08 Nov 2010
Il Trovatore, Metropolitan Opera
It’s difficult to be reasonable about Il Trovatore. Reason is the last quality we expect from any of its characters or situations.
“Hi! 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.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
It’s difficult to be reasonable about Il Trovatore. Reason is the last quality we expect from any of its characters or situations.
They are extreme people, yielding unreflectively to extreme passions. Verdi’s score expresses just that element (richly evident in its source, a blood-and-thunder Gutierrez drama somewhat watered down for the libretto in order to appease papal censors), and the singing should emerge with just this sort of unreasoning passion. We may not believe that X loves Y, but we ought to believe their minds are at fever pitch: “I’m going to hit that orgasmic high note if it kills me.” No, you never hear a Trovatore like that any more, but back when all theater was live theater and Il Trovatore was the most popular theater piece on Earth, that’s the sort of excitement you could hope for. If you want it now, you might want to check out the old RCA recording with Milanov, Barbieri, Bjoerling and Warren. And that was an everyday Metropolitan Opera cast!
The Met’s current David McVicar production in Charles Edwards’s unattractive but functional sets (time period: Spain during a civil war — any old civil war — there were plenty to choose from, but anyway it’s not the one in 1410 where Gutierrez set it) is not without its absurdities. (Why are all those floozies hanging around the soldiers’ camp, acting so very camp, when the general is formally reviewing his troops?) But the job gets done and sets up the singers to play their parts with minimal fuss.
Alexander Tsymbalyuk as Ferrando
One particular thing struck me about the leading singers on this occasion: None of them had their eyes glued to the conductor. Singers who sing to lovers, tormenters, wounded children or God while keeping an eye on the baton the whole time are often a necessary evil, a whimsy one grows used to, but it was a pleasure to have the stars of this revival, though they never lost the beat (and conductor Marco Armiliato never let Verdi’s powerful rhythms fade or grow less than propulsive), looking at each other the entire night. They were in it, they were on it. This is one of those professional touches you hardly notice if you’re not looking for it — and are accustomed to too many singers who can’t manage it.
Patricia Racette as Leonora and Renée Tatum as Inez
You seldom get four top stars in top form in a Trovatore, but the opera calls for just that. On this occasion no one sang badly but the glitter was seldom gold. The men had it rather over the women; their voices seemed better designed for singing Verdi. One felt in especially good hands with the Count di Luna of Željko Lučić, who makes one think the great days of the Verdi baritone live again. His “Il balen” was flawless, the long, long line filling the house without effort, each note on the proper pitch as though his throat could not consider putting it anywhere else. I don’t remember there being quite so much bladework in this production, but Lučić certainly startled the house when he drew his sword through his hand, drenching it in blood, in his determination to possess Leonora. He held his own in the confrontational duets and trios, too.
Marcelo Álvarez sang his offstage serenades beautifully (to the accompaniment of a harp that never appeared — hey, guys, he’s a troubadour, y’know?) but his double aria in the besieged fortress seemed on the gruff side and he ran out of voice by the time of the dungeon scene. Hoarseness seemed to be the problem; perhaps, like Franco Corelli, he should conceal glasses of water around the set. His canteen in Act IV seemed not to have been filled, and he needed it. He looked a romantic enough figure whenever he did not stand in profile.
Patricia Racette’s Leonora is not the loopy teenager jumping around the set played by Sondra Radvanovsky in this production: Leonora may be a teenager, but she’s a lady of high Spanish birth, and she knows it; Racette knows it, too. Spanish grandezza used to mean something, and Verdi’s Leonora is that sort of dignified character.
Željko Lučić as Count di Luna and Patricia Racette as Leonora
Racette is such an intelligent singer, so persuasive in her understanding of predicament, that I wish I liked her voice better. Her instrument always seems too small for the Met. She manages very professionally, but the voluptuous floods of sound that other sopranos have brought to the role, the voice that seems to define Leonora’s desperate heart and new-awakened passions, are not at Racette’s disposal. Her “Tacea la notte” was fascinating as vocal storytelling, but the tidal rise at its conclusion did not overflow. “Di tale amor” was, as it usually is, a bit of a mess, drawing no applause — Sutherland is the only soprano I ever heard sing it flawlessly, and the rest of her performance was inert. (“Di tale amor” is one of the few cases where I’d like to take his Orsinitá the composer aside and say, sternly, “Maestro, this tune isn’t good enough; go write a new one.”) The convent scene was no celestial flight, and Racette seemed out of breath in much of Act IV; there were many thin notes and others not precisely where one wanted them. Racette coped with the part but she did not take joy in it, or exploit its opportunities.
Marianne Cornetti has the heft for Azucena, but it takes her an awfully long time to warm up. Her “Stride le vampe” was loud but pitchless. Only at the end of the “Condotta” did she give evidence of the ferocity of a maddened Gypsy — her final notes actually brought forth the first responsive “echo” I’ve ever heard at the Met! The dungeon serenade, however, gave Cornetti place for her most beautiful singing of the night.
Alexander Tsymbalyuk, as Ferrando, has a clear, persuasive young bass but he bleats a bit. Renée Tatum was not the first confidante in my experience to make us all wish Inez had more to sing. The monks’ offstage “Miserere” in Act IV was downright heavenly, evidence of what those guys can accomplish when they’re not swashbuckling around shirtless, fighting with knives and spitting in each other’s faces, as they were obliged to do at other times.
Marianne Cornetti as Azucena and Marcelo Álvarez as Manrico
The acting from all hands gave evidence of a bent towards melodrama. This is not out of place in Trovatore, of all operas, but many were the moments (“Ah sì, ben mio,” for example) when I felt the singers would give Verdi his due and us a better time if they’d stand and deliver in the old-fashioned way, instead of emoting like antsy banshees, losing their breath and tripping over their own feet.
The omission of nearly all cabaletta repeats implied a desire not so much to energize the occasion as to get it over with. That’s no way to do Trovatore; Trovatore must breathe.