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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.
07 Jun 2010
Seeing Tosca at the Coliseum brings back happy memories, as it was a
performance of Tosca (in a revival of the Keith Warner production in the 1990s) which occasioned my very first trip to the ENO. That also happens to have been
the first time I ever saw Tosca.
Actually, that isn’t strictly true. The first time I came across Tosca was
five years earlier, in my early teens and long before I became really
interested in opera, when I was nonetheless gripped by the live international
TV broadcast from the authentic locations in Rome. That film’s star, Catherine
Malfitano, moved into opera direction herself six years ago, and it is she who
has been charged with ENO’s latest new staging.
The result is a competent, dramatically coherent and (how often these days
can one say this about a recent ENO staging of a repertoire standard?)
eminently revivable production. Above all, it stands out for the believability
of the characters — I can’t remember ever having seen such a natural,
genuine and un-stagey Act 1 love scene between Tosca and Cavaradossi, nor a
Scarpia who so successfully avoided villainous caricature.
The Act 1 set design gives a modern twist on a naturalistic setting, with a
slightly abstract, pixellated version of what is very definitely a depiction of
the actual interior of Sant’Andrea della Valle, particularly during the Te Deum
when a shift in the lighting results in the basilica’s characteristic shafts of
pale yellow light beaming down from the high windows. This coup-de-theatre by
lighting designer David Martin Jacques is one of many touches throughout the
opera which keep the production feeling true to its location, another being the
decision to leave both the Act 2 Cantata and the Shepherd Boy’s solo in the
The Act 2 staging is entirely straightforward, until the last few seconds
where a projection of an expanse of infinite star-filled space appears on the
back wall, a symbol of the simultaneous liberty and wilderness into which Tosca
moves following Scarpia’s murder. After that, Act 3 has a more abstract feel,
retaining the star-studded backdrop from the end of Act 2, with a striking
curved set which looked somewhat as though a ‘realistic’ recreation of the
uppermost reaches of the Castel Sant-Angelo had been tipped backwards through
ninety degrees. This for me was the one jarring note, principally because of
the considerable resultant visual resemblance to Act 2 of Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s
Tristan und Isolde for Glyndebourne — I couldn’t help feeling that I
was watching the wrong opera, and that the music and visuals didn’t match. I
half-expected Tosca to make her final exit in the manner of Isolde in that
production, drifting off into space.
The title role was taken by the South African soprano Amanda Echalaz.
Although a substantial instrument — which I have previously showcased to
thrilling effect elsewhere, including in this very role with Opera Holland Park
— it rarely manages to dominate volume-wise above heavy Puccini
orchestration in a house the size of the Coliseum. Nonetheless it is a
beautifully-coloured, smooth and classy, and she brings the character to
vivacious and passionate life.
Her Cavaradossi was Julian Gavin — a phrase which gives me a certain
sense of deja vu, as I have now heard him in three different ENO productions of
the same opera. It is to his great credit that almost fourteen years after the
first time, he retains the vocal intensity and physical vigour of youth, but
now brings added value to the role with the more baritonal colours of his
increased vocal maturity. The spinto character of his upper voice made the big
moments thrilling, particularly ‘Vittoria!’, Cavaradossi’s political
ardour winning over his romantic ardour.
Anthony Michaels-Moore’s Scarpia was a good vocal match for Echalaz, perhaps
not quite as firmly in his element as in his recent memorable Rigoletto here
but a dangerous, vocally alluring snake in the grass. I suspect that like his
tenor colleague, Mr Michaels-Moore has sung multiple English versions of this
opera — one of the disadvantages of ENO’s use of surtitles is that it
highlights when the words sung do not match those which were supposed to be
sung, and there were a couple of such glitches.
The smaller roles were strongly assumed — Pauls Putninš was a
dramatically-compelling Angelotti despite a shortage of a vocal ‘edge’ to lend
urgency to his delivery, while ENO Young Singers Christopher Turner (Spoletta)
and James Gower (Sciarrone) were both eloquent and incisive.
On behalf of all singers-in-English, I grieve for ENO’s obsession with using
a different translation for every new staging. That sort of thing is inclined
to mess with singers’ minds. Considering that Puccini doesn’t tend to translate
well into English, the Amanda Holden translation used in David McVicar’s 2002
production was really quite respectable, bringing a natural rhythm to the text
within the tight constraints of the musical line. So why now revert to an
ancient and rather ungainly translation by the late Edmund Tracey? I hope other
English-language companies pick up on Holden’s translation so it doesn’t now
Under Ed Gardner, the orchestral sound was full of life and colour, with
special mention due to the vicious snarls of the trumpet in the torture scene.
The cello quartet just before ‘E lucevan le stelle’ was beautifully played
— when I saw the last production I vividly remember the passage being a
disaster, and it sounded so utterly different this time round that I had to
compare the orchestra lists in the two programmes. It would appear to have been
exactly the same cellists now as then, which underlines yet again the extent of
the good that Gardner’s directorship has done this band. Musically, this
performance is a triumph.
Ruth Elleson, May 2010