20 Jul 2010
Opera’s Brigadoon — OTSL’s 2010 Season of the Sublime
At the beginning of every summer, an oasis of music and theater appears like magic in the suburbs of St. Louis.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
At the beginning of every summer, an oasis of music and theater appears like magic in the suburbs of St. Louis.
For just over a month, Opera Theatre of St. Louis turns the gardens on the campus of Webster University into a paradise for opera-lovers, a place where musical integrity and dramatic innovation both bloom apparently overnight.
The 2010 season opened with a production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro which played to the company’s strengths — namely, gifted young singers singing in the vernacular of their audience in an intimate setting. In James Robinson’s appealing and generally well-cast staging, the domestic dysfunction within the Almaviva estate illustrated the larger social concern of violence between the upper and lower classes. The clever new translation by Andrew Porter contained several genuinely funny moments and the singers put the text across well.
Jamie Van Eyck as Cherubino
Heading the talented cast was Christopher Feigum as Figaro. Judging by his successes in the past two seasons, Feigum was born to play this character. Not only was his barber canny as well as caring, he also communicated the sense of masculine competition between servant and master in both “Se vuol ballare” and an intense stare-off with the Count leading into the wedding procession.
Edward Parks as the Count and Amanda Majeski as the Countess
The counterpart of Figaro’s tension with the Count should be physical chemistry with his bride-to-be. As her elegant and moving performance in the role of Marie Antoinette in John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles illustrated, Maria Kanyova is an extremely compelling singer and actress. She is not, however, a born soubrette and it was disappointing to see her in a role that did not showcase her talents as well as triumphs of seasons past. Her Susanna seemed worried too often and acted as Figaro’s magician’s assistant than his equal partner. Still, the final phrases of “Deh, vieni” were enchanting and I look forward to hearing Kanyova again.
In the roles of the Count and Countess Almaviva, Edward Parks and Amanda Majeski were as well-suited to their respective parts as they were well-matched as a couple. Parks imbued his Almaviva with a vanity that complemented his violent tendencies and the moment he took to compose himself after “Hai già vinta la causa” was perfection. As his wife, Majeski conveyed preternatural musical maturity with her carefully molded phrases and exquisite control over her voice. Her face was as lovely and expressive as her singing and one could almost see the memory of young Almaviva serenading his Rosina cross her face as she listened to Cherubino’s canzonetta.
Jamie Barton as Marcellina, Maria Kanyova as Susanna, Christopher Feigum as Figaro, and Matthew Lau as Doctor Bartolo
As the page, Jamie Van Eyck delivered said canzonetta with hormonally charged urgency. Also among the excellent supporting cast were Jamie Barton, Matthew Lau, and Matthew DiBattista. The trio took evident (and infectious) pleasure at being onstage both individually and as a group. Bradley Smoak was rather young for the role of Antonio, but his transformation from inept drunkard to the persnickety Floor Manager he played in Peter Ash’s The Golden Ticket was impressive. As his daughter, Elizabeth Zharoff showed much promise, even if her Barbarina came across as more dull-witted than young. John Matthew Myers delivered one of the evening’s best punchlines as a deadpan Don Curzio.
For the first half of the opera, a large crack in the wall and floor physically represented the discord within the household. Bruno Schwengl provided charming sets and costumes, with the exception of a singularly ugly garden for Act IV. Both lighting by Christopher Akerlind and choreography by Seán Curran were exquisite. Stephen Lord, a relatively last minute replacement for Timothy Long, presided over members of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra with his signature confidence and zest. The company’s Artistic Director James Robinson created several moments of amusing and innovative theater including staging during the iconic overture, a haircut given to Cherubino during “Non più andrai,” antics with a dress form, and multiple pairs of roving hands. The only moment that fell flat was the large tree that literally fell to the ground during the opera’s final moments.
As Madame Larina says in David Lloyd-Jones’ translation of Eugene Onegin, in real life there are no heroes or heroines. If that is true, then the opera is where we go to find them. As Tatyana in Kevin Newbury’s production of the Tchaikovsky opera for OTSL, Dina Kuznetsova performed with the vocal and dramatic presence of a true heroine. However, when we first encounter the character, Tatyana is a dreamy and impressionable girl. It was difficult to hear Kuznetsova’s full, womanly voice and remember she is an ingénue, especially as the mature Tatyana appeared in the opening moments of this staging, gazing upon a portrait of her younger self from the summer she met Onegin. This early revelation robbed the audience of the Pygmalion moment in Act III, when Tatyana has established herself in St. Petersburg as a woman of significant reserve and social standing.
Because the staging focused so much upon Tatyana, the role of Eugene Onegin seemed strangely underdeveloped. Little was done to answer the perturbing questions about Onegin’s nature and, as his primary characteristic appeared to be moral ambivalence, it was easy to feel ambivalent about the man himself. In the title role, Christopher Margiera’s fine singing and strong musical presence were best utilized in moments of ensemble, such as the gorgeous quartet in Act I. As Tatyana’s sister Olga, Lindsay Ammann was appropriately kittenish and her fair coloring contrasted beautifully with Kuznetsova’s dark hair. In the role of Olga’s paramour Vladimir Lensky, Sean Panikkar sang with an ardency and tenderness that left you wishing you were Olga (at least for the first act). His aria comprised of some of the most musically satisfying moments of the entire season.
Sean Panikkar as Lensky and Lindsay Ammann as Olga
In the supporting roles of Madame Larina and Filipyevna, Gloria Parker and Susan Shafer each performed with a winning mixture of strength and softness. Andrew Drost’s Monsieur Triquet was a perfect complement to his turn as Augustus Gloop in The Golden Ticket. For both roles, Drost drew on his considerable musical finesse and physical elegance to great comic effect. Christian Van Horn, an OTSL favorite, was a young but dignified Prince Gremin.
As the first peasant, Jeffrey Hill led a chorus of very well-prepared, organized, and happy peasants. In particular, the girlishness of the women’s chorus was used effectively to underscore Tatyana’s brooding nature. Conductor David Agler led the cast and orchestra in a performance memorable for its musical integrity from start to finish.
The sparse wooden sets designed by Allen Moyer, although attractive, did little to illustrate the scope of the Larin estate or to differentiate between the provincial and St. Petersburg interiors. That said, the minimalist horizontality provided a perfect frame for the bleak moments of Lensky’s aria and the subsequent duel. Moreover, the transition from exterior to interior for the party scene was a little piece of theatrical magic. Martin Pakledinaz’s handsome costumes were enhanced by Tom Watson’s especially naturalistic and effective hair and makeup.
To the company’s credit, it is nearly impossible to assess two of the four festival productions without considering the other two. Each staging complements the others and the young artists (both onstage and off) benefit from this cross-pollination as much as the company’s devoted followers. By the end of the season, it is hard to imagine the gardens empty and the theater fallen silent. Then, like Brigadoon, it all is gone. Luckily for us, we don’t have to wait 200 years for the next season of enchantment.
Marriage of Figaro
Figaro, servant to Almaviva: Christopher Feigum; Susanna, Rosina's maid and Figaro's intended bride: Maria Kanyova; Doctor Bartolo: Matthew Lau; Marcellina, his housekeeper: Jamie Barton; Cherubino, page to the Countess: Jamie Van Eyck; Count Almaviva: Edward Parks; Don Basilio, music master to the household: Matthew DiBattista; Rosina, Countess Almaviva: Amanda Majeski; Antonio, gardener and uncle to Susanna: Bradley Smoak; Don Curzio, lawyer: John Matthew Myers; Barbarina, Antonio's daughter: Elizabeth Zharoff; Two peasant girls: Rebecca Nathanson and Irene Snyder. Conductor: Timothy Long, Gregory Ritchey (June 16); Stage Director: James Robinson. Set and Costume Designer: Bruno Schwengl. Choreographer: Seán Curran. Lighting Designer: Christopher Akerlind.
Tatiana, daughter of Madame Larina: Dina Kuznetsova: Olga, her sister; Lindsay Ammann: Madame Larina; Gloria Parker; Filipyevna, the family’s old nurse: Susan Shafer; A Young Peasant: Jeffrey Hill; Vladimir Lensky, a poet: Sean Panikkar; Eugene Onegin, a friend of Lensky: Christopher Magiera; A Captain: Adrian Rosas; Monsieur Triquet, an old friend of the Larina family: Andrew Drost: Zaretsky, a retired officer: Aubrey Allicock; Guillot, Onegin’s valet: Nick Fitzer; Prince Gremin: Oren Gradus. Conductor: David Agler. Stage Director: Kevin Newbury. Set Designer: Allen Moyer. Costume Designer: Martin Pakledinaz. Choreographer: Seán Curran. Lighting Designer: Christopher Akerlind.