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.
11 Aug 2010
Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto at Chicago Opera Theater
Although productions of Gioachino Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto
are infrequent, the lively debate on successive versions of the work has
generally led to questions of priority and to informative discussions on
For the first opera during its Spring 2010 season Chicago
Opera Theater staged a production based on the new critical edition of
Mosè by Charles S. and Patricia B. Brauner. As Philip M. Gossett
indicates in his notes accompanying the program for this production, the
Italian Mosè, originally performed in Naples, “is a work of
great value” which “contains some of Rossini’s finest
music.” The present production, with strong vocal contributions from a
convincing cast, gave ample support to these statements.
Under the direction of Leonardo Vordoni the brief orchestral prelude set a
tone both stately and somber, in which the distraught court of the Pharaoh and
the plight of Moses and his people are alternately depicted. Darkness has
fallen over the land, and Faraone determines to free the camp of Moses in order
to release Egypt from such a plague. When he sends for Moses and makes known
his intention, the captive leader calls out to God and, with the gesture of his
staff, causes light to return to the land. The two opposing leaders were sung
by bass-baritone Tom Corbell as Faraone and bass Andrea Concetti as Mosè. Mr.
Corbell showed admirable facility in his delivery of rapid notes whereas Mr.
Concetti struck an imposing figure with declamatory weight in his delivery of
Mosè’s opening lines. In the ensemble showing varied reactions to this
change, brought about by Mosè, Faraone and his consort Amaltea are joined by
the Egyptian heir and Prince Osiride along with Aronne, the compatriot of Mosè.
Faraone declares that the Hebrews will, in return for this gesture, be set free
and Amaltea supports the decision. Corbell as Faraone was joined in his florid
statement with the equally challenging line composed for Amaltea, here sung
admirably by Kathryn Leemhuis, a member of the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera
of Chicago. Leemhuis gave a strong individual impression in her careful
decoration yet blended with the others to yield a memorable and dramatic
ensemble. The final lead member featured in this group was the Osiride of
Taylor Stayton. Mr. Stayton shows great promise as a tenor able to project with
dramatic lyricism the challenging dramatic line featured in this and comparable
pieces by Rossini. Here Osiride expresses his disagreement concerning the
release of the Hebrews, since his secret beloved Elcia is one of the people of
Mosè, now scheduled to depart in freedom.
After the others leave, Osiride plots with the high priest Mambre and
suggests that the latter use his powers to sow discord once again between Mosè
and Faraone. Elcia now joins her lover Osiride in order to bid farewell as she
expects to leave Egypt with Mosè. In their moving duet Siân Davies sang the
part of Elcia with great urgency and proved to be an appropriate match for Mr.
Stayton’s compelling depiction of the Egyptian prince. Upon the exciting
conclusion to their duet, Amaltea appears and chides Mambre for his attempts to
dissuade Faraone from releasing the Hebrews. Her words go unheeded, for
Osiride’s plan has succeeded, Faraone declares his decision revoked, and
the Hebrews feel themselves betrayed. At the close of the act Mosè invites
further storms to fall upon the land of Egypt.
Taylor Stayton as Osiride
After an intermission, Acts II and III were performed without pause in this
production by Chicago Opera Theater. Attempts to resolve the imprisonment of
the Hebrews are fueled by Amaltea’s independent negotiations with Mosè.
At the same time Faraone resolves to marry off Osiride to an Armenian princess
and to proclaim him co-ruler of Egypt. The dismay of Osiride was expressed in
Stayton’s fervent delivery, in which he maintained hopes still to retain
Elcia’s love. When the latter enters among the imprisoned Hebrews, she
advised Osiride to seek an equivalent love in his official betrothed. Ms.
Davies’ moving expressiveness and exquisitely secure pitch in this aria
remained one of the highlights of the performance. Osiride then threatens
violence to Mosè but he is, instead, struck dead by a lightning bolt; as the
act concludes, both Faraone and Elcia mourn his loss.
Jorge Prego as Aronne, Andrea Concetti as Moses and Siân Davies as Elcia with the Israelites
In the brief Act III on the banks of the Red Sea the famous prayer delivered
by Mosè calms his people, who fear that they will be sacrificed to the anger of
Faraone’s troops. Elcia is encouraged to continue her journey with the
other Hebrews. In this Mr. Concetti as Mosè delivered a fervent declamation in
the concluding piece of the opera. The Red Sea parts and his people cross, just
as Faraone and the high priest are swallowed up as they attempt to pursue. The
dramatic moment received an appropriately conclusive orchestral flourish.