Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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):