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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.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

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.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

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!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

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

“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.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

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.



Giuseppe Filianoti as Hoffmann [Photo by Marty Sohl courtesy of Metropolitan Opera]
28 Oct 2010

Kafka at the Opera: Bartlett Sher’s Production of Hoffmann at the Met

We all come to the opera for different things. To escape, to elevate, to laugh, to cry, or perhaps because someone else bought the tickets.

Jacques Offenbach: Tales of Hoffmann

Hoffmann: Giuseppe Filianoti; The Muse of Poety/Nickausse: Kate Lindsey; The Four Villains: Ildar Abrazakov; Olympia: Elena Mosuc; Antonia/Stella: Hibla Gerzmava; Giulietta: Enkelejda Shkosa; The Four Servants: Joel Sorenson; Luther/Crespel: Dean Peterson; Hermann/Schlemil: Jeff Mattsey; Nathanael/Spalanzani: David Cangelosi; Antonia's Mother: Wendy White. Conductor: Patrick Fournillier; Director: Bartlett Sher.

Above: Giuseppe Filianoti as Hoffmann

All photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of Metropolitan Opera


But, considering the number of people involved — hundreds of artists and craftsmen onstage and off as well as thousands in the audience at each performance — it is impossible for a production in a large house to fulfill all of the expectations that rise up inside of us the Metropolitan Opera’s signature chandeliers. What is the mark of a good production, especially in a large house? On the one hand, opera involves the energies and resources of many people and, therefore, the hope is that this investment of talent and money will pay off over the course of many seasons despite both rotating casts and changing tastes. However, the thrill of any live performance is its singularity. Part of the allure and, indeed, the satisfaction of seeing an opera (even now in the era of the simulcast) is the ability to stand witness and say “I was there when...” Good directors recognize the challenge of building a show that can stand the test of time but also showcase the particular talents at any given performance.

HOFFMANN_Christy_as_Olympia.gifAnna Christy as Olympia

In the instance of the Metropolitan Opera’s recent production of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann (seen here on October 12, 2010), directed by Bartlett Sher, the premiere performances in the winter of 2009 were disappointing compared to Sher’s invigorated Il Barbiere di Siviglia (also for the Met) and his stunning Lincoln Center production of South Pacific. With a few exceptions, the cast seemed to be square pegs in Sher’s Kafka-shaped holes. Typically compelling performers seemed unmoored among the shows many disparate cultural allusions. Joseph Calleja, who stepped into the title role on relatively short notice, and Anna Netrebko (as both Stella and Antonia) seemed most at sea. Without a surer sense of the opera’s protagonist and the framing device of his love for the diva Stella, the opera quickly descended towards pastiche.

HOFFMANN_Gerzmava.gifHibla Gerzmava as Antonia

A second viewing this season, however, showed Sher’s adaptation in a much more flattering light. Moments that previously fell flat sparkled and, while the Kafka parallel still seems arbitrary at times, the interpretive choices gave a challenging work some new pizzazz. Given the constants of the production, it is reasonable to conclude that the new energy in his Hoffmann came from the evening’s individual performances. In the title role, Giuseppe Filianoti was both sympathetic and impish, showing heartache through humor in the tradition of Charlie Chaplin. During the tavern scene at Luther’s, the tenor carried himself with the energy of a man itching for a fight — even if happens to be with his best friend. The role is vocally demanding as well as a dramatic challenge and Filianoti sang with definite style, if not always ease, throughout the entire evening. He and Hibla Gerzmava made thrilling sounds together and were as appealing visually as they were aurally. Gerzmava lacked some of the character definition desired for Stella, but definitely rose to the occasion as Antonia. Thanks in large part to her gracious singing and acting, Act II could have been performed as a satisfying dramatic event on its own.

As in the premiere performances, Kate Lindsey epitomized mystique in the dual role of the Muse and Nicklausse. She sings and moves with an energy appropriate for a large house while maintaining a sense of realism in her acting that feels intimate. Occasionally overpowered by the orchestra, Lindsey is a singer with great dramatic and musical finesse. As an actress, the role suits her perfectly and, with the exception of a few vocal distractions, it is easy to slip into believing she is the Muse.

HOFFMANN_Filianoti_and_Lind.gifGiuseppe Filianoti in the title role and Kate Lindsey as Nicklausse

Both Elena Mosuc and Enkelejda Shkosa, who sang Olympia and Giulietta, are Met debutantes this season. Of the two, Shkosa made the stronger first impression. As the luscious but avaricious courtesan, she exhibited a wealth of vocal riches as well as a real sense of comedy. Her voice has substance as well as style and her aria was rich and creamy enough to pass as the evening’s dessert. In contrast, Mosuc’s turn as Olympia fell flat. As hard as it must be to play an amusing and engaging automaton, both Kathleen Kim and Rachele Gilmore proved in their performances of this production last year that it can indeed be done.

Ildar Abdrazakov relished the wickedness of the four villains and his performance included several impressive evil laughs. Joel Sorenson performed all four servants with aplomb but his Frantz was particularly notable for being both musically satisfying and genuinely funny.

HOFFMANN_Abdrazakov_and_Shk.gifIldar Abdrazakov as Dapertutto and Enkelejda Shkosa as Giuletta

Of the evening’s debuts, perhaps the most significant was that of conductor Patrick Fournillier. With only a few exceptions, his tempi moved briskly enough to keep the action going without becoming frenetic. The chorus was well-prepared musically by Donald Palumbo, but they were disappointingly generic for a large group dressed up as circus freaks and students, especially when compared to the remarkably specific performances Sher evinced from his actors in South Pacific.

The sets by Michael Yeargan effectively represented a sort of theatre of the mind. Costumes by Catherine Zuber included a few especially titillating supernumeraries and dancers, but also included an awkward ensemble for Antonia’s mother (more than capably sung by Wendy White). Duane Schuler’s lighting did much to evoke mood and smooth over transitions, but it would have been interesting to see both the lighting and minimal projections used to further the reference to Federico Fellini that Sher mentions in his director’s notes. In fact, with his idiosyncratic, fantastic style and his penchant for both autobiographic material and female muses, the Italian director seems a more direct parallel to the character Hoffmann than does the enigmatic outsider Franz Kafka. Even with the newly energized performances, this production of Hoffmann may grow old quickly, especially for those with the ability to see beauty as Kafka described it.

Alison Moritz

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