Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Flavio Oliver as Montezuma [Photo courtesy of Festival Internacional Cervantino]
01 Nov 2010

Cervantino stages rare Graun opera — The Mexican national opera?

Clearly, there isn’t one. Yet, Carl Heinrich Graun’s 1755 rarely-performed Montezuma is of special importance in a country celebrating 200 years of Independence from Spanish rule and 100 years since the Revolution that ultimately toppled dictator Porfirio Díaz.

Carl Heinrich Graun: Montezuma

Flavio Oliver: Montezuma; Lourdes Ambriz: his wife; Rogelio Marín: Tezeucco; Lucia Salas: an Aztec general; Adrián-George Popescu: Cortés; Christophe Carré: Narvés, a Spanish captain. Gabriel Garrido: conductor. Claudio Valdés Kuri: director. Herman Sorgeloos: scenic designer. Jimena Fernández: costume designer. Carsten Sander: lighting. Elyma Ensemble. International Cervantino Festival. Teatro Juárez, Guanajuato. October 14, 2010.

Above: Flavio Oliver as Montezuma

All photos courtesy of Festival Internacional Cervantino

 

Montezuma was thus an obvious choice as the operatic centerpiece of the 2010 International Cervantino Festival, staged in Guanajuato, a major station on the march to Mexican freedom that began in 1810.

Although he was his contemporary, Graun was no Handel, and thus Montezuma, even when performed with the dedication obvious in the production seen in the historic Teatro Juárez on October 14, is more conversation piece than masterwork. The libretto by Graun’s employer, Prussia’s music-loving, flute-playing Frederick the Great, was performed in Guanajuato in Italian translation.

CCC_1295.gifChristophe Carré countertenor as Panfilo de Narvaes

The somewhat simplistic plot reflects Frederick’s desire to be seen as an apostle of the Enlightenment — despite his own absolute power. Montezuma is an embodiment of the monarch’s philosophical leaning vis-à-vis the Noble Savage. (Recall that this is also the age of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, with Voltaire being in residence at Frederick’s court.)

Mexico’s opera Wunderkind Claudio Valdés Kuri brought all the excesses of Regietheater to the minimalist staging, trying too hard to make more of Montezuma than is really there. Intent of fitting the work into the theme of the season, Kuri employed all the techniques of Brechtian alienation to combine in the production a picture of Mexico’s inhuman suffering with a vision of hope for the future. Thus in the title role countertenor Flavio Oliver frequently swapped Aztec loin cloth with T-shirt, and in Act III Kuri changed the entire 26-member Elyma Ensemble, an able but undistinguished early-music group, into “civvies” and moved them onto the stage. This act concluded not with Graun’s original score, but with a dramatic scene by Mexican Baroque composer Manuel de Sumaya. As Montezuma died, half the stage was wrapped in a modern Mexican flag. The substituted finale seemed to suggest an eventual and successful synthesis of cultures. Yet one wondered— to cite only one from many examples— whether Cortés on-stage rape of heroic Montezuma did not detract from the figurative rape of ancient Mexico that is the true subject of the Graun’s opera.

Oliver, by far the finest voice— and actor— in the cast, was a virile Montezuma in the minimalist staging, designed by Herman Sorgeloos. As conqueror Cortés Adrian’s George Popescu, an equally able countertenor, was the embodiment of the Absolute Evil that brought about the end of Aztec civilization.

CCC_1311.gif

As Montezuma’s mate, soprano Lourdes Ambriz grew in stature as she suffered ever-greater abuse throughout the performance. She made her lament in Act III a memorable moment in an otherwise often tedious evening of opera. Without distorting the figure, Kuri took advantage of Ambriz’ talent to bring a hint of feminist thought to the production. Gratefully, Kuri trimmed his staging to three hours from the original four. It was also to Kuri’s credit that he corrected Frederick’s idealist picture of Montezuma with an opening scene that showed that his hands too were soiled with the blood of innocent victims.

A co-commission Germany’s Theater der Welt and the Edinburgh Festival (it was staged by both earlier this year), the Cervantino, Madrid’s Teatro, where it recently played. It is yet to be seen in Mexico City.

Wes Blomster

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):