Recently in Performances
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
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