23 Nov 2010
Tosca, Manitoba Opera
What some people won’t do for a standing ovation! Saturday night at the opera was a showcase of excesses.
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 less-than-tragic plight.
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.
What some people won’t do for a standing ovation! Saturday night at the opera was a showcase of excesses.
Puccini’s Tosca has everything: passionate love, consuming jealousy, undisguised lust, evil deceit, even murder and suicide. Manitoba Opera’s (MO) mostly Canadian cast rose to the occasion, leaving the audience emotionally spent but invigorated.
Conductor Tyrone Paterson led the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra from the pit in Puccini’s marvellously dramatic score that foreshadows much of the onstage action. Vigorous playing and superb solo section work throughout provided exactly the added finesse required, making this a first-rate performance.
Veteran director Val Kuinka worked her magic with the help of an exemplary cast. Wendy Nielsen as Tosca and Richard Margison as artist Cavaradossi outdid themselves, portraying the tragic figures with realism and relish. Margison hasn’t lost a step as his extensive career continues. With a tenor voice that’s easy to listen to, he floated effortlessly to his upper range in “Recondita armonia.”
His wistful rendition of the celebrated aria “E lucevan le stelle” in the final act almost broke our hearts, his powerful voice aching with love for his adored Tosca. Totally convincing and touching, Margison crafted this into a real tearjerker and the clarinet solo introducing it was splendidly sensitive, enhancing our anticipation of this favourite.
Talk about art imitating life! Nielsen was outstanding as Tosca — a great actress, putting her entire being into the demanding role of the opera singer title character. With her lovely, refined soprano, she lent her full vibrato and flexible style to the twists and turns of the plot, moving fluidly from jealous lover to desperate murderess. In “Non la sospiri, la nostra casetta,” she showed a diaphanous lightness to her voice, barely alighting on each note before flitting to the next.
Rich phrasing and fervent zeal highlighted her “Visse d’arte, vissi d’amore,” as she sang, collapsed on the floor, disconsolate and despairing, beseeching God for deserting her despite her lifelong piety and humanity. Nielsen is the consummate opera star, with a reliable, mature voice that is completely satisfying. Powerful beyond belief, her dramatic cries of pain reached right into the audience’s hearts.
Wendy Nielsen as Tosca and Richard Margison as Cavaradossi [Photo by R. Tinker courtesy of Manitoba Opera]
Baritone Gaétan Laperrière returned to MO in the role of villainous chief of police Baron Scarpia. Dressed to the nines in black with gold braiding and trim, he looked every inch a self-indulgent scoundrel bent on getting his way. Yet Laperrière’s first entry was soft - barely discernible. His “Va Tosca!” was overly subtle, lacking power. And while his voice had agreeable resonance and flow, one wanted him to boom a little more, and strike fear into our hearts. Laperrière’s actions and words were suitably despicable, but his delivery belied his villainy. Frequent wooden movements were also questionable.
Peter Strummer’s droll Sacristan, on the other hand, was completely endearing. Announcing his arrival onstage with several healthy sneezes, he was a natural in this comic role. His bass-baritone made “E sempre lava!” a breath of fresh air before the drama to come. He has his gestures down to an art and gave us the only laughs of the evening.
Supporting roles by David Watson (Angelotti/Sciarrone), Keith Klassen (Spoletto) and Howard Rempel (jailer) were all solid and credible and Carson Milberg was a sweet-voice shepherd boy offstage. Acoustics can be tricky with offstage singing and it may be wise to station Milberg closer to the curtain to ensure the audience can fully appreciate this musical lad’s talents.
Wendy Nielsen as Tosca and Gaétan Laperrière as Scarpia [Photo by R. Tinker courtesy of Manitoba Opera]
The chorus is not especially busy in Tosca but certainly came through well when called upon and costuming was truly impressive.
The three sets were amazingly ornate and detailed, transporting us easily to 19th century Rome, and but for some shaky spotlighting, Bill Williams lighting was mood-setting splendour.