Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

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.

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.

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.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.



Plácido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of The Royal Opera]
20 Jul 2010

Simon Boccanegra at the Proms

Proms audiences have a tendency to be overly enthusiastic in showing their appreciation, with an arsenal of rituals and traditions at the ready to show their praise and adulation for their idols.

Giuseppe Verdi: Simon Boccanegra

Simon Boccanegra: Plácido Domingo; Amelia: Marina Poplavskaya; Gabriele Adorno: Joseph Calleja; Jacopo Fiesco: Ferruccio Furlanetto; Paolo Albiani: Jonathan Summers; Pietro: Lukas Jakobski. Conductor: Antonio Pappano. Royal Opera Chorus. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Director: Elijah Moshinsky. Costume Designer: Peter J. Hall. Royal Albert Hall, London. Sunday 18th July 2010.

Above: Plácido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of The Royal Opera]


But, the ovation which greeted the conclusion of this semi-staged performance of Verdi’s dark, brooding Simon Boccanegra was wholly justified — for once the reality more than lived up to the hype.

Of course, the anticipation — with Proms managers predicting queues for Arena day tickets stretching into Hyde Park — was largely for Plácido Domingo, returning to the stage just a few months after treatment for cancer, in his new guise as a baritone.

Domingo may profess that his decision to abandon his place as one of the ‘Three Tenors’ was not merely one of expediency but driven by a life-long desire to sing one of Verdi’s greatest roles, the 14th-century Genoan patriarch, Simon Boccanegra. In fact, for some time Domingo has been uncomfortable at the upper end of his tenor range; indeed, he has of late asked conductors to transpose roles downwards. But, his voice has always been characterised by a dusky, baritonal colour, and here he seemed liberated, relishing the soaring lines of the role, while elsewhere adopting an appropriately weary tone. While dramatically this captured the complexities and contrasts of this imperfect man — a ruthless, swashbuckling pirate reluctantly recruited as leader of a warring community of aristocrats and plebeians — musically it turned the role upside down: for the low, conversational phrases sounded effortful while the tense melodic peaks projected with ease. For Domingo’s baritone is a fairly light voice, lacking a genuine heft, and some might prefer a more burnished tone, particularly in the lower register where Domingo used his chest to strengthen and reinforce the sound. However, one can overlook such matters when presented with such a convincing characterisation, for Domingo truly embodied the tragic grandeur and dignity of the careworn ruler.

A flop at its premiere in 1857 — and performed here in the revised 1881 version — Simon Boccanegra remains one of Verdi’s most convoluted plots. There are several tangled strands, characters have multiple names and identities, and it would be a fruitless endeavour to attempt to unravel the complications. However, while this performance may have been only semi-staged, there are other ways of conveying the emotional meaning of the music than busy stage action and clever directorial tricks. Domingo perfectly communicated the trauma and torment of the troubled Doge; and especially impressive was the relationship he forged with Amelia, sung by Russian soprano Maria Poplavskaya, in their tender reconciliation scenes. Poplavskaya’s opening aria was pitch-perfect and serene, and although at times her soprano lacked the necessary shimmer, she successfully conveyed both the vulnerability and feistiness of Amelia, as she stands up to her domineering father.

But this performance was not just about Domingo and the superb ensemble cast was inspired by the occasion, the company and by Verdi’s music. Singing the role of Adorno, tenor Joseph Calleja almost stole the show; Calleja has a secure Verdian technique, strong in tone and projection, subtle in dramatic nuance. His Act 2 aria was electrifyingly ardent and justly inspired the loudest applause of the night. There were rumours that Ferruccio Furlanetto might be indisposed but such fears proved unfounded, and he was a typically imposing and dignified Jacopo Fiesco, his gleaming, sonorous bass easily filling the cavernous auditorium. Bass-baritone Jonathan Summers, completing the cast as Paolo, lacked tonal brightness and stamina but was dramatically effective as the Iago-lile villain, oozing menace.

Truly at home in this repertoire, Antonio Pappano commanded the orchestra of the Royal Opera House with a blend of passionate abandon and absolute control, delighting in Verdi’s instrumental tapestry and drawing musical pictures of great feeling and finesse. The ensembles, especially the Act 2 trio and the Council Chamber scene, were particularly well-shaped. Pappano’s players rose to the occasion, producing committed and superlative playing with a genuinely Verdian tinta.

Plácido Domingo has had a long, varied and illustrious career, as tenor, conductor, artistic director (at the Los Angeles Opera and the Washington National Opera), always seeking out new musical experiences and personal challenges, and this clearly continues. In 1959, aged just 18-years-old, he auditioned for the National Opera in Mexico City as a baritone, and was told by the impressed jury that he was not really a baritone and should be tackling tenor roles — so began a celebrated and distinguished career. Now things have come full circle. But one can’t help feeling that the auditioning panel was in fact correct — Domingo was and is a tenor: the overall colour and bright ‘edge’ of his voice remain those of a tenor regardless of the register. However, whether this ‘project’ is a personal indulgence or a brave experiment, it is one which is fully justified by the musical outcome. Domingo told one recent interviewer, “After Boccanegra … I will probably say Amen.” Simon Boccanegra may spend the second half of the opera melodiously dying a drawn-out death by poisoning but, fortunately, Domingo does not yet sound ready to stop.

Claire Seymour

Click here for audio clips of this performance.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):