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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

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.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

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.



Sketch of Figaro by Marina Reti courtesy of the Aspen Opera Theater Center
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.

John Corigliano: Ghosts of Versailles

Aspen Music Festival 2010

Photos by Alex Irvin courtesy of Aspen Opera Theater Center


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 material.”

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 again.)

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.

Wes Blomster

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