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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.
08 Jul 2010
Out in a blaze of glory — Garsington, A Midsummer Night's Dream
Garsington Opera is moving to Wormsley Park. in 2011, but it marked its last production at Garsington Manor with a glorious coda, that augurs well for the future. As a friend remarked “We'll be talking about this for years to come”.
Garsington is unique because its famous gardens are incorporated into the action on stage:Landscape as drama! It’s an ideal setting for Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which unfolds deep in woodland. As twilight slowly descends in real-time Garsington, night closes in on the opera. Reality gives way to dream, mortals to fairies.
For this last production in its 21 year history, Garsington Opera brought in conductor Steuart Bedford, who worked with Benjamin Britten himself. Very idiomatic playing from the orchestra, Bedford coaxing sinuous glissandi from the strings, moody murmurings from the winds and brass. In this transformed, magical world, everything is slightly, but deliberately, out of kilter. At Garsington, the effect is enhanced because you’re never quite sure what you’re hearing. The birdsong is natural, as there are trees all round. Trombones and trumpets materialize in the parterre garden, so they are “heard from afar”, like fairy horns.
Rebecca Bottone’s Tytania is heard before she enters. She has an extremely distinctive voice, which is immediately recognizable, and carries well. Here, it was used for maximum impact.
Fairies aren’t necessarily passive innocents, but are creatures of the night in every sense. Tytania is feisty, she stands up to Oberon’s demands, and is by far the stronger of the pair.
Tytania is wild and free, so the edge in Bottone’s voice strengthened the role. True character singers are rare, especially in female voice.
Bottone is a treasure.She emanates energy. Last year she was a magnificent Semira in Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes, a little dynamo running about the Linbury at ROH, yet still managing the impossibly long, florid lines. (Read more HERE). She also created The Maid in Thomas Adès’s Powder Her Face, who upstages the Duchess in more ways than one. (Read about that HERE) Bottone is luxury casting, because there are very few in her specialist fach.
Pairings through this play and opera keep changing, too, which is why Neal Davies’s Bottom is Bottone’s match. He’s another character singer, also very experienced, which makes a huge difference. Bottom is a yokel, so there’s no need for the male equivalent of coloratura perfection. Instead, though, Bottom’s quirky personality has to be expressed in other ways. Davies doesn’t do obvious humour like funny accents or buffoonery. His Bottom is quicker off the mark than he lets on, but that, too, is an aspect of Bottom’s personality. He’s the humble working man who dreams up plays for Dukes, after all. Is Shakespeare having a joke on us all?
Bottone and Davies shine above all else, but there other good vignettes. Pascal Charbonneau turned the unrewarding part of Flute into a tour de force. This Flute “is” sexually ambiguous, frustrated, resentful and yet a diva-in-the-making. In Britten’s time no-one would have dared do such a provocative portrayal, but it’s entirely right in context. Sion Goronwy’s Snug had panache, confirming his extensive experience.
The staging was more of a problem. Boys dressed in 40’s military costumes much too large for them? Adults having sex in school uniforms ? Toys being locked away? Filthy mattresses, seedy decrepitude ? Maybe this is a dig on Britten’s sexuality, but it’s out of order and not supported either by the opera or what is known of the facts. Thankfully, it was obliterated by another big star in this production - the lighting !
Like magic, the lights wiped away the tawdry squalor. The Duke’s palace appeared, transparent glass chairs lit with twinkling silver lights. Then, when couple are reunited, and order restored, night returns, and the fairies spread their magic again, this time on us, the audience.
Thousands of golden fairy lights suddenly lit up at once, transforming the darkness closing in. Festoons of lights, twined round the topiary trees and box hedges in the parterre garden, garlanding the trees beyond. A moment to remember forever. Garsington goes out in a blaze of glory. Next year, it moves to an even bigger landscape, at Wormsley Park.
A word about the lighting design which at Garsington this year excelled all expectations. Bruno Poet, who designed the lighting for this A Midsummer Night’s Dream deserves special praise. This was very imaginative work, which larger opera companies would envy.
Poet and his team spent hours carefully working out circuitry and placements. Designing in this in a conventional setting would be hard enough, but in an open air setting, artificial lighting must cope with natural light, which lasts to 10pm at this time of year. Then there’s the added problem of Health and Safety. In ordinary theatres, the audience doesn’t walk round the wiring. In Garsington, the gardens are a feature the audience comes to see. Poet and his team managed to conceal the wiring so well that it didn’t intrude.
While this year’s Garsington Opera season is over, please follow http://www.garsingtonopera.org/ for information about 2011 at Wormsley Park Garsington Opera is a specialist niche company, supported entirely by sponsorship and private patronage.