Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Jennifer Rowley as Maria di Rohan [Photo by Gabe Palacio]
01 Aug 2010

Maria di Rohan at Caramoor

Maria di Rohan was Donizetti’s penultimate opera, composed in Italian for Vienna in 1843, with revisions to appeal to the taste of Paris and Milan following.

Gaetano Donizetti: Maria di Rohan

Maria di Rohan: Jennifer Rowley; Chalais: Luciano Botelho; Chevreuse: Scott Bearden; Armando di Gondi: Vanessa Cariddi. Orchestra of St. Luke’s, conducted by Will Crutchfield. At the Caramoor Festival, Katonah, NY. July 24

Above: Jennifer Rowley as Maria di Rohan [Photo by Gabe Palacio]

 

Donizetti completed one more French grand opera, Dom Sébastien, before syphilitic madness ended one of the busiest of all composing careers at the age of 48. Maria was a success but not an enduring hit—the opera suffers from plot confusion, too many offstage events and far too many incriminating letters and devious proclamations (I lost count). Composed as a soprano vehicle, it was long kept alive by Titta Ruffo, who enjoyed the emotional range of the baritone’s part. Maria has plenty of Donizetti’s gracious melodies and the more forceful integration of musical number and dramatic form that make his later works so fascinating, so clearly foreshadowing his young friend Verdi, who learned a great deal from them, but its elaborate intrigues do not draw us in.

In history, Marie de Rohan was the notorious Duchesse de Chevreuse, an indefatigable troublemaker at the court of Louis XIII. In the opera, however, she is an anguished heroine, torn between love and duty and … more love. It’s not her fault that every man in the cast, including the one played by a woman, is crazy about her and that she can only be married to one of them at a time. (She could, of course, be the lover of more than one, and in real life, she was—but stage morals had to be stricter than life: “Una la volta, per carità!”) “You will live in infamy,” snarls her vengeful husband (that baritone), having just disposed of her lover (the tenor), as the final curtain falls. And so she did. Her reputation lingered like the scandals of bygone movie stars: everyone remembered that woman, but—what exactly did she do?

In an earlier day, Donizetti would have ended the piece with a strident cabaletta for the prima donna protesting her unjust fate (as he had ended Anna Bolena, Lucrezia Borgia and Roberto Devereux), and he did indeed write such a piece—but a new, tighter dramatic spirit was in the air, and he cut the number out. (It exists, though, and was performed at Caramoor in a concert of omitted music from other editions of the score before the main event. This is the sort of addendum that makes a Will Crutchfield concert opera such a delight for the bel canto enthusiast.) The opera now ends with that baritone snarl and an orchestral crash, leaving us (perhaps) stunned by Maria’s wordless anguish—the way Verdi and Puccini, afterwards, would stun audiences at the final curtain with a single cry. This is abrupt and thrilling—but I’d have liked to hear that cabaletta. Donizetti perceived that music-drama was changing, but Maria di Rohan is not Traviata or Tosca—its stately sort of drama seems to demand that full final statement.

Not that the prima donna’s role seemed abbreviated—she must lie to her lover, lie to her husband, plead (offstage) to saturnine Cardinal Richelieu for the lives of both, agonize over her reputation and her bad decisions, sing duets and suffer remorse, all in flowing despair or glittering excitement. Maria is a hefty soprano workout, and the only other woman in the cast is the trouser role of Gondi, who makes scandalous insinuations about Maria after she rejects him—and Gondi is soon disposed of. Basically, Maria, her husband Chevreuse, and her confused truelove, Chalais, are the only characters—aside from the cardinal, the king, the queen and Chalais’s dying mother, who remain offstage. The chorus part is brief. This is a chamber drama with grand opera forces.

One of the draws of the Caramoor performance was an exciting young soprano from the Crutchfield stable, but she withdrew due to illness three days before the performance. Maestro Crutchfield—like anyone else in the one-performance concert opera business—keeps a clutch of possible replacements on hand anticipating just this sort of fiasco, and his Caramoor Bel Canto Young Artists again proved its usefulness when Jennifer Rowley took on the arduous title role at short notice.

Rowley has a beautiful voice of considerable size, many attractive colors and remarkable evenness over a couple of octaves up to a spectacular D-flat. Her vibrato seems more suited to Germanic than bel canto roles (she sang Konstanze in Newark), but it disappears when long Caballé-style legatos are called for. Her trill is imprecise but not unpleasing, her ornaments stylish, and she was off-book three days after learning she would be going on. She earned a standing ovation and got it.

Luciano Botelho, a Brazilian tenor, sang her lover, Chalais. His voice is sweet and attractive if a little light for the demands of so intense a part—he is more a Nemorino or Ramiro (in Cenerentola) than a Chalais. He seemed at times to be gasping between lines of his opening aria, but his command of line gave great pleasure, and in his passionate final scenes he showed more strength.

Scott Bearden sang the Duc de Chevreuse, the sort of baritone who risks his life to save his tenor best friend—only to discover the fellow is his wife’s lover. He acted this well, remembering to limp when he’d been wounded in an offstage duel, and sang it in a curious way—for his opening aria went rather higher than baritones usually go (higher by some steps than the Ricordi score of the opera, published twenty years after the premier, demands), and though he managed this tessitura admirably, the quality of these notes had neither tenor excitement nor baritone heft. Was this an alternate version of the autograph? (Crutchfield had undoubtedly examined all discoverable versions of the score—he and Philip Gossett discussed their choices at a lecture in the afternoon.) If so, what sort of voice does Bearden have for the rest of the repertory—a low tenor or a high baritone? In later scenes, his voice seemed to possess more juice at the normal baritone range, and when he finally lost his noble temper—another of those letters!—he growled with far more comfort.

Vanessa Cariddi took the trouser role of Maria’s accuser, Gondi, with the right travesty swagger and a pleasing style. The smaller male roles were all handled rewardingly.

Crutchfield’s conducting of these bel canto operas is always subservient to the ease of the singers, sometimes to the detriment of theatricality. With a prima donna understudy, no doubt he was right to do this, but the dramatic arc of the piece as presented lacked excitement. It was pleasant to encounter this tuneful rarity, but nothing about the evening of fine singing proclaimed the opera an overlooked masterpiece.

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):