Recently in Performances
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.
29 Nov 2010
Le nozze di Figaro, Opera Australia
Neil Armfield’s insightful staging of Le nozze di Figaro is making a welcome return in the lead-up to his direction of the Ring Cycle for the Wagner bi-centenary 2013 (the first complete cycle staged in Melbourne in a century).
Armfield’s view of late eighteenth century life in Spain is a dark
one. The Almaviva household is held in the same disdain as the then monarch
Carlos IV and his dysfunctional family. Goya inspires Dale Ferguson’s
costumes; Countess Almaviva in particular, in oyster satin (and thanks to
Rachelle Durkin’s supermodel physique and bearing) has the devastating
allure of Goya’s beloved Duchess of Alba. Goya even makes an appearance
in act three to ‘photograph’ Figaro’s nuptials and, just as
he did in his portrait of the Royal Family, captures a household in sexual,
social and political turmoil.
Fergusson’s sets feature deliberate anachronisms that, to my eyes,
show the contemptible attitude of the Almaviva’s to their staff. A
shabby, vinyl reclining armchair dominates act one for Cherubino then the Count
to hide behind or in. It’s the sort of out-of-date furniture that would
normally be dumped but here is given to the servants to furnish their quarters.
For the wedding celebrations the Count provides a battered tea urn and
I prefer a deeper voiced Figaro contrasting the lighter voiced Count as
here. With that gruff edge to his voice Teddy Tahu Rhodes exemplifies the
peasant against the more refined voice of Peter Coleman-Wright’s
aristocrat. In “Se vuol ballare” he embellishes the repeated theme.
The result is a little ungainly but in terms of characterisation the growl
works splendidly. Even better in “Non più andrai” he directs the
second verse to the Count, seated smugly in the recliner chair, and, towering
over the trembling Count, warns him his days of philandering are over too and
reminding us how revolutionary this opera (and the play it derives from) was
feared to be. Armfield fills the opera with insights like these and the
principal singers — especially Coleman-Wright, Rhodes, Durkin and Tiffany
Speight — integrate them into their performances with easy assurance.
Tall and sleek Durkin’s arms glide naturally into gestures both
graceful and, at appropriate times, erotic. When, in act two, the Count tries
to force her away from the door to force open the closet where Cherubino hides,
he at first violently lays his gloved hands on her only to let them roam over
her breasts and body making the sexual connection still existing between the
two — despite their current marital problems — alarmingly obvious.
Durkin’s response to this rare moment of contact with her faithless
husband, melting at his touch, is simultaneously elegant and erotic. Erotic
obsession is the basis of this opera after all and this insight into that
eroticism created a frisson. The Countess’s attraction to Cherubino was
insightfully played up too; the Countess wilting to his act two serenade like
Gomez used to when Morticia spoke French.
Speight’s voice grows in size and stature with each appearance.
Speight also has charming way with and special claim on Mozartian maids. Sian
Pendry bravely displays the rampaging teenage sexuality of Cherubino behaving
at times like a spaniel in heat! She neatly negotiates the rapid pace set for
“Non so piu” beautifully enunciating the words as do he rest of the
The secondary characters weave through the story with only occasional
success. Elizabeth Campbell’s Marcellina is another character caught in a
precarious situation. Her frustrations run deeper than mere anxiety over her
age. Her favour with Count Almaviva, depends on her winning her case against
Figaro. In Campbell’s hands there is that sense Marcellina is greatly
relieved when she finds Figaro is her son and she can escape to bourgeoisie
security as Bartolo’s wife. When Armfield’s production was first
staged Don Basilio’s and Marcellina’s arias were cut. They were
restored for the revival in Sydney, although Marcellina’s is excised for
this Melbourne season. The tenor Robert Tear specialises in singing Basilio and
devotes an entire essay to him in his book Singer Beware offering an
illuminating analysis into “the quality of thought which might invest a
small part with a fresh interest and, at the same time, probably alter the
usual balance of the opera. “If the aria, is cut,” he writes,
“the character becomes extremely hard to play simply because the chance
of explaining his character to the audience is taken away, all the earlier
behaviour seeming merely eccentric or stupid.” Basilio is a man of great
intelligence, according to Tear, “more intelligent than anyone else in
the Almaviva household” the seemingly bizarre aria “In quelli anni
cui dal poco” is making a point about this
“musician/thinker’s position in a philistine aristocratic house of
the period.” While the near-revolutionary sentiments of Figaro’s
are extrovertly apparent in Armfield’s clever twist in “Non più
andrai”, there could have been similar possibilities with Basilio’s
aria explaining his philosophy and how it helped him survive the
“fooleries of class and politics” surrounding him. Conductor Marko
Letonja actually highlights the ascending horn passages at the end of
Balisio’s aria so they ring out with a confidence worthy of Beethoven and
suggest maybe the triumphant Basilio is another plebeian hero. Kanen Breen
plays Basilio primarily for laughs and by the time the aria arrives the
character has become a rococo incarnation of Kenneth Williams. It’s an
assured performance however; the character slithers around with decreasing fear
of his betters.
There is a touch of early music practice from the orchestra; fortepiano
replacing the usual harpsichord and the strings adopting that occasionally
‘wiry’ sound associated with early music practice. Acts one and two
work the best in this current revival, the sexual and social strain made
delightfully relevant by director and cast.