Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
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.