Recently in Performances
It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
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.
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.
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.
Christophe 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
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
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
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
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.