Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

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.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

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.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

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.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

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.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

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.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

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.

Tosca in Marseille

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.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

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.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

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.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

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.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

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.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal 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: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

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?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

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.

Double bill at Guildhall

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.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

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.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

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]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

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.

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):