Recently in Performances
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
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.
24 Aug 2010
Aspen makes Corigliano’s Ghosts classic
When it debuted at the Met in 1991 John Corigliano’s overwrought and somewhat all-too comic Ghosts of Versailles was praised largely as a vehicle for the long-celebrated artistry of Teresa Stratas and Marilyn Horne.
The Met production journeyed to the Chicago Lyric — and then the work
disappeared. Happily, Ghosts returned to life a year ago when John
David Earnest’ s revised and trimmed-down version was premiered by the
St. Louis Opera Theater and then exported to Ireland for the festive opening of
a new house in Wexford.
Still scored, however, for 60 singers and a full-sized orchestra, the
demands made by Ghosts places the work beyond the reach of many
professional companies, while making it a field day for student opera
enterprises. Northwestern University staged the work last season, and a third
totally new production by the Aspen Opera Theatre Center brought down the
certain on the 63rd season of one of the nation’s major summer festivals
late in August. Edward Berkeley, Juilliard mentor who has directed the Aspen
Center for three decades, built the 2011 season around the figure of Figaro.
Ghosts was preceded by both Rossini’s Barber of Seville
and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, the first two parts of Pierre
Beaumarchais’ 18th-century account of the Almavivas. (Northwestern staged
the same “trilogy” during its past season.)
“Ghosts fits a festival well,” said Berkeley, who
directed the production, seen on August 19 in Aspen’s historic Wheeler
Opera House. “And in this context it gave students a look at how
different composers treat the same group of characters.” “It also
gave our audience a chance to compare how they have used the same
Although the reduced version — with a single intermission it runs
slightly less than three hours — contains enough plot and calls for
singers sufficient for three operas, the Aspen staging made clear that
Ghosts is a success now worthy of entering the standard repertory. The
central figure of the story is Marie Antoinette, who 200 years after she was
beheaded in the French Revolution, wants to return to life. In an
opera-within-an opera the story moves back to 1793 and offers a complex picture
of the Almaviva family, familiar from Rossini and Mozart.
For the libretto William M. Hoffman relied heavily on The Guilty
Mother, the third part of Beaumarchais’s Figaro trilogy.
But instead of merely re-writing the story Beaumarchais, author the original,
becomes the central figure of Ghosts — author, director and
major figure of the inner opera, in which he and the late Empress fall in love.
Although it is still more opera than can be absorbed in a single performance,
Ghosts is now effective and often moving theater. (Small wonder that
one heard voices in the Aspen audience express the wish to see the work
Top vocal honors in Aspen went to South-African soprano Golda Schultz, now a
student at Juilliard, who sang Rosina. Her tender duet with Korean mezzo
Chorong Kim, now — as Beaumarchais tells it — the loving father of
Léon, was the highlight of the Aspen staging. As Beaumarchais, the man who
makes everything move in Ghosts, tall and lean bass-baritone Andreas
Aroditis, a further Juilliard student, was amazingly adept and versatile.
Christin Wismann, cover for the role in St. Louis and a member of the
supporting cast in Wexford, was a delicately tragic Marie Antoinette, an ideal
object for Beaumarchais’ affection. As ill-intentioned Begéarss Julius
Ahn, a regular with Boston Lyric Opera, was delightfully malicious in his Aspen
debut. David Williams, a recent studio artist with Berlin’s Komische
Oper, left one with a strong desire to hear him as the “real”
Figaro, the role that he sang with such professional aplomb in the Aspen
Ghosts. And Aspen provided him with a vivacious Susanna in Kim
Sogioka, a mezzo with impressive credentials in the oratorio world. Tenor
Michael Kelly, highly regarded as a song recitalist, sang an aristocratic
— if dissolute — Count Almaviva, while Lauren Snouffer was
thoroughly engaging as his illegitimate daughter Florestine.
Major credit for the success of Aspen’s Ghosts goes, however,
to Michael Christie, who conducted both the St. Louis and Wexford performances
of the revised score. Still in his mid-’30s Christie, now music director
of the Phoenix Symphony, began his career as assistant to Franz Welser-Möst at
the Zurich Opera. Earlier in the summer he identified himself as a future
Wagnerian of promise in a concert with Jane Eaglen at the Colorado Music
Festival in Boulder.
Conducting an orchestra that overflowed into the Wheeler Green Room,
Christie’s total command of the score was impressive; he further showed
that rare balance of concern for both singers and ensemble under his command.
Handsome — and ghost-like — sets were by John Kasarda; lavish
period costumes were the work of Marina Reti.
Finally, Ghosts could profit from further reduction. If excised,
the entire scene built around Samira, the hoochie-cochie dancer at the Turkish
embassy bash, would not be missed — even if this was the role on which
Marilyn Horne squandered her talent at the Met.