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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.



Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Rigoletto [Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of Royal Opera]
16 Oct 2010

Rigoletto at Covent Garden

Dame Joan Sutherland, ‘La Stupenda’, sang her first Gilda at Covent Garden in 1957 under the baton of Sir Edward Downes, and sang the role many times and to great acclaim on the ROH stage.

Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto

Rigoletto: Dmitri Hvorostovsky; Duke of Mantua: Wookyung Kim; Gilda: Patrizia Ciofi; Maddalena: Daniela Innamorati; Sparafucile: Raymond Aceto; Monterone: Michael Druiett: Marullo: ZhengZhong Zhou; Count Ceprano: Lukas Jakobski; Giovanna: Elizabeth Sikora; Matteo Borsa: Iain Paton. Director: David McVicar. Conductor: Dan Ettinger. Set design: Michael Vale.Costume design: Tanya McCallin. Lighting design: Paule Constable. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Monday 11th October 2010.

Above: Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Rigoletto

All photos by Johan Persson courtesy of Royal Opera


The pre-performance announcement by ROH’s director, Elaine Padmore, of the sad death of this great soprano added an extra layer of emotional urgency to this revival of David McVicar’s now almost canonical production of Verdi’s Rigoletto.

David McVicar’s eighteenth-century Mantua is a hothouse of Bacchanalian orgies and Machiavellian deceit. Michael Vale’s Olivier-award nominated sets — transparent, spinning edifices, all crumbling stone, shadowy recesses and askew perspectives — powerfully suggest the literal and figurative decay of a city on the verge of moral collapse, and are complemented by the flaming reds and oranges of Tanya McCallin’s raunchy costumes for the opening Scene 1 which evoke Dante’s infernal realms. Nudity and violence, often combined, abound. Out of these fiery depths leaps a black leather-clad Rigoletto - a horned devil, spitting fury and curses. Fearlessly physical, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, usually seen in rather more suave and sophisticated guises, emits a startling viciousness and ferocity, foreshadowing the inhumanity to which the eponymous jester’s desire for all-consuming vengeance will subsequently propel him. Boundless stamina combined with limitless variety — now sweetly tender when recalling his wife, then cruelly bitter as his obsessive rage engulfs him — characterise a remarkable performance. Hvorostovsky is not afraid to push his baritone to its rougher edges, while his ability to spin an endless lyrical line never ceases to amaze and thrill.

RIG-2010JP_02126-CIOFI-AS-G.gifPatrizia Ciofi as Gilda

The shadow of the late lamented diva placed a heavy mantle on the shoulders of Patrizia Ciofi as this production’s Gilda. She took a little time to settle, occasionally sliding up or slipping down to notes at first, and at times employing an overly wide vibrato which supported her projection but muddied the intonation. But Ciofi is an experienced Gilda, well-versed in the idiom, confident in delivery, and she soon found her focus; her pristine tone captured the near-hysterical ecstasy of the young girl experiencing the pain of passion for the first time, and she dispatched ‘Caro nome’ with aplomb, revealing a true coloratura with seamless passagio. Paul Constable’s imaginative lighting added some exquisite touches to poignant moments. Thus at the end of Gilda’s first aria, the stage revolved casting subtle shadows and revealing subdued corners, as Gilda slowly mounts the crooked stairs to the attic hovel, her voice heartbreakingly waning with the fading light. Clothed in virginal white against his darker hues, Ciofi’s duets with Hvorostovsky were impassioned and penetrating, the latter’s mastery of the uninterrupted, arching melodic curves of Verdi’s score suggesting the heartfelt intensity of a paternal love which both protects and suffocates.

RIG-2010JP_01567-WOOKYUNG-K.gifWookyung Kim as Duke of Mantua

Korean tenor Wookyung Kim made his debut at the ROH in 2007 as the Duke of Mantua, and returned to reprise the role. Despite his musical prowess — unfailingly legato lines and even tone production — theatrically, he does not make for a natural Casanova. His interpretation is a little one-sided, fresh naivety not really matched by the requisite careless, even wicked, wilfulness.

Indeed, many of the cast were veterans of this production, and all held their own well in the company of the leading lights. The big, bold bass of Raymond Aceto emphasised Sparafucile’s sinister and twisted motivations. Mezzo-soprano Daniela Innamorati was a convincingly seductive Maddalena in the renowned quartet, her warm tone complementing the blending voices. Amid the ubiquitous debauchery and vice, it was hard for Michael Druiett as Monterone — who only appears twice in the opera — to make much of a mark as the voice of moral authority, but he was secure. Both of the Jette Parker Young Artists in this production also performed with accomplishment: Polish baritone, Lukas Jakobski, was a solid Ceprano, while the bright baritone of Zhenzhong Zhou as Marullo made a strong impression in a small role.

The young Israeli conductor, Dan Ettinger, making an impressive Covent Garden debut, really kept his foot on the pedal from the first downbeat, racing through the opening scene, injecting a terrifying air of menace, and sustaining the dramatic drive and frisson of risk and recklessness throughout. The opera rushed relentlessly on to its disturbing climax: Hvorostovsky’s terrible exultation over the dead body of his daughter. His perverted elation, in his belief that the dead Duke lies slain in the sack before him, is a disquieting moment of hubris.

McVicar presents a dystopian vision of crooked criminality and raw cruelty. If his vision underplays the balanced contrast between the light and the dark which, I believe, accounts for much of the emotional piquancy of Verdi’s opera, in favour of an unremittingly malevolence, it does so with an admirably precise and sustained focus. A first rate evening.

Claire Seymour

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