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It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by
the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
10 Oct 2010
Rossini’s Otello at Rossini in Wildbad Festival, 2008
As good a performance of Rossini’s opera as this disc provides, for some equal entertainment value may potentially arise from the booklet essay by one Bernd-Rüdiger Kern (as translated into English by David Stevens).
In explaining the relative obscurity of Rossini’s version of Shakespeare Moorish tragedy, Kern contradicts himself more than once, often within a couple lines: “It is still performed widely in the opera-houses of today” is soon followed by “Revivals of Otello in the modern era, the first of which took place as late as 1954, have not been so numerous as might have been expected.”
Exactly whose expectations that may be, other than the writer’s, remains unclear. Even if one proposed the tragic loss of Verdi and Boito’s masterpiece from the canon, Rossini and librettist Francesco Maria Berio di Salsa’s version would probably be no more frequently staged today than, say, Zelmira or Semiramide (even Kern admits that in the years just before Verdi's Otello, Rossini’s version had already become a rarity). The style and tropes of Rossini’s “serious” operas simply haven’t aged well, and whereas patches of indifferent music don’t really hurt the comedies much, the lack of dramatic tension in the serious operas can make for some sad musical longueurs.
The problem in the first two acts in particular is that the rigorous demands of opera construction at the time mean that the story advances oh so slowly, as each character is introduced and has his or her own number. By act three, however, Rossini is at his best, and the loveliness of Desdemona’s final scene really does rival that of Verdi’s. Jessica Pratt takes this role and exhibits a warm, sweet voice of real quality. Among a large group of high-lying tenors, Michael Spyres in the title role stands out with a richer, more baritonal quality. His scenes with Jago, another tenor, don’t have the fierceness of those between Verdi's Otello and Iago, however. There is no Cassio in this fairly different telling of the story; Rodrigo has a significant part, and Filippo Adami — yes, another tenor — has a pointed, tart voice perfect for the role.
This is a live recording, from the 2008 Rossini in Wildbad Festival. Don’t worry about the defects of many live recordings — stage noise is minimal, and voices are well-captured in a natural mix with the orchestra. Antonino Fogliani leads the Virtuosi Brunensis forces, and they produce a warm, propulsive account, although not always with perfect intonation.
Intrepid shoppers may be able to find the studio version of this opera from a couple decades back, with Jose Carreras. For anyone else interested in this rarity, this version should suffice. The cast may not be familiar, but they are fresh and dedicated to their roles. And then there’s the Naxos price. No libretto is included; the essay joins a detailed synopsis and artist biographies, in English and German.