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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.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

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.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.



The Magic Flute [Photo by Victor Massaro courtesy of Phoenix Opera]
11 Dec 2010

Magic Flute, Phoenix

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Schikaneder had known each other for some time before they wrote The Magic Flute.

W. A. Mozart: The Magic Flute

Vale Rideout: Tamino; Jennifer Nagy: Pamina; Kevin Burdette: Papageno; Lisanne Norman Brooks: Papagena; Zdenek Plech: Sarastro; Anna-Lisa Hackett: Queen of the Night. Carroll Freeman: Director.

Above photo by Victor Massaro courtesy of Phoenix Opera


In 1791 Schikaneder, who was a fine actor and a capable singer, wanted a theater piece from Mozart because he thought the name of the well-known composer would attract a large audience to his Theater auf der Wieden. Since he needed a piece that would have a broad appeal, he asked for a singspiel. That format, which has spoken dialogue between the sung numbers, was then an extremely popular form of entertainment.

Schikaneder’s sources for the opera’s libretto included a book of imaginative pseudo-oriental fairy tales which were published by Jakob August Liebeskind in 1786 under the title Dschinnistan. In it, a story called “Lulu, oder der Zauberflöte” (“Lulu, or the Magic Flute”) gave the librettist some good material. He drew on other sources as well and he used Masonic symbolism. Mozart was a member of the Masonic Lodge in Vienna. Schikaneder applied for membership in his native Regensburg and was turned down, but he probably succeeded in becoming a member in Vienna. Both wanted to interest lodge members in coming to the theater.

More than two hundred years later we don’t know a great deal of what went on at rehearsals, but this has come down to us. Bass singer Sebastian Meyer is quoted as saying that Mozart originally wrote the duet where Papageno and Papagena first see each other quite differently from the way in which we now hear it. Originally they were to cry out “Papageno!” and “Papagena!” a few times at the beginning. Schikaneder told Mozart that the music must express greater astonishment. He said that at first they should stare dumbly at each other, then Papageno should begin to stammer ‘Pa-papapa-pa-pa’. Papagena must repeat that until both of them finally get the whole name out. Mozart followed the advice, and in this form the duet had to be encored at numerous performances.

On Friday evening 3 December Phoenix Opera presented Die Zauberflöte in a version which featured arias sung in German and dialogue spoken in English. The wonderfully imaginative original production was by David J Castellano. The stage director overseeing the Phoenix performances was Carroll Freeman and he told the story effectively. Boyd Ostroff’s set, built for the Opera Company of Philadelphia, was positively enchanting. The costumes by A. T. Jones and Son were attractive, functional and fit the wearers well. Conductor and Choral Director John Massaro drew fine playing from his orchestra and kept the chorus singing the exquisite harmonies accurately. Lisa Starry, together with the Scorpius and Cannedy Dance Companies provided spirited dances that enhanced the story.

As Tamino, tenor Vale Rideout sang with a rich sound that soared over the orchestra. He is a good actor, too, and he energized his text with conviction. The real star of the evening, however, was the Papageno, Kevin Burdette. He has a large powerful voice with a burnished robust sound and excellent German. His bright, vibrant personality pervaded the entire theater, especially when he entered from behind the audience. His interpretation gave us an idea of what Schikaneder’s performances must have been like.

Jennifer Nagy was a secure Pamina who sang with lovely bell-like tones. The most difficult role to cast in this opera is that of the Queen of the Night. Unfortunately, local voice teacher Anna-Lisa Hackett had problems with both of her admittedly difficult coloratura arias. It’s not easy to find a good bass for Sarastro, either, but Zdenek Plech proved to be thoroughly capable. He had a fine tone, secure technique and he seemed to have no trouble at all producing the lowest notes. He should have a good career ahead of him. As the Speaker, Earl Hazell sang with dark tonal colors that rang true. His wife, Alexis Davis Hazell was an amusing Third Lady who sang the bottom line with passion. As the other two ladies, Julie Davis and Erin Tompkins blended their close harmonies beautifully and played their parts with visual piquancy.

Gabriel Gargari was a humorous Monastatos who was often surrounded by his energetic slaves, portrayed with gusto by Ryan Glover, Dennis Tamblin and Aubrey Allicock. Allicock doubled as one of the Armed Men along with Francisco Renteria. Both sang with handsome sounds, as did the Priests, Guillermo Ontiveros and Christopher Herrera. Lisanne Norman Brooks was a cute and bouncy Papagena with a charming lyric voice. As the Three Spirits, Kristin Jensen, Dana Brooks Atwood and Kerry Ginger showed a flair for comedy as they sang with rich, agile voices. Although it was not a perfect performance, it was nice to see a local group put on this great masterpiece.

Maria Nockin

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