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.
19 Jan 2011
James Gilchrist, Wigmore Hall
Arms swinging loosely at his side, a relaxed smile and bright eyes conveying
his confident ease, James Gilchrist’s young wanderer bounded nimbly onto
the stage at the Wigmore Hall, radiating and embodying the fresh
optimism of spring, at the start of this technically assured and dramatically
coherent performance of Schubert’s song cycle, Die schöne
But such sanguinity was almost immediately disturbed and ultimately
dispelled. Although never melodramatic (there was little of the painfully
intense brooding and wrought self-examination of Bostridge, Padmore or Scholl),
Gilchrist and his accompanist, Anna Tilbrook, shaped the narrative effectively,
subtly pointing the changes of mood: thus, shifts from hope to despair, from
introspection to anger, seemed inevitable, never exaggerated, as the psychology
of the drama unfolded in a controlled, naturalistic manner. The naïve
enthusiasm of the opening gave way to a resigned weariness and deeply
expressive poignancy at the close of the cycle; the sustained and penetrating
stillness and quietude which following the final cadence, revealed that the
audience, almost unconsciously swept along on the journey which began so
hopefully, truly shared the protagonist’s surprise at his ultimate
failure and disappointment.
Gilchrist’s light tenor and distinct diction (all well-shaped vowels
and crisp consonants but never mannered) perfectly conveyed the ebullient mood
of ‘Das Wandern’ (‘Journeying’). Assertive, dynamic
playing by Anna Tilbrook conjured a lively brook, the precise and springy
rhythms aptly conjuring the bubbling, restless water. Throughout Tilbrook took
an active role in the narrative: the regularity and clarity of the whirling
cycles of the mill in ‘Halt!’ and ‘Am Feierabend’
(‘When the work is done’), suggested both the literal power of the
mechanism and the figurative fixedness of the forces that the young wanderer
must face. Indeed, despite the happy ambience of the opening song, one might
have intimated a subtle but insistent menace in the incisiveness of the
brook’s tireless energy, which here positively supports the
wanderer’s song but which later becomes an insistent tremor — the
‘murmuring friend’ in ‘Danksagung an den Bach’
(‘Thanksgiving to the brook’) — and finally a threatening
‘roar’ (in ‘Mein’) which haunts, undermines and
Despite possessing a naturally light-grained voice, Gilchrist subtly used
tone and colour to indicate the wanderer’s psychological journeying and
wavering. Thus, the light headiness of ‘Wohin?’ (‘Where
to?’) expressed his excited anticipation, while in ‘Halt’
Gilchrist adopted a more resonant timbre upon arriving at the mill. Similarly,
the subdued, introspective questioning of ‘Der Neugierige’
(‘The inquisitive one’) — “tell me, brooklet, does she
love me?” — gave way first to an sudden, excited outburst when he
is sure of the mill girl’s love — “the maid of the mill I
love is mein!”; the persistence of the repeated phrase hinted at the
young man’s growing self-delusion. Replaced by a harder, more urgent tone
in ‘Tränenregen’ (‘Rain of tears’), the vocal colours
modulated into bitterness in ‘Die böse Farbe’ (‘The hateful
colour’) . Confident and comfortable across all registers, Gilchrist was
particularly controlled at the height of his tessitura, in the superbly
sustained arcs of ‘Danksagung an den Bach’ and in the more angry
protestations of ‘Der Jäger’ (‘The Hunter’).
Rhythm and pace were handled with similar expertise; slight rallentandi at
the close of songs permitted a fluent progression to the next, effectively
sustaining the narrative momentum. Pauses were meticulously judged — as
in ‘Der Neugierige’, where expressive dissonances and inconclusive
melodic lines were skilfully crafted to convey impending meditative melancholy:
“one little word is ‘yes’,/ the other is ‘no’/ by
these two little words/my whole world is bounded.” In the penultimate
song, ‘Der Müller und die Bach’ (‘The miller and the
brook’), Gilchrist’s almost imperceptible hesitations suggested
that the wanderer was lost in his own disillusion; detached from reality, he
now dwells in imaginary realms and suicide is the only possible closure.
Tilbrook subtly pointed the oscillations between major and minor modes
— the transition to the darker minor at the conclusion of
‘Mein!’ was stunningly affective — so that they served as an
aural metaphor for the ironic contrast between the verdant beauty and freshness
of the surrounding countryside and the wanderer’s growing disappointment
as he recognises the falsity of the land’s promise.
Gilchrist’s musical intelligence is considerable, and this was a
thoughtfully conceived and uniformly captivating whole. The paired songs,
‘Die liebe Farbe’ and ‘Die böse Farbe’, in which the
rich greenery is first a ‘beloved’ and then a ‘hateful’
colour, were an emotional and expressive highpoint; astonishingly, while the
voice almost disappeared in a pianissimo whisper, the words and their
sentiment were presented with deep impact. But it was the touching simplicity
of the final three songs which was most remarkable — and surprising,
after the emotional troughs and peaks of the preceding songs. The pale,
gentleness of the voice, defenceless against steady presence of the brook was
extraordinary poignant: the significance of Tilbrook’s initial
assertiveness was now apparent, the brook’s indifference to the
wanderer’s deathly lullaby revealed.
Gilchrist and Tilbrook released a highly acclaimed recording of Die
schöne Müllerin in 2009 on the Orchid label. That this audience was deeply
affected by this live rendering of the wanderer’s tale, was attested by
the long, resonant silence which followed the final cadence.