Recently in Performances
It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
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.
12 Oct 2010
Promised End — English Touring Opera
In the final scene of Shakespeare’s King Lear, faced with the dreadful sight of the distraught Lear cradling in his arms the body of his dead daughter Cordelia, the Earl of Kent asks: “Is this the promised end?”
His words perhaps recall the aged Lear’s earlier hope that he
might one day “Unburdened crawl towards death”. Or, as Edgar
interprets, they may evoke the more terrifying image of the Day of Judgement.
Whatever they infer, choosing Kent’s words as the title of an opera which
— its sub-plots stripped away, its minor (and some major) characters
shorn of significance — lasts less 90 minutes but which leaves the
audience longing for the eponymous conclusion, is a potentially dangerous
It’s not that Alexander Goehr’s new opera has no musical or
theatrical merits. Indeed, the first act moves briskly along and, for one
unfamiliar with its poetical predecessor, raises a few interesting ideas. But,
the second act rapidly loses focus; essentially this ‘personal
take’ on Lear has little to say or reveal.
“It’s about old men who get it wrong when they have power and
influence — and then get into a mess. That’s the reason I’m
doing this opera. […] As an incipient old man myself, that’s what
interest me about the story. I mean, I can do Romeo and Juliet now
— I’m past that stage.’”
So Goehr declared in a recent interview in The Guardian, explaining
his decision to tackle one of Shakespeare’s most complex, profound and
disturbing plays, and one which defeated even Verdi and Britten, who abandoned
long-held ambitions to compose an opera based on King Lear. Now aged
78, Goehr professes that the impetus to tackle Lear came when, suffering from
depression upon retiring (reluctantly) from his Professorship at Cambridge
University, he happened to have a dream in which the play was ‘staged as
a Japanese Noh play’. The resulting opera mingles Noh stylizations with
Elizabethan conceits but the sum of the parts lacks substance and coherence.
One is reminded less of the successful cross-cultural integration of Noh
practices with the medieval Mystery Plays in Britten’s church parables
and rather more of the somewhat laboured device of the Male and Female Chorus
in The Rape of Lucretia. Conway’s production — in which
the chorus of principals stand (à la Brecht — another layer of
cultural reference) white-faced and stock-still, motionlessly addressing the
audience, ritually step through boxes of sand, and indulge in stylized dance
movements (for example to accompany the blinding of Gloucester) — taps
into the Noh clichés but offers little illumination.
Indeed, the shadow of Britten hangs over this opera in more ways than one.
The decision to use Shakespeare’s text verbatim recalls the approach of
Britten and Pears when constructing the libretto of A Midsummer
Night’s Dream. In this case, the eminent scholar, the late Frank
Kermode, fashioned a libretto which Goehr has arranged in ’24
preludes’. But, while reducing the work to a manageable length —
excising several (essential?) aspects of the drama and focusing on the central
exchange between Lear and Gloucester — this still leaves the problem of
how to find an appropriate melodic idiom for Shakespeare’s poetry.
Goehr’s rather spiritless arioso simply does not convey the rich depths
and meanings embodied in the sounds and rhythms of the spoken play. Moreover,
the composer’s re-ordering of various episodes destroys the narrative
coherence and makes it near impossible for anyone lacking knowledge of the
original play to follow the psychological development.
The singers and players of English Touring Opera do their best. Lisa
Markeby, playing both Cordelia and the Fool — a now familiar theatrical
device — is appealing, but she is not given the opportunity to develop
and express the full extent of her inner goodness. And, while the expressive
focus of the opera is supposedly the meeting of the two foolish old men, Lear
and Gloucester, now chastened and wiser as they reflect on their short-comings,
the musical fabric fails to convey their supposed transformation. Roderick
Earle bellows and blusters as an aggressive Lear, his scenes with Nigel Robson
(Gloucester) lacking genuine emotional depth and sincerity. As Edgar, Adrian
Dwyer is convincing and impressive. Goneril (Jacqueline Varsey) and Regan
(Julia Sporsen) are not musically differentiated and have little dramatic role
Ryan Wigglesworth draws clear lines and textures from his band, the Aurora
Orchestra. Goehr does create some interesting colours, not least through his
use of the chamber organ and guitar — which evoke fittingly Elizabethan
timbres — but the composite impression is one of episodic, unrelated
colourings designed to fill the gaps between scenes.
In his programme note, Goehr asks for the audience’s indulgence:
“So it remains only for me to say, that you will not be home too late and
ask that by your clapping you show some approval for what has been done
here.” This seems to me to be a patronising appeal to an audience that
may long for a less superficial musical response to a play that interrogates
essential questions of human existence.
Promised End is at the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House,
London on 11, 14, 16 October and then tours until 26 November. For touring
details see www.englishtouringopera.org.uk.