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.
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 less-than-tragic plight.
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.
Minnesota Opera pulled out all the stops for its 2010-2011 season with its production of Gluck’s Orpheo ed Eurydice.
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?
Susanna 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.
David 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.
Angela 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.