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.
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