Recently in Performances
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.
Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.
On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.
There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.
With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia
Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory
mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola,
whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the
Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.
Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.
American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no
less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series
feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera,
Nixon in China.
Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.
'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.
On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.
In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener
Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.
In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the
Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in
a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.
I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and
Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series
programmes opening the New Year.
There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.
On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.
Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.
13 Oct 2010
Verdi’s Macbeth in a New Production at Lyric Opera of Chicago
A successful production of Verdi’s Macbeth relies not only on
incisive vocal characterization as projected by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth but
also on the interaction of these lead figures in order to vivify their descent
into a world of destruction.
On these two counts Lyric Opera of Chicago’s
new conception of Macbeth scores a significant triumph. Under the
stage direction of Barbara Gaines, founder and artistic director of the Chicago
Shakespeare Theater, this new production is conceived as alternately expansive
and restricting, thus highlighting the ambitions and emotional as well as
political collapse of the royal couple’s murderous plans. In the title
role Thomas Hampson gives a multi-faceted depiction of this complex character,
his acting and singing coalescing into a strong and individual interpretation.
All other leading roles in this production are very well cast by international
artists making their debuts this season at Lyric Opera: Nadja Michael as Lady
Macbeth, Štefan Kocán as Banquo, Leonardo Capalbo as Macduff, Konstantin
Stepanov as Malcolm, and Carter Scott as both Lady Banquo and the Lady in
Waiting. The Lyric Opera Orchestra is led by Renato Palumbo and Donald Nally
directs the generous contributions of the Lyric Opera Chorus.
Thomas Hampson as Macbeth
Before the overture begins the stage is sheathed by a cover approximating
armor, at the base of which is depicted a stylized forest with soldiers. The
brief overture under Palumbo’s direction showed sensitive attention to
tempo and orchestral colors with brief pauses and transitions well integrated
into the whole. At its close the stage covering opens at center to reveal the
simulated shooting flames of golden fire surrounded by a large chorus of hags.
Suspended above them and careening through the air are three witches who join
with the other groups below to recount their supernatural activities. At the
sound of drums Macbeth and Banco enter and demand that the witches identify
themselves. In answer they hail Macbeth, in succession, “di Caudor
sire” and “di Scozia re.” As Macbeth, Mr. Hampson declaimed
from the start in full voice while demanding a greeting from the witches. In
the role of his fellow general Banco Mr. Kocán layered his resonant voice with
dramatic effect, his diction showing an equally incisive understanding of
Verdi’s textual import. In their duet as a response to the first of the
witches’ predictions being realized both singers followed an effective
vocal line yet each differentiated the same in technical delivery. Hampson
moved impressively from piano to full dramatic voice, while Kocán used
a striking bel canto approach within a seamless and well projected
vocal range. As the pair departs and the chorus of witches predicts
Macbeth’s return [“Fuggiam, fuggiam!” (“Hasten away,
hasten!”)], the sets retract to show Lady Macbeth simultaneously in their
castle already reading Macbeth’s letter. This fluid transition connects
the two scenes directly, so that the Lady’s reaction gains immediacy upon
Macbeth’s revelation. In her pronouncements after a chilling recitation
of the letter Nadja Michael reveals a dramatically forceful delivery in which
she urges Macbeth to take courage and seize the opportunity of the moment. Ms.
Michael’s approach to this and subsequent scenes relies on several points
of vocal focus which she alternates with expressive transitions in order to
communicate a range of emotions. Her invocation of the spirits of the
underworld [“Ministri infernali”] to lend their evil support is
performed as several voices blending into one with softer downward runs
suggesting her own spiritual descent. During the aria Ms. Michael placed lit
candles about the room in a circle suggesting a further hope to ally herself
with demonic forces. Once Macbeth arrives with Duncan as guest, the couple
comes to agreement on the King’s fate in a mere several lines. In his
delivery of Macbeth’s soliloquy before the King’s chamber
Hampson’s excited emotions ascend to a crescendo as he intones the
self-convincing speech, his voice rising through the words
“assassino” (“murderer”) and culminating with dramatic
top notes on “Immobil terra!” (“Firm-set earth”). Once
the deed is declared done [“Tutto è finito”] Macbeth and the Lady
participate in a nervous exchange during which she takes a dominant role. Here
the voices of Hampson and Michael blended and alternately moved apart to
suggest their complex roles of dependency and revulsion. In the final scene of
this act Macduff and Banco enter to rouse the King and prepare him to journey
further. It is Macduff who discovers the murdered King and decries the vile
deed [“Orrore, orrore”]. Mr. Capalbo in a noteworthy debut sings
the role of Macduff with urgent, bright tones that command attention to his
honest pleas for the King’s memory. As everyone present sings in unison
to demand justice and counsel from God, Macbeth and the Lady join in condemning
the deed they have themselves committed.
Nadja Michael as Lady Macbeth
In Act II the royal couple descends to further iniquity with Lady Macbeth
taking the vocal lead in expressing complicity. Macbeth reminds her of the
predictions relating to Banco and the need to murder him in order to assure a
clear path to the throne. Lady Macbeth agrees in her haunting aria “La
luce langue” (“Light thickens”), which Michael sings with
understated hushed tones, capped by powerful high notes. As the scene changes
the assassins, who will kill Macbeth’s rival, position themselves on a
steep wall in a wooded park and practice their forthcoming attack. Their
pantomime is choreographed by the production team with dance-like movements
befitting the sprightly music composed by Verdi for the start of this scene.
Banco then arrives on the path with his son Fleanzio. Here the father issues
multiple warnings and speaks of his concern for safety and treachery. In his
major solo aria Kocán combined elegant legato phrasing in significant passages
[“sospetto” (“suspicion”)] with a rich tone culminating
in the convincingly delivered dramatic notes of “terror.” His son
is here whisked to safety by one of the suspended flying figures, returned from
Act I, as Banco succumbs to the assassins. The final scene of this act in the
banquet hall is staged with frenetic, drunken movements as King Macbeth is
confronted several times by the ghost of Banco. At the King’s urging the
Lady sings her toast “Si colmi il calice” (“Fill up the
cup”), interrupted repeatedly by Macbeth’s visions. In the faster
passagework of her aria Michael tended to sing sharp, an impression in
character on which she drew rather than giving steady, full voice to all
dramatic moments. The scene closes with the guests dismayed by their new
King’s mental abandon.
In the brief Act III Macbeth visits the witches again, the latter delivering
their seemingly impossible predictions for his defeat. In the orchestral
introduction Palumbo emphasized skillfully several themes from the earlier
overture, hence lending a sonic unity to the individual, collective scenes.
Hampson’s impressive confrontation and reaction in his vocal display made
use of forte singing that suggested a continued and desperate search.
After his address to the recurrent vision of Banco, Hampson modulated his voice
into an even, full line of returning courage that Lady Macbeth goads into
further deeds of violence. [“Ora di morte e di vendetta”
(“Hour of death and of vengeance”).
As Act IV begins the staging is redolent of suffering, calling out for the
pity of all who look upon this scene of the “Patria oppressa!”
(“Downtrodden county!”). Macduff proceeds from one group to another
at the start, as he then laments the murder of his family by Macbeth’s
forces. In his moving aria, “Ah, la paterna mano” (“Alas, a
father’s hand”) Capalbo shows himself as a true, Verdian lyric
tenor, with effortless and polished legato, secure top notes, and a skillful
placement of diminuendo. The scene remains one of several highlights
in the production. He is immediately joined by Malcolm as they plan to attack
the forces of Macbeth. Just as the two depart, Lady Macbeth is seen wandering
onto the stage, reminiscent of the technique used for her entrance during Act
I. Now she appears soiled, covered in blood, yet still holding a candle. The
sleepwalking scene is a true synthesis of Michael’s character
interpretation, her voice and acting joining into a specter of madness. In her
delusion she attempts to rouse Macbeth, who lays covered with a rag downstage
on the right. As he repulses her advances Michael sings with an effective blend
of dramatic force and extended piano notes while reliving their deeds of
violence. Her chilling conclusion on “il tuo pallor” (“your
pallor”) makes use of this technical shift in a final display of madness,
capped by a ghostly head note.
Thomas Hampson as Macbeth and Nadja Michael as Lady Macbeth
The final scenes show Macbeth attempting to summon his courage one last time
before he hears news of the Queen’s death. Paradoxically, in his final
aria “Pietà, rispetto, amore” (“Compassion, honor,
love”) Hampson applies an elegance of phrasing and lyrical decoration to
give the image of Macbeth, on the point of defeat, still caught up in his
self-delusional trust in power. When he hears that he is now alone, he rushes
off to do battle against the forces of Malcolm. The final chorus of victory
declares that Macduff’s blow to Macbeth has restored trust to Scotland.
With this admirable, new production Lyric Opera of Chicago has likewise
restored Verdi’s Macbeth to it repertoire of artistic