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.
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