29 Oct 2010
New York Festival of Song
“Don’t I have the coolest job in the world?” said Steven Blier.
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.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
“Don’t I have the coolest job in the world?” said Steven Blier.
He was talking from the stage about the day mezzo Sasha Cooke walked into his office fresh off the boat from Texas and the day tenor Paul Appleby waltzed in from Indiana. And another hundred people just got off of the train…. If they are terrific singers, I hope they turned to the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS). I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t.
Paul Appleby [Photo by Ken Howard]
The first concert of this year’s series was devoted to youth, and specialized accordingly in songs not merely about youth but often those composed by very young composers, composers who went on to bigger things. But those of us who love early Verdi operas and early Rodgers & Hart musicals and the Grateful Dead before they were everywhere appreciated the connoisseurship of reveling in very young Fauré and Schumann and Rorem and Busoni and Grieg and Ives and Sondheim—and slightly older Gershwin and Dylan. What themes inspire young composers to give a hint of how worthwhile they will become? Is it all lindenbäumen and young love’s first blight? Or is it … anticipation?
I first noticed Sasha Cooke when she sang the Sandman in the Met’s otherwise vocally undistinguished new Hänsel und Gretel, a moment of childlike magical glee, just right for Humperdinck. In a tiny hall like Merkin with its very live acoustic (when a small chorus sings there, you can hear each individual voice), she sounds quite different: Her voice is enormous, plush, lustrous, easily so, and perfectly supported. For most of a song recital, of course, she scales it back to merely very pretty, but whenever she reached an appropriate climax, restraint falls away like a superfluous shawl, and the results are resplendent—intimate, but hugely intimate. As an interpreter, she had the most fun becoming a small child for Ned Rorem’s “A Journey,” the bashful maiden boasting of her first conquest in Grieg’s “Verschwiegene Nachtigall,” where she slipped flawless little ornamental turns into the nightingale’s insinuating “Tandaradei,” the rather more sophisticated maiden of Hugo Wolf’s “Begegnung,” the aching hopefulness of Sondheim’s “Take Me to the World,” and—in duet with Appleby—the breathless expectant wonder and the contrasting, consummated coda of Charles Ives’s delicious “Memories” (“We’re sitting in the opera house”). She is a singing actress to anticipate and a voice to hear one of these days in a place where she can let it fly.
Sasha Cooke, Steven Blier and Paul Appleby
I haven’t heard Paul Appleby on the opera stage and, frankly, his voice seems (like Cooke’s) too delicious, too full-sized, too able to only be a concert singer, first rate as he is at that subtle skill. He has a smooth, supple delivery and inhabits his narrators: reveling in Schubert’s matchless invention in “Geheimnis” (Schubert was 19 at this point, almost an old master: the song is already D.491) and Vaughan Williams’s “Silent Noon.” Then, in moves and accent and exultant manner, he became with entire believability a Midwestern youth come to take the city by storm in Christopher Berg’s rollercoaster setting of Frank O’Hara’s “I’m Going to New York,” then cocky with adolescent sexual discovery in William Bolcom’s setting of Theodore Roethke’s “I Knew A Woman” and bitter with youthful disillusion in Marc Blitzstein’s “In the Clear.” His voice has power, but he holds it in reserve when portraying character; it comes out in songs like Paul Moravec’s setting of Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up.”
Later concerts this season will be devoted to Songs of Gay Life and Songs of the Iberian Peninsula. Spain has been a NYFOS destination before, but we are unlikely to run low on little-known Iberian song literature anytime soon.