Recently in Reviews
Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company
co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on
Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War
For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.
There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham
Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.
Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.
Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel
One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander
Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several,
recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred
Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was
first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic
under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart,
based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney
at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at
Netherlands Opera earlier that year).
I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most
appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques
Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.
This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .
During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.
Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.
The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a
last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance
at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna
Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.
With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the
10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered
the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is
designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the
composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to
‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest
cornerstones of our civilisation’.
Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.
The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.
When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés
out of our misery?
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.
Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.
‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.
It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.
31 Dec 2010
Aida at Bregenz Festival 2009
Some years ago a witty soul coined the term “jumping the shark” to identify the point at which any long-running television program had exploited all its innate story/character development possibilities and had to resort to ridiculous plot contrivances and spectacle to keep the episodes — and paychecks — coming.
For the curious, “jumping the shark” referenced an episode of Happy Days, a program that for years stayed within the confines of a small American town in the 1950s; in said episode, the characters ended up in Hollywood and one entered a contest to — yes, indeed — water-ski over an enclosure containing a shark.
If one thinks of the Bregenz Festival as a long-running hit show — and in the opera world, this lake-side venue for elaborate outdoor productions can fairly be called such — then with the 2009 Graham Vick Aida, the festival has indeed “jumped the shark.” The booklet essay (by Kenneth Chalmers) to the DVD set quotes many a laudatory blurb from various European reviews at the time of the show’s premiere. So maybe the experience on DVD can’t capture what the show is like live. As caught by cameras, Vick’s Aida is a frenetic mess — whether the action takes place in ankle-deep water, aloft in crane-elevated cages, boats, or fragmentary statuary, or on an endless flight of stairs. The success of the festival undoubtedly offers directors an ample budget, and the very nature of the lakeside venue demands big effects. But when an opera gets as hopelessly lost as Aida does here in all the pyrotechnics and staging conceits piled on the stage — and despite the authentic opportunities for spectacle in the libretto, at its heart this is a fairly intimate story of thwarted love — the “shark” has been “jumped.”
With the amazing work of set and costume designer Paul Brown, Vick presents a world with no set sense of time or place, mixing ancient and modern elements. Costumes are primarily contemporary, through with some elusive sense of logic; the priests, for example, wear papal miters. At the rear of the stage two huge blue feet, spangled with stars, have a vaguely period Egyptian look, as do other fragments apparently broken off the original monument, but the whole is clearly modeled on the Statue of Liberty. It’s a very Euro-friendly concept — America as subtext for militaristic oppression. Thus Amneris, who often wears a dress with stars spangled on it, appears at first with two leashes, at the ends of which are two prisoners with hoods over their heads. Why Amneris has been assigned Abu Ghirab prisoner-walking duty doesn’t have to be contemplated — just go with the anti-American flow. Aida is truly a slave here — not a higher-ranking attendant to the princess, as she is usually depicted. Wearing a dull jacket over a orange-red shift, she is washing the stairs with others slaves when first seen. Radames sings his opening confrontation with Amneris from yards away, and many of the key scenes have a similar distance between protagonists and antagonists, weakening the force of their interactions. In act three, when Aida is confronted by her father, he appears from the water before the stage, like the Creature from the Red Sea Lagoon. It’s all like the famous description of the staging of Meyerbeer’s operas — effects without causes.
The color scheme Vick and Brown work with may blind those sensitive to one end of the spectrum — from hot pinks to emergency beacon orange and onto purple and turquoise. The dancers spend a lot of time kicking up spray on a platform covered in about a foot of water. For act two, Amneris’s attendants manhandle some amazingly buff (and mostly Caucasian) Ethiopian prisoners in tighty-whiteys. Some viewers may be ready to escape into the tomb with Radames and Aida at the end, except there is no tomb — the condemned lovers sail off into the distance through the air, in a crane-hauled boat.
For sheer spectacle, this may well be the Aida to beat — and yes, it includes a huge elephant at one point (not a live one, but still — the cranes can’t be trusted with everything). However, for those actually interested in Aida as an opera, this set can’t be recommended. Besides the score being, as the booklet essay describes it, “trimmed,” the singers get no real chance to develop interesting characters or make their own vocal qualities known. The latter is true because they are all miked. The voices of the leads appear to be lighter than those one would normally hear in a conventional opera house, and the sound mix keeps the voices within a narrow range. As Amneris Iano Tamar looks smashing, but her lower range is too weak even for the microphones. To some extent the same is true of Iain Paterson as Amonasro, although he has enough power in the body of his voice to make a decent impression. The two leads have pleasant voices but neither Rubens Pelizzari as Radames or Tatiana Serjan as Aida give any indication of having the vocal goods to tackle these roles in a production without microphones and a sound mixer standing by. Conductor Carlo Rizzi and his orchestra are surely “miked” as well, and they whip up a fine wall of sound in the ensembles and triumphal parade.
The Blu-Ray version does make for an amazing picture on any high-end television. For viewers open to a version of this opera that places 21st century stage and camera technique over the essence of the work itself, this is not a set to be missed.
For others — consider the shark successfully jumped.