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Macbeth, LA Opera

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.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“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.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“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!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

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.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“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.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

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.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

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.



Roxana Constantinescu as La Cenerentola (Angelina) [Photo by Michal Daniel courtesy of Minnesota Opera]
07 Nov 2010

La Cenerentola, Minnesota Opera

Minnesota Opera’s recent production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola certainly is a fantastical, comical portrayal of the classical fairy tale.

Gioachino Rossini: Cinderella (La Cenerentola)

La Cenerentola (Angelina), Don Magnifico's stepdaughter: Roxana Constantinescu; Don Ramiro, Prince of Salerno: John Tessier; Dandini, valet to Don Ramiro: Andrew Wilkowske; Don Magnifico, Baron of Monte Fiascone: Donato DiStefano; Clorinda, his daughter: Angela Mortellaro; Tisbe, his daughter: Victoria Vargas; Alidoro, tutor to Don Ramiro: Daniel Mobbs. Conductor: Christopher Franklin. Stage Director and Choreographer: Doug Varone. Set Designer: Erhard Rom. Costume Designer: James Schuette. Lighting Designer: Jane Cox.

Above: Roxana Constantinescu as La Cenerentola (Angelina)

All photos by Michal Daniel courtesy of Minnesota Opera


However, true to Minnesota Opera fashion of exploring creative boundaries in time-honored operatic classics, this production successfully synthesized Rossini’s repetitive musical ideas with stylized, slightly buffo choreography, which brought life to an opera that too often becomes a boring museum relic. With this dash of whimsy, coupled with a stellar ensemble cast, even a fairy godmother couldn’t have concocted a more magical show!

Rossini’s music is notorious for its repetitive melodic material as he layers the orchestral texture with each succession. Stage director and choreographer, Doug Varone, uses this evolving musical medium as inspiration for his stage movement and choreography to further the drama throughout the opera. In his notes, he states, “Staging an opera is very similar to choreographing a dance. If it is done very well, movement ideas are wedded beautifully to the score and can be used to tell the story in much the same way a libretto does… By following my instinctive responses to the music, I allow myself to create a movement scenario that imaginatively brings this aural world to life.”

0885.gifDonato DiStefano as Don Magnifico

Varone wastes no time in bringing the magical world of Cinderella to life. From the overture downbeat, the curtain rises on a sleeping Cinderella in a dusty kitchen. The frantic rhythms in the orchestral texture highlight the busy day ahead for Cinderella as she hurriedly cleans the kitchen, prepares breakfast, and tries to ready her two comatose stepsisters for the day. The music of the overture is often completely bypassed or only partially staged, however in this production, we are allowed a unique look into Cinderella’s world, and are even more informed than we would have been if this additional staging were completely ignored.

Though this production was touted as Roxana Constantinescu’s (Angelina) American debut, Minnesota brought in many incredible headliners and supporting singers that truly allowed this ensemble opera to run seamlessly. A wonderful surprise came from MN Opera’s Resident Artists, Victoria Vargas (Tisbe) and Angela Mortellaro (Clorinda). Both performers embodied their buffa characters completely — Vargas maintained a lovely, full mezzo-tone in her vocal delivery, yet had wonderful physical comic timing, while Mortellaro allowed her voice to become slightly shrill in some of her recitatives to fully evoke her spoiled character.

4339.gifAngela Mortellaro as Clorinda, Roxana Constantinescu as La Cenerentola (Angelina) and Victoria Vargas as Tisbe

Roxana Constantinescu’s performance as Angelina will certainly open more doors for her in the states. Constantinescu has recently been performing in the Vienna Opera’s ensemble for the 2009-2010 season, singing roles such as Zerlina and Rosina. The role of Angelina has been part of her repertory since her debut at the Teatro Politeama di Lecce. Constatinescu played an endearing Angelina, highlighted by a warm, velvety tone full of connection and lyricism. Her performance of the lyric canzone “Una volta c'era un re” executed exquisite long lines coupled with impeccable phrasing. Her tour de force aria of Act II, “Nacqui all'affanno, al pianto,” shimmered with impeccable, perfectly rhythmic coloratura lines, no doubt influenced by her percussionist background. Unfortunately, her final high notes in the ensemble texture of Act II lacked warmth and finesse found in her lower lyric lines and coloratura. It was unclear whether Constatinescu was vocally exhausted by the demands of Act II, or felt she had to power over the ensemble.

John Tessier (Don Ramiro) had such honesty and simplicity in both his stage presence and his vocal ability. Tessier is certainly put to the test in his aria, “Si, ritrovarla io giuro.” As he sings of his love for this mystery woman, the prince’s valet entourage lifts him up to be undressed and re-dressed into his proper attire. This is all done, of course, as Tessier executes one flawless coloratura line after another, followed by crystal clear high C’s. Truly one of Varone’s more daring staging ideas, but Tessier made the whole ordeal seam like simple child’s play.

3755.gifRoxana Constantinescu as La Cenerentola (Angelina) and John Tessier as Don Ramiro

Daniel Mobbs (Alidoro) is the final surprise in this stellar ensemble cast. With a rich bass-baritone, Mobbs astounds with his flexible and incredibly accurate coloratura and command of the bel canto line. With an unshakeable stage presence, Mobbs seemed to command attention in each scene.

An attentive male chorus, executing complicated group staging throughout, rounded out the ensemble. Timing and Italian diction did seem to be sloppy at times, especially in the more parlando sections, but overall supported the scenes well. The Minnesota Opera Orchestra did especially well, determined to keep up with Maetro Christopher Franklin’s demanding tempi.

Sarah Luebke

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