Recently in Performances
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
21 Nov 2010
Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera
Two months into the current season, after a string of so-so revivals and a curiosity which deserved to be box-office dynamite but wasn’t, the Royal Opera has finally got round to a star-studded new production.
Adriana Lecouvreur being something of a rarity in the UK, having been
absent from the stage of Covent Garden for more than a century, the prospect of
Angela Gheorghiu taking on the title role for the first time was more than
enough to justify the risk — though it is perhaps a sign of the times
that it is a co-production with four other international houses, the largest
number of collaborators I can ever recall seeing in an opera programme.
If I were producing an opera about theatre and actors, David McVicar is
precisely who I would engage to direct it, given his knack for injecting
opulent theatricality into the most naturalistic of dramatic situations. And if
nobody had told me that this was one of his, it wouldn’t have been
difficult to guess. The hallmarks were all there — the vast crowd of
supernumeraries, the stage clutter, and Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s
deconstructed-Baroque dance costumes to name but a few — but this time
McVicar has gone one step, if not many steps further in the name of making a
point about the nature of theatre and artifice.
Jonas Kaufmann as Maurizio
It was heaven for a geek like me, thanks to the sheer number of references
to other shows — maybe a natural progression from the score itself. Cilea
was a contemporary of Puccini and Massenet, and most of the aural reminders are
from this milieu, but Act 4 in particular evokes a wider range of influences.
In McVicar’s staging, a balletomane friend of mine who attended the dress
rehearsal picked up on direct references (costumes and choreographic devices)
within the Act 3 ballet to Royal Ballet productions of La fille mal
gardée, Invitus Invitam and Sylvia. The chorus crowded
into their onstage audience-seating much as they did in McVicar’s
Alcina for ENO in 1999; then, a marble bust of Handel dominated the
stage; here the bust was Moliere’s. It was interesting that of all his
own works, this was the one McVicar chose to reference; another opera about the
blurred boundary between theatre and reality.
With Charles Edwards’s set dominated by a large box which for much of
the opera served as a full-height, fully-formed stage-within-a-stage, the
production seemed determined to underline that we were the audience, and what
was happening before us was not reality. The mostly naturalistic scenery was
garnished with little touches of artificiality; vividly ornate interiors, for
example, were finished off not with heavy velvet draperies, but with curtains
painted onto wooden flats. Even Act 2, whose stage directions contain no overt
references to a theatrical setting, appeared to be taking place on a stage,
with the men in particular giving a stylised feel to their entrances and exits.
Only in Act 4 was this extra level of artifice dispensed with; though the
spectre of the stage continued to loom large over Adriana, it was a bare shell,
and suddenly (the ludicrous business of the poisoned violets notwithstanding)
it was all a lot more immediate and credible.
So what of the much-hyped cast? Gheorghiu may not be an immediately obvious
‘humble handmaid of art’ but she was poised and charming, playing a
very youthful version of this heroine who historically has been associated with
the ageing diva. Her voice is very much on the small side given the scoring,
and for the intimacy of the first and last acts (which frame Adriana’s
two celebrated arias) it was often exquisite. But in the confrontation with the
Princesse de Bouillon and again in her vengeful Phèdre monologue, Gheorghiu was
a kitten when a tigress was needed. I can’t quite picture how she will
hold her own when the role of the Princesse transfers to the mighty Olga
Borodina later in the run.
Jonas Kaufmann always seemed on the edge of something spectacular, and the
contained restraint with which he treats his large, dark-coloured voice would
have been massively exciting had it been part of a broad palette. As it was, he
seemed to be trying to demonstrate that a hot-blooded verismo hero can be sung
with subtlety and intelligence, while also showing off some of his remarkable
technical skill (particularly in his legato, and once, memorably, his
impeccable ability to diminuendo on a top note). It was very, very impressive
— but all too careful, too measured. It seemed a studied effort in
avoiding stereotype (or perhaps he was reining himself in to avoid overpowering
Gheorghiu) but I longed for him to let rip.
- Michaela Schuster as Princesse De Bouillon and Bonaventura Bottone as Abbé De Chazeuil
Michaela Schuster was a dramatically-committed if somewhat vocally
undisciplined Princesse, though it was a misjudgement (probably the
director’s) to have her exchange with Adriana in Act 3 played partly for
laughs, which diminished the impact. Alone among the major principals,
Alessandro Corbelli — as Adriana’s unrequited admirer, Michonnet
— was alone in painting a full and touching character portrait.
Much of the interest, and there was plenty, came from the supporting
characters. Janis Kelly (Mlle. Jouvenot) and Sarah Castle (Mlle. Dangeville)
sparked off one another in Act 1 in an impeccably-judged battle of wills;
Bonaventura Bottone (the Abbé de Chazueil) and Maurizio Muraro (the Prince de
Bouillon) gave nicely-detailed character portraits in a production which made
them quite stylised and more than a little camp.
Mark Elder’s conducting displayed many of the same characteristics as
Kaufmann’s singing — lovely, delicate, but for this repertoire far
too careful and finely-crafted. On opening night the Gheorghiu and Kaufmann
fans were out in force, with every aria met with cheers. But for me, a bit less
decorum and a lot more scenery-chewing, both on stage and in the pit, would
have served the opera better, and improved a promising performance in a
lovingly-crafted production immeasurably.
Ruth Elleson © 2010