wikimedia]


References to Orpheus survive from as far back as the sixth century BCE. Pindar called him the ‘father of song’. It was thought that his mother taught him to sing while Apollo instructed him on the lyre.To the Greeks of the classical age, Orpheus was venerated as animportant artist whose music could charm birds, fish and even wild creatures into docility. According to legend, he could change the course of rivers, make the rocks dance and make the gods of the underworld do his bidding. Both Pindar and Apollonius of Rhodes say that he sailed with Jason and the Argonauts. When Orpheus heard the sirens’ voices attempting to lure the ship off course, he played his incredibly beautifulmusic and drowned out the evil witches’ songs.

It was Virgil who told the tale with which we are most familiar. According to him, Orpheus married Euridice who was soon bitten by a snake anddied. He was terribly distraught and sang songs so touching that the nymphs and the gods wept with him. Thus, Euridice was allowed to return to earth provided that Orpheus did not look at her on the journey. As soon as he reached the upper world, however, he turned to her, not realizing that because she was following a few steps behind him, she was not yet on earth. As a result, he lost her forever.

Virgil’s story is the model for Ricky Ian Gordon’s poem, Orpheus & Euridice. As with some nineteenth century writers, Gordon has written both the poem and the music for this opera, which can also be presented as a song cycle, since only one character actually sings. Euridice is both the bride who dies and the narrator, while Orpheus is a clarinetist. As Gordon put it:

‘In books it was a lute
but in my dream
it was a reed not a flute,
something richer, darker, starker...’

To play the part of the musician who could charm the inhabitants of earth, Mount Olympus and the underworld is, of course, a tall order, but clarinetist Todd Palmer was a perfect choice. It was easy to imagine hisexpressive, plangent tones allowing him to bargain with the gods of the nether world.

On Friday 11 June 2010, Long Beach Opera presented Gordon’s Orpheus & Euridice at the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool in Long Beach,California. The pool is indoors and is set up with bleacher seating that allows spectators to watch swimming meets. It’s a rather unusual venue for opera, but Long Beach Opera is famous for performing in thought-provoking places. Here the huge pool was the River Styx, which Orpheus has to cross and recross in order to retrieve his beloved Euridice from the underworld. To paraphrase Anna Russell’s Ringanalysis, the scene opens in the river, in it. While soprano Elizabeth Futral who sang Eurydice and Todd Palmer as Orpheus only received an occasional splash, supers and dancers were engulfed by the chilling waters of the Styx for much of the performance.

O&E-055.gifTodd Palmer as Orpheus and Elizabeth Futral as Euridice [Photo courtesy of Long Beach Opera]

Clothed in a tasteful short yellow gown and matching wrap by Emmy-nominated designer Marcy Froelich, Futral was a vision of physical loveliness who sang with equal vocal beauty. At this watery venue, there could have been all sorts of echoes, so the performers had to wear microphones, but the sound design was well done by Bob Christian and Futral’s lustrous silver tones sounded much as they had in the acoustic confines of San Diego Opera. She had a most appealing stage presence while singing her lines with the utmost clarity and conviction. Stage director Andreas Mitisek is LBO’s general and artistic director as well. With capable artists, a minimum of scenery by set designer Alan Muraoka and most inventive lighting design by Dan Weingarten, the pool became the mythical river of the ancient Greek legend.

Palmer had actually commissioned the piece in 1995. He wanted a short work similar to Franz Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, and Gordon agreed to write it despite caring for a seriously ill partner at that time. The composer procrastinated for quite a while until one evening when he dreamed of Orpheus. That same night he wrote the poem and sometime later the music followed. The final work was, however, a great deal longer than expected and had many more ramifications than a simple song cycle for soprano, clarinet and piano. On Friday night, we were treated to the addition of a mellifluous string orchestra as well as the fine piano virtuosity of Melvin Chen. Conductor Stephen White led the ensemble in this dramatically alert, romantic performance and drew sterling contributions from all.

This was a most interesting experiment and it turned out to be a major success. The applause at the end was thunderous, especially when the composer took his bow. He has a show heading for Broadway and commission from the Metropolitan Opera, so we were very lucky to hear his work in such an intimate venue.

Maria Nockin

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