Recently in Performances
It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
31 Dec 2010
Pelléas et Mélisande, New York
Pelléas et Mélisande, Debussy’s impressionist drama closely
based on Maeterlinck’s eerie, symbolist play, is not a terribly vocal opera; it calls more for the subtlety of art song style than the belting of great divas and divos.
Therefore it makes me a bit uneasy to report
that the latest Met revival features the best all-around cast the company has
fielded (theatered?) all season, nearly flawless from top to bottom, no one
vocally out of her or his league, everyone suited to the scale of the work and
to singing it at the Met—at least when Simon Rattle is in the pit,
keeping the evening in flawless balance.
Magdalena Kožená as Mélisande, Gerald Finley as Golaud and Willard White as Arkel
Jonathan Miller’s production removes Maeterlinck’s tragedy from
the mystical, pre-Raphaelite mists in which the playwright set it to a definite
location: an English country house in the Merchant-Ivory style. Miller’s
feeling seems to be that we have forgotten the once-upon-a kingdoms of fairy
tale, that we nowadays have similar half-sensual half- memories related to the
forgotten refinements and restraints of the turn of the century world. This
does not always fail of its proper effect, though killing with broadswords
seems a little strange. I do not quite understand why Mélisande, first
discovered in a Jungian wood far from the rest of the action, weeping into a
forest pool, is already within the walls of the house. Surely her tragedy, in
part, is that she begins and remains an outsider? For Miller, evidently,
“Allemond,” the name of Arkel’s kingdom, is truly
all-the-world, and just as there is no place to flee, there is no outside for
Mélisande to have come from.
The singers, an extraordinary ensemble, perform with sensitivity and grace.
Every sound they make is musically grateful and lulls one into the texture of
Debussy’s tone poem. Stéphane Degout’s ardent Pelléas is nicely
contrasted with Gerald Finley’s agonized and menacing Golaud. Willard
White and Felicity Palmer give moving performances as the helpless elders Arkel
and Geneviève. Neel Ram Narajan’s boy soprano reaches all the notes with
perfect support and has no trouble filling the house. He is often called upon
to “witness” the actions of the incomprehensible adults, and he
acts bravely. (In one clever Miller touch, Yniold’s scene with the
Shepherd becomes a nightmare, sing in bed.)
Magdalena Koženà as Mélisande and Stéphane Degout as Pelléas
The one member of the cast who did not seem quite acclimatized with the
rest, perhaps appropriately, was Lady Rattle, Magdalena Koženà, who sang
Mélisande, that quintessential outsider. It was easy to put her accented French
down to the character’s foreignness; this did not bother me at all. More
awkward was her air of conscious coquetry, of flirting with Pélleas, of
manipulating those about her. This is not appropriate to Mélisande
whose innocence is precisely the keynote of her character. Koženà stares,
as required, at the actions of others, but her stare does not seem to imply
wonder or puzzle; simply a languid lack of interest. Innocence is a commodity
that Maeterlinck’s admirers longed for, missing their pre-Freudian,
pre-Darwinian youth perhaps; if we can no longer believe in it, we still must
have a Mélisande who incarnates it to perform the opera properly.
The hero of the evening, shining despite the brilliance of so extraordinary
a group of singers, was conductor Sir Simon Rattle in his Met debut. His
Pelléas et Mélisande was of so measured a pace that the moments of
rising tension, imminent violence, came upon us with an almost shocking
suddenness and, as the stage action remained calm, tied us more closely to the
internal states that the score tends to paint in any case. His sureness and
lightness of touch permitted the singers to project conversationally without
any strain or push. He brought us to our feet.