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Macbeth, LA Opera

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.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … 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.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“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!”

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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.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

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English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.



David Daniels as Orfeo [Photo by Michael Daniel courtesy of Minnesota Opera]
28 Sep 2010

Orpheo ed Eurydice in Minnesota

Minnesota Opera pulled out all the stops for its 2010-2011 season with its production of Gluck’s Orpheo ed Eurydice.

Christoph Willibald Gluck: Orpheo ed Eurydice

Orfeo: David Daniels; Euridice, Orfeo's wife: Susanna Phillips; Amore, god of Love: Angela Mortellaro. The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Zenon Dance Company. Conductor: Harry Bicket. Stage Director: Lee Blakeley. Set and Costume Dseginer: Adrian Linford. Choreographer: Arthur Pita. Lighting Designer: Jenny Cane.

Above: David Daniels as Orfeo

All photos by Michael Daniel courtesy of Minnesota Opera


Early music veteran David Daniels alongside fresh-voiced soprano Susanna Phillips headline the production. Stage director Lee Blakeley, British designer Adrian Linford, and choreographer Arthur Pita collaborate to create a visually captivating production, tapping into classical and raw humanistic elements. And with the exceptional underpinnings of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra under the direction of baroque specialist Harry Bicket, what can be missed?

Phillips_Eurydice.gifSusanna Phillips as Euridice

Set in a classical-style theater proscenium, the backdrop directly alludes to Orpheus as the symbol of music, performance and art. Eurydice’s funeral in Act I reveals the remains of the same theater, though decaying, casting a darkened shadow on Orpheus’ future creative life without his beloved. As Orpheus prepares to enter the gates of Hades to retrieve Eurydice in Act II, he climbs into the backstage of the theater, where eerie stagehands haul decrepit set pieces from the wings and fierce Furies lurk behind the door. The Elysian Fields appear within the theater’s depths, casting bright light on souls descending into the afterlife from red cords dropping from the canopy. Orpheus and Eurydice travel from Hades to the land of the living, returning to the decrepit backstage. Only after Amore restores Eurydice’s life in Act III does the theater return to its original luster.

Under the direction of Arthur Pita, members of the Zenon Dance Company were a fantastic addition to this production. Implementing elements of modern dance throughout the longer orchestral interludes, the choreography perfectly reflected the musical topos. The choice of modern dance to complement the Classical music was a natural choice, considering Classical composers and performers of the time of Gluck were focused on recreating ancient Greek performance. Modern movement allowed the dancers to display the perfect proportions of the human form through raw and engaging movement without artifice. Pita’s use of dancers as the furies of Hades was a bold choice, considering this is the stormiest orchestral music of the opera. Barbarically clad monsters, tied to red cords leapt at Orpheus as he tries to enter the gates of Hades. The strong orchestral rhythms allowed the dancers to move with athleticism and virility, and were quite frightening to the audience! As the drama moves to the setting of the Elysian Fields, Pita makes more strong choices involving movement and dance. Dead souls slowly drop from the canopy, amplifying the languid transition from death to life. Once descended, the souls lose their human identity when they are forced to wear the mask of comedy. Pita’s choreography of one man’s soul losing his identity was some of the most raw yet fluid dancing of the evening.

1142.gifDavid Daniels as Orfeo, Susanna Phillips as Euridice and Company in The Minnesota Opera

Counter-tenor David Daniels shined throughout the opera. Considering Orpheus is onstage from Act I to the end, Daniels commanded every moment in the performance. Throughout recitatives and ensemble sections, he communicated with an intense musical and theatrical focus both with his fellow performers and the audience. Daniel’s “Che faro senza Euridice” was the evening’s pièce de resistance. Daniel’s middle and upper registers had such power, easily cutting over the orchestra yet maintaining a beautiful lyricism, and the yearning lines of this aria truly pulled heartstrings. Certainly Amore wasn’t the only one moved by this masterful performance.

Susanna Phillips as Eurydice was a fantastic surprise. The twenty-nine year-old soprano has found much success since her 2005 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions win. With a golden voice, full of warmth and richness, she was able to beautifully maneuver through Gluck’s Baroque/ Classical style with finesse and ease. Considering she has much experience with Mozart, singing Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Pamina, and the Countess, she executed refined tapered phrasing. Her breath agility was truly surprising during her Act III duet with Orpheo, where the voices are in perfect harmony. Shading her tone to complement Mr. Daniels was executed beautifully, both voices swelled and tapered through the harmonies, revealing beautiful simplicity in the straighter tones implemented. I hope Ms. Phillips continues to perform in these earlier genres, possibly foraying into Rameau or Handel.

Mortellaro_Amore.gifAngela Mortellaro as Amore

Minnesota Opera’s Resident Artist, Angela Mortellaro, played a spritely pants role as Amore, the god of love. Ingeniously clad in a blindfold and blind cane, Mortellaro cleverly uses her props to mock Gluck’s interlude orchestral music, imitating rhythms with her cane. Ms. Mortellaro’s voice has a silvery, glistening quality, and her upper register shot through the hall with ease. Much of her recitative lay in the lower register, and was not quite as audible. However, due to maybe one or two stands too many in the orchestra, an overpowering orchestra in some sections seemed to be an issue for the other performers as well.

The Minnesota Opera Chorus was a bit disappointing in this production. There was a large gap in performance intensity from the beginning with Mr. Daniels juxtaposed with the chorus in the opening funeral scene. It seemed as though the ensemble members were an energy drain onstage, with little to no commitment to their individual character, as well as lacking diction and musical intensity. With so many outstanding performers, the chorus could have used more theatrical coaching and diction work to bolster the ensemble to the level of the rest of the performance.

Sarah Luebke

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