Recently in Performances
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of
Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a
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