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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.



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

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