Recently in Performances
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.
Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.
On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.
There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.
With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia
Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory
mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola,
whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the
Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.
Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.
American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no
less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series
feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera,
Nixon in China.
Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.
'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.
On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.
In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener
Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.
In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the
Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in
a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.
I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and
Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series
programmes opening the New Year.
There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.
On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.
Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.
02 Aug 2010
Der Ferne Klang, Bard College
Franz Schreker, born in 1878, was a youth in the age in which psychoanalysis
first bloomed. In music, far from coincidentally, it was the post-Wagnerian era
when western tonality had been liberated from traditional rules but was
uncertain which new path to take.
Schreker’s operas, most of them set to
his own libretti, explore these psychological and musical trends with a more
embittered, less sentimental style of dramaturgy than that of many other
post-Wagnerians yet a more easily accessible idiom than the atonalists chose.
The characters of Der Ferne Klang (The Distant Sound) do not find
redemption, salvation or—at the last—even each other. They succumb
to delusions and distractions, they connect only to be alienated anew. Love is
a missed chance, art a deception.
Der Ferne Klang recalls the grander Italian operas of its day
(premiere, 1912) in setting its awkward love story on a stage teaming with
minor characters. But where other composers let the crowds fall away and bring
the love story, happy or sad, to the fore, in Der Ferne Klang the
distractions grow ever louder and more insistent and the love story cannot free
itself from them. Franz, the ambitious composer, abandons his truelove, Grete,
to seek the “distant sound” that inspires his art. By the time he
encounters her again—joyously—in Act II, she has become the main
attraction in a classy Venetian brothel. His memories win her back, but then he
rejects her on when he understands her present situation. In Act III,
Franz’s opera fails on its first night—in part because a strange
woman has screamed in the balcony. It is Grete, of course, now a streetwalker,
the one person deeply moved by Franz’s music. Franz repents his follies
in an ecstatic duet with her that climaxes in his collapse. Only then does the
real Grete enter to discover his body.
The blighting of all hope—love and art—God, of course, no longer
enters the question—is the message of many Schreker operas. The musical
texture is thick, polyphonic, late romantic with its own style of melodic
flourish, occasionally savoring of Strauss or Mahler at their most neurotic.
The orchestral forces required are large and their music complicated, the
messages difficult to interpret as every motif hides behind conflicted souls
and a pervasive unreality. Perhaps Schreker’s hopelessness, his scorn of
dreamy ideals, had more than a little real connection with the era he lived in.
When the Nazis came to power they resented his contempt for illusory ideals and
resurrected his paternal Jewish ancestry—Schreker, a lifelong Catholic,
had forgotten all about it—to expel his works from the stage, himself
from his academic position. Broken, he died in 1936—sparing himself,
perhaps , a more ghastly fate down the line.
Leon Botstein, champion of so many forgotten late romantic opera composers
(Zemlinsky, Janacek, Dukas, Smyth, d’Indy …), has done a real
service to American opera-lovers in giving us our first Der Ferne
Klang, in concert in New York three years ago, and our first staged one at
Bard College this summer. Much that was mysterious about the story in the
concert performance became clear in the thrilling staging at Bard—in a
theater it is far easier to grasp that what seemed disjointed and haphazard is
intentional, the composer’s technique for telling the story he wants to
tell and not the simpler fable we may anticipate.
In the cast at Bard, interesting singers were not always able to manage
Schreker’s soaring lines over the hefty orchestra, deployed not only in
the pit but in various strategic pockets of the stage. On the opening night
performance, Yamina Maamar, who sings Kundry, Salome and Aida in Germany, took
a while to warm to her tasks as Grete’s three avatars—her voice
often failed to cut clearly through the orchestra. Only in her concluding
ecstatic duet with Fritz did she seem a major voice with a voluptuous dramatic
soprano tone color. Her acting was affecting throughout the performance.
Matthias Schulz struck lyrical notes in the higher reaches of Fritz’s
music as if the top of his range was the distant sound he was after all along,
but was less successful in his middle voice. He ably played a
fish-out-of-water, an idealist in a society full of people with practical
concerns. Veteran character baritone Marc Embree sang a persuasively ruminative
Dr. Vigelius; Susan Marie Pierson an alluring/threatening Madam (partly behind
the scrim of a silent movie); and the rest of an enthusiastic cast were at once
alarming or funny doubling many roles. As with Les Huguenots last
summer, Botstein seems to have little trouble casting operas that require a
great many effective young singers.
Thaddeus Strassberger, whose staging of Les Huguenots last summer
was inventive if not entirely convincing, contributed tremendously to audience
excitement. His use of projections, filming shadows half-seen over
half-curtains, mirrors, subtle lighting effects and (by the by) Aaron
Blicks’s lighting and Mattie Ulrich’s splendid costumes held the
attention of listeners who might have been bewildered by the multilayered score
and the intricate story. An able young ensemble of chorus and dancers made the
most of the fantasies recalling Weimar (and pre-Weimar) decadence.
Der Ferne Klang (and its sister opera, Schreker’s Der
Gezeichneten) seems destined for a considerably wider showing in this
country where, based on the response of the Bard audience, it demonstrates
tremendous appeal to the same audiences who enjoy the operas of Strauss and
Alban Berg. Botstein has done a great service in bringing it twice to our
attention. Though there was a certain lack of coordination at the opening of
Act II, Botstein’s forces (including a small band of balalaika players to
accompany the cabaret in Act II) remained in good order all night and played
many of the subtler touches audible in the opera’s quiet moments with