Recently in Performances
It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
06 Aug 2010
Prom 21 — Berlioz and Wagner
Period instruments and nineteenth-century grand opera are seldom found on the same stage — or even the same sentence — but as adventurous practitioners increasingly experiment in the repertoire of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, it’s a sight and sound that will inevitably become more familiar.
And, that’s no bad thing. This concert, the first of Sir Simon
Rattle’s three Prom appearances this season, offered the opportunity to
hear two great romantic scores performed on contemporary instruments and if the
results of the lower pitch and the full, mellow tone of the OAE were not always
wholly successful in the dramatic contexts, they were certainly
thought-provoking and at times illuminating.
While the decision to present classic dramas of love and death by two
cultural giants, Shakespeare and Wagner, seemed a natural and sensible one, it
led to a slightly unbalanced programme, with the erotic love scene of
Berlioz’s dramatic symphony, Romeo and Juliet, forming a first half
lasting only 18 minutes — even in this rather slow reading by Rattle.
Berlioz’s vast structure and forces — nine double basses towered
over the centre of the platform — were shaped and guided with finesse by
Rattle, who was ever alert to the composer’s startling harmonic effects.
However, despite the use of copies of nineteenth-century woodwind instruments
(for example, the oboes played on models of German instruments c.1865, with an
easy, soft lower register; the bassoons employed French instruments c.1840 for
the Berlioz, switching to German post-1870 for the Wagner, the latter
possessing a darker, less reedy tone which blends well with the horns and
clarinets), the sharp individuality of particular instrumental lines was
somewhat softened, woodwind colours blending sweetly with the whole but not
always delivering their full dramatic impact.
A similar problem was apparent after the interval, in Act 2 of
Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, where the harmonious whole was
achieved at the expense of orchestral incisiveness. Wagner aimed for a unity of
instrumental and vocal lines, with the symphonic leitmotivic texture carrying
the burden of the emotional and dramatic narrative, in dialogue with
declamatory and naturalistic vocal melodies; but here the wash of orchestral
sound served primarily as a secure, relaxed back-drop to the singers, who were
therefore pushed to the foreground. Adding the fact that this was a concert
performance, with no scenery and little dramatic interaction between the
soloists, this was hardly the Gesamkunstwerk of Wagner’s
That said, the concordant orchestral cushion elicited by Rattle did evoke a
sense of ‘distance’, and an appropriately ethereal atmosphere, for
Tristan’s and Isolde’s desire can never be fulfilled in this world
and release from yearning will only be achieved through transcendence.
Moreover, particular instrumental effects were not neglected, and the rich
palette of the period orchestra was revealed: the off-stage horns signalling
the departure of the hunting party were strident and clamorous, while eerie sul
ponticello playing by the strings conveyed both the delicacy of the moment and
the anxious vulnerability of the lovers. Low woodwind colours intimated the
shift from the daylight world to the realms of night, from the mundane to the
oblivion of the sub-conscious.
With two renowned Wagnerian specialists in the cast, expectations were high,
and it was no surprise that the quality of the singing invested this
performance with vigour and compelling drama. Violeta Urmana, as Isolde, had no
difficulty filling the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall, her powerful,
impassioned soprano always secure and focused, her tone thrillingly ecstatic.
Sadly, Ben Heppner’s Tristan was less assured and rather inconsistent.
While there is no doubting his innate appreciation of this musical language,
there were more than a few wobbles, as he struggled to project. Yet, the
exquisite sound for which he is renowned can still genuinely reveal
Tristan’s exaltation. Franz-Josef Selig negotiated King Mark’s long
monologue with confidence and clarity, conveying both the authority and stature
of the betrayed King and the pain caused by Tristan’s disloyalty. Sarah
Connolly communicated Brangäne’s distress thoughtfully, with controlled
phrasing and delivery. Timothy Robinson (Melot) and Henk Neven (Kurvenal)
completed the accomplished cast.
Overall this was a thoughtful and refined performance. But while these two
passionate romantic encounters certainly touched the heart they did not,
perhaps, quite reach to the soul.