Recently in Performances
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.
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 town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
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.
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.
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.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
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.