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Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
24 Oct 2010
Il Postino at Los Angeles Opera
An American opera house premieres a new work by a Mexico-born composer, to his own libretto in Spanish based on a film in Italian by an English director about an unlikely friendship the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda found when in exile on a small Italian island.
Such wonderfully polyglot origins promise a more original and creative opera that Daniel Catán’s Il Postino turns out to be (Catán chose to keep the original Italian title). However, with Placido Domingo’s starpower and an endearing portrayal of the title character by Charles Castronovo, the Los Angeles Opera audience on the second night of the opera’s premiere run found much to applaud.
Catán is best known for Florencia en el Amazonas, his 1996 work that has enjoyed a fair number of performances since its debut, although a house as prestigious as the Metropolitan Opera, for example, seems to have no interest. Reviews of Catán’s music for his latest work still rely on comparisons to more famous composers for reference. The strongest element of Il Postino’s score is rhythmic; Catán often employs unusual meters and phrasing that give a sort of stutter-step feel to some of the music. His orchestration is colorful, if somewhat reliant on string outpourings at moment of dramatic and romantic effusion. Somehow he manages the trick of writing music with a melodic tinge without actually creating any strong melodic ideas. An impassioned rising motif that slowly resolves to the tonic pops up fairly frequently in the score, especially in the music for Mario Ruoppolo, the title character. Unfortunately, this one bit really does sound like Puccini - specifically, like a phrase from the score for La Rondine. Other than that, it’s wrong to call Catán’s music Puccini-esque - Catán has neither the melodic facility or grasp of using music to push the drama forward, rather than merely underscore it. If comparisons must be made, your reviewer heard a fair amount of Copland-like dance rhythms and sparse but attractive harmonies.
But his music is stronger than his libretto. The first two acts were given without intermission, and Catán chose to follow a screenplay’s quick changing scene formulation. So first we meet Mario at his humble home, and then from backstage a simple set rolls out depicting Neruda’s home in exile. This happened over and over, while a rather banal love story for Mario and a superfluous subplot about a corrupt politician and the island’s water supply interrupt the growing bond between the famous poet and his naive but charming postman. The last act’s storytelling really gets crude, with Vladimir Chernov’s Giorgio running on every couple minutes with some news about Neruda’s travels away from the island, and even a couple of awkward news-reel interpolations.
Still, by the time of the final scene, some emotional weight has been earned, and when the regretful Neruda is joined on stage by Mario (even though the character has died off stage at this point), most any viewer will be moved. Catán’s music is also at its best here - he stops trying to force a climax and lets the gentle story end with some lovely soft singing from the two male leads.
Domingo was excellent in the role of Neruda, although the lower part of his voice was surprisingly weak, given his recent forays into baritone territory. Catán gives all the main characters aria-like moments, and Domingo’s Neruda starts off with a hymn to his wife’s naked body. In fact, Neruda in the opera comes off as more than a bit self-involved and self-pleased, making Mario’s affection for the famous older man seem just a bit odd and obsessive. Nonetheless, Charles Castronovo, light-voiced though he may be, made his simple, love-besotted postman a real figure. The original casting had set Rolando Villazon for the role, who might well have covered the character's pathos with on-stage hi-jinks. As Mario’s love interest Beatrice, Amanda Squitieri sang out, sometimes covering her tenor co-star. Her opening aria, a self-introduction, is one of Catán’s weaker moments - dramatically inept and unmemorable musically. Cristina Gallardo-Domas has little to do as Neruda’s wife, and Nancy Fabiola-Herrera, as Beatrice’s gun-toting mama, got a few laughs.
Amanda Squitieri as Beatrice and Charles Castronovo as Mario Ruoppolo
Conductor Grant Gershon managed the trickier rhythms of the score well. Director Ron Daniels couldn’t do much to ameliorate the wearing effect of the frequent scene changes, but he did elicit strong acting performances from the singers. Riccardo Hernandez created some nice costumes, but Los Angeles Opera’s budget restraints didn’t give him much to work with. In act three the budget seems to have run out altogether; other than a ridiculous set of pipes for the promised water system, the act mostly plays out on a bare stage, with some unimpressive projections and newsreel footage (designed by Philip Bussmann).
If Domingo chooses to, he can take Il Postino around the world to some of the more prestigious opera houses. It’s certainly a pleasant show, even a crowd-pleaser. But the opera’s long-term prospects don’t seem any more promising than those, say, of the U.S. Postal Service.