Recently in Performances
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.
Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.
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.
Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.
“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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
29 Sep 2010
Faust by ENO
Perhaps because the rather stolidly Victorian character of both its music
and its morality, Gounod’s Faust has been out of fashion in the
UK in recent decades, and owes a debt to David McVicar and his darkly Gothic
production for the Royal Opera in 2004 (now, at last, available on DVD) for the
restoration of its footing in the standard repertoire.
ENO has entrusted its new production to Des McAnuff, best-known in London
for the musical Jersey Boys which is currently enjoying a long run at the
Prince Edward Theatre. The only toe he has thus far dipped in the operatic
water was a production of Wozzeck in San Diego last year — not a
piece that would come automatically to mind for a novice opera director. An
eclectic history, promising more than some of the guest directors engaged by
ENO in the recent past. McAnuff fixes the starting point of the opera in a WW2
atomic bomb laboratory. It is easy to believe how an ageing scientist would be
left feeling unfulfilled after devoting his life and career to an inherently
cold-blooded and inhuman vocation.
Faust’s reversion to youth appears to take him back to the early days
of WW1 — though a few obviously intentional anachronisms make the period
somewhat indistinct — and initially it is a romanticised vision of jolly
carousing soldiers with their girls in dirndl skirts and flouncy blouses. The
love scene is idealised even further, with intense coloured lighting, and
flowers appearing to spring up at will on the projected backdrop. From that
point forwards the scales start to fall from Faust’s eyes and time seems
to be sped up; the colour is blanched from the scene, Marguerite seems to age
several years in the few months that elapse between Acts 3 and 4, and even more
between then and the final scene. The perky soldiers of the Act 2 tavern scene
are almost unrecognisable when they return from duty, old and bent and going
crazy with shell-shock.
Melody Moore and Iain Paterson
In the title role, Toby Spence was a revelation. His attractive stage
presence, clarity of delivery and impeccable diction have never been in
question, but Faust is a fuller lyric role than Spence has been used to, and I
feared his voice may simply be swamped by the orchestra or vanish into the
further reaches of the Coliseum’s vast auditorium. But in the event, the
fullness of his sound at the very beginning had me worried that he might be
over-singing, and I was relieved when the sound seemed to settle down, easily
big enough for the occasion but retaining his trademark bright, youthful sound,
right up to a splendidly confident high C in ‘Salut, demeure’. It
is not the most flexible or nuanced sound, nor does it sound French —
I’m not sure it’s possible to when singing in English translation
— but it was confident, romantic and hugely enjoyable.
Iain Paterson was a congenial Mephistopheles, more gentleman than devil I
felt, and he’s got the stage presence for the role. Although his lowest
notes lack power (he’s a bass-baritone rather than a bass) he turned in
an exceptionally stylish vocal performance.
Melody Moore and Toby Spence
The American soprano Melody Moore made a disappointing first impression as
Marguerite (rendered in the surtitles as Margarita, though the principals
seemed to be approximating the French pronunciation); there is something
invulnerable and unyielding about her vocal quality which makes her difficult
to engage with, and she made hard work of the Jewel Song. She did come into her
own in the final scene, where the same qualities that had earlier been
frustrating made for an effectively steadfast ‘Anges purs’.
Benedict Nelson’s Valentin was secure and simply effective in
‘Avant de quitter ces lieux’, and Anna Grevelius’s charmingly
androgynous Siebel was beautifully-sung.
Iain Paterson and Pamela Helen Stephen
Ed Gardner struck the right balance with the score, neither too heavy-handed
in the rhythmic numbers nor too over-indulgent in the lyrical ones. Only
‘Le veau d’or’ didn’t quite have the drive to take
McAnuff’s production worked for me for the most part, though it was
disappointing that he opted to cut the Walpurgisnacht ballet altogether —
all that remained of the scene was an episode in which Mephistopheles shows
Faust a group of tortured souls writhing round a table. If going down the
historically-informed opera ballet route doesn’t appeal (and frankly, why
would it?) surely the ballet is the greatest opportunity for a director and his
choreographer to add to the audience’s understanding, or to crystallize
their production concept in the form of a vignette?
At the end, with Marguerite redeemed and Faust dragged down by
Mephistopheles through a Don Giovanni-style trapdoor, we see the elderly Faust
appearing in his laboratory, collapsing after apparently having drained the cup
of poison from the start of the opera. Was his whole adventure into youth and
corruption, then, just the hallucination of a poisoned and dying man? The
elixir of youth to which Mephistopheles transforms Faust’s deadly draught
is poison of one sort or another, whether its effect be physical or moral, and
either way, Faust ends up back where he started.
Ruth Elleson © 2010