Recently in Performances
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
16 Jan 2011
The Magic Flute and La Traviata, New York
The dust on 65th Street is clearing up and the reviews for the renovated Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts are in — the piazza is being hailed as newly “inviting” by architects and arts critics alike, and rightly so.
But what about the individual institutions that make Lincoln
Center the landmark it is? How can we make them as welcoming?
On January 6, the Metropolitan Opera attracted a large and lively crowd for
the season’s final performance of its reduced version of Julie
Taymor’s production of The Magic Flute, sung in English. Despite
the family appeal, the adults in the audience still far outnumbered their
Unfortunately, there were moments of obvious disconnect between conductor
Erik Nielsen, the Met orchestra, and the singers. The evening got off to a
rough start due to the awkward excising of the overture and some rather
listless performances from Bruce Sledge as Tamino and Wendy Bryn Harmer, Jamie
Barton, and Tamara Mumford as the Three Ladies. Things didn’t pick up
until Nathan Gunn’s assured entrance as Papageno.
Susanna Phillips worked hard to make her Pamina three-dimensional and she
succeeded despite some bizarre staging and an inexplicable costume. Bass Morris
Robinson deserves kudos for his performance as Sarastro. He was one of only a
few artists who made the most of singing and speaking in the audience’s
vernacular. Ashley Emerson did an especially good job with her spoken scenes as
Papagena and brought real charm to the role.
There are several fun moments in this production but, on the whole, the
performance felt uncoordinated and severely lacking in the magic department. At
the curtain call, a man sitting behind me yelled “Bravo!” when a
cast member came onstage to take a bow, but then immediately turned to his
companion and said, “I don’t even remember that guy!” Yes,
that man in the audience can say he went to the opera and maybe he even enjoyed
the 140 minutes he spent there, but the nearly instantaneous amnesia he
experienced is not what opera is about. I began to wonder exactly how much
putting a friendlier face on Lincoln Center has cost, and not necessarily in
Marina Poplavskaya as Violetta and Mattew Polenzani as Alfredo
When the audience is packed with people young and old cheering in the aisles
has the battle for a more “inviting” Lincoln Center been won? Not
if they’re streaming out the doors before the prima donna has taken her
bow. Not if they forget about the opera they just saw before they even catch a
cab at that fancy new underpass.
If Thursday night’s performance was unmemorable, Friday night’s
showing of the Met’s newly acquired production of La Traviata
provided plenty to think about. German director Willy Decker has not only
stripped the drama to its essentials, he also effectively changed the
opera’s architecture by eliding the final three acts into a single
sequence. Strangely enough, this had less of an effect on the combined acts
than it had on Act I, which felt weakly related to the rest of the evening.
Still, the evening progressed seamlessly from the single intermission to the
end, the drama unfolding at a relentless pace that illustrated both
Violetta’s lifestyle and her illness.
Restructuring the opera in this manner created an added challenge for Marina
Poplavskaya in the title role. In the first act her defiant and flippant
Violetta spent practically the entire time posturing and posing. This could
have been dramatically effective if the singing had been tossed off with more
ease. As it was, both the acting and the singing felt effortful. Still, she met
the trials of the long second half and her performance of “Addio, del
passato” was genuinely touching.
As Alfredo, Matthew Polenzani sang with an appealing mix of passion and
elegance despite a few potentially awkward staging moments. Moreover, he was
the only cast member to comfortably fit Decker’s style within a greater
musical context. Playing the elder Germont, Andrzej Dobber sang and acted with
unusual brusqueness. Although a refreshing reminder of bourgeois prejudices,
this harshness should have been better tempered with more subtle compassion in
order to make his later actions logical and to soften his sound in places.
Mattew Polenzani as Alfredo and Andrzej Dobber as Germont
Jennifer Holloway was a stylish and androgynous Flora but, because of her
costuming, she got lost in the crowd despite a fine performance. In the
dramatically expanded role of Dr. Grenville, Luigi Roni did an excellent job of
segueing between the part as originally written and functioning as an effective
personification of death. Among the comprimario parts, Maria Zifchak was
excellent and underused as Annina. Juhwan Lee and Joseph Turi both made strong
impressions as well.
As for the production itself, only time will tell if Decker’s version
can withstand the rotating casts and quickly changing tastes that burden a
repertory production of La Traviata. While the previous Met production
practically engulfed singers with its fussiness, Decker’s is brilliantly
and almost cruelly exposed. Furthermore, while the attractive set and nearly
uniform costumes feel both contemporary and timeless, they have a whitewashing
effect that the singers must fight against. A power couple such as Anna
Netrebko and Rolando Villazon may have done it with ease, but it is difficult
to imagine a pair of singers who could match their success. However, the
staging and design of Decker’s production (with sets and costume designs
by Wolfgang Gussmann) are intriguing and enjoyable. Like the renovations that
surround the opera house, I consider the Met’s new Traviata to
be a success.
W. A. Mozart: Magic Flute — Pamina: Susanna Phillips; Queen of the Night: Erika Miklosa; Tamino: Bruce
Sledge; Papageno: Nathan Gunn; Speaker: Tom Fox; Sarastro: Morris Robinson;
Papagena: Ashley Emerson; 1st Lady: Wendy Bryn Harmer; 2nd Lady: Jamie Barton;
3rd Lady: Tamara Mumford; Monostatos: Joel Sorensen. Conductor: Erik Nielsen.
Production: Julie Taymor. Set Designer: George Tsypin. Costume Designer: Julie
Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata — Violetta: Marina Poplavskaya; Alfredo: Mattew Polenzani; Germont: Andrzej
Dobber; Flora: Jennifer Holloway; Annina: Maria Zifchak; Gastone: Scott Scully;
Dr. Grenvil: Luigi Roni; Giuseppe: Juhwan Lee; Messenger: Joseph Turi.
Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda. Production: Willy Decker.