Recently in Performances
On May 25, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of the Herbert Ross production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La bohème. Stage director, Peter Kazaras, made use of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s wide stage by setting some scenes usually seen inside the garret on the surrounding roof instead.
On May 21, 2016, Ars Minerva presented The Amazons in the Fortunate Isles (Le Amazzoni nelle Isole Fortunate), an opera consisting of a prologue and three acts by seventeenth century Venetian composer Carlo Pallavicino.
While Pegida anti-refugee demonstrations have been taking place for a while
now in Dresden, there was something noble about the Semperoper with its banners
declaring all are welcome, listing Othello, the Turk, and the hedon Papageno as
Opera houses’ neglect of Leoš Janáček remains one
of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the
‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas
would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa,
Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely
hook most for life.
It’s not easy for critics to hit the right note when they write about musical collaborations between students and professionals. We have to allow for inevitable lack of polish and inexperience while maintaining an overall high standard of judgment.
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
10 Aug 2010
Middle Ages Next to Come
According to Paulus Diaconus’ Historia Langobardorum, both
Lombard sovereigns warring for supremacy in late 7th-century Italy — the
legitimate king Perctarit and Grimuald the usurper — behaved rather fairly to
each other and their families.
Above all, there is no evidence that they would
compete for queen Rodelinda, who instead was exiled to Benevento with her
little son Cunincpert and lived peacefully there until Perctarit, after finally
recovering the throne, summoned her back to the kingdom’s capital
Turning into melodrama characters those practical barbarians, more
interested in power than in romance or bloody vengeance, was the endeavor of
such Baroque playwrights as the French Pierre Corneille and the Florentine
Antonio Salvi. The latter’s 1710 libretto for Giacomo Antonio Perti
(Rodelinda, regina de’ Longobardi), drastically pruned by Nicola
Haym for the London stage, was set to music by Handel in 1725. It immediately
proved a resounding success, also thanks to a cast including soprano Francesca
Cuzzoni in the title role, the legendary Senesino as Bertarido, and some of the
best singers available in the side-roles: tenor Francesco Borosini, bass
Giuseppe Maria Boschi, and alto castrato Andrea Pacini.
Franco Fagioli as Bertarido [Photo by Laera]
The present staging in Martina Franca, a festival traditionally claiming to
“authentic” performing practice, plunged the romanticized
18th-century music drama back into the darkest Middle Ages, or into a
“Middle Ages next-to-come”, as phrased by director Rosetta Cucchi.
At least visually, through the combination of muddy and disheveled landscapes
with costumes (by Claudia Pernigotti) featuring leather, rags, metal
decorations, and heavy-duty boots. Entertaining enough, but how much
“authentic” is questionable, if only one checks Senesino’s
portrait as Bertarido in the flamboyant livery of a Hungarian haiduk,
as painted by John Vanderbank in 1725. At the most, this is
Regietheater that dare not speak its name, a compromise likely to
dissatisfy modernists and authenticists alike.
The show’s musical side was far more convincing, with the Swiss
conductor Diego Fasolis succeeding to elicit from the festival orchestra
— equipped with modern instruments plus harpsichord, theorbo and Baroque
flute — a sound that was both luscious and historically informed. Within
an evenly balanced company, the Argentinean alto Franco Fagioli (Bertarido)
towered for projection, agility, seamless transition between registers,
unfailing musicianship. His manly color and stage charisma may set a new
standard among countertenors. As Rodelinda, mezzo Sonia Ganassi tended to
underact throughout and suffered some strain in the upper register. For her
convenience, a couple of high pitches were transposed an octave lower, and her
whole climactic aria “Ombre, piante” was set in G minor instead of
the original B minor. Nevertheless, she sang with an elegant restraint hitherto
unnoticed in her main repertoire, stretching from Rossini and Donizetti to
Her sister-in-fiction Eduige (the established Baroque specialist Marina De
Liso) outplayed her as to style awareness, consistently unfolding hot
temperament and fanciful coloratura. On the contrary, both the villain
Grimoaldo (Paolo Fanale) and the arch-villain Garibaldo (Gezim Myshketa) were
absolute beginners in the field of early opera, yet delivered their fast runs
and stalking utterances pretty nicely. A further pleasant surprise was the male
alto Antonio Giovannini, who lent the loyal Unulfo mellow color, tasteful
da capos and lots of acting stamina, particularly in the alternative
E-minor version of “Sono i colpi della sorte” after the Hallische
To many affectionate Handelians, the opportunity to hear this and some more
passages restored to the composer’s final intentions was a novelty. Yet
the claim of a “world premiere in Andrew V. Jones’ critical
edition” is mere pressroom hype. The actual premiere with HHA material
before official publication was in Glyndebourne 1998, followed by the Göttingen
Händel-Festspiele in 2000 and sundry houses worldwide. Anyway, the new artistic
manager in Martina Franca, Mr. Alberto Triola, can rightfully boast for
bringing to attention a dramatic masterpiece which, despite its Italian
subject, was hitherto neglected by the major opera theaters in Italy.