Recently in Performances
On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
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