05 Jan 2011
Un ballo in maschera at its roots
In its production this season of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged the work in its original locale at the royal court of Sweden.
“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.
In its production this season of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged the work in its original locale at the royal court of Sweden.
Stage director Renata Scotto has achieved a believably dignified and fluid progression of scenes leading up to the tragedy of misunderstandings. The role of King Gustavus III of Sweden is taken by Frank Lopardo, while that of Amelia his beloved features soprano Sondra Radvanovsky. Baritone Mark Delavan sings Count Anckarström, husband of Amelia as well as close friend of the King. The travesti role of the page Oscar is sung by Kathleen Kim and Mme. Arvidson signaled the debut at Lyric Opera of Stephanie Blythe. Through a sensitive approach to tempos Asher Fisch conducted a meaningful account of one of Verdi’s most lyrical scores.
Mark Delavan as Renato
The principals in the first scene of Act I establish themselves immediately in the movements and dramatic interchange of this production. The ballo of the final scene is, of course, foreshadowed now by means of a list of invited guests for the event of the present evening. As the curtain opens on the reception room of an eighteenth-century court, both supporters and detractors of Gustavus give vent to their feelings. The page Oscar, so often in this work a dramatic hinge, announces the King’s arrival with the famous line, “S’avanza il Re.” [“The King approaches”] In the role of Oscar Ms. Kim moves nimbly and projects her lines with a delighted urgency. The event of this evening’s ballo is now used as a means to stir the King’s emotions in the first of that character’s arias. When Gustavus sees in the list his beloved Amelia’s name, he sings rapturously of expecting her presence that night. Mr. Lopardo’s introductory declamation and performance of “La rivedrà nell’estasi” [“what ecstasy to see her again”] are exemplary: in both parts of the scene he demonstrates an assured skill in legato with effective touches of vocal color on significant phrases, such as “E qui sonar d’amore.” [“and music of love.”] When the petitioners are instructed to leave, Oscar shows in Count Anckarström who now advises the King on matters of the court. As he warns Gustavus of a plot against his life, Anckarström’s lines rise upward with dramatic force. A similar vocal technique is needed in the baritone Anckarström’s first solo piece, “Alla vita che t’arride,” [“To your life so promising”], which occurs before Oscar reenters. It is in such transitional moments that Mr. Delavan’s interpretation falls short. His reach to an upper register becomes noticeably detached from the preceding lines so that dramatic effects do not match his intended goal. The conclusion of this scene, devoted to varying opinions of the fortuneteller Mme. Arvidson, highlights both individual and ensemble work. Once the judge declares that Mme. Arvidson should be banished because of witchcraft, Oscar issues a spirited defense of the woman in that character’s first solo aria, “Volta la terrea” [“the sallow one turned”]. Ms. Kim tosses off this piece with secure vocal agility, while she acts out the noted appeal of the sorceress with movement and dramatic gesture. Gustavus resolves to visit her hovel despite the protestations of individual courtiers, the plan for this adventure being affirmed in a rousing conclusion.
Frank Lopardo as Gustavo and Stephanie Blythe as Ulrica
The second scene of the act introduces both the characters Mme. Arvidson and Amelia. In her interpretation of the fortuneteller Ms. Blythe uses all facets of her rich vocal range. Her hushed, piano intonations in the first part of her incantation to Lucifer are followed by excitingly ringing top notes, while she signals her enhanced communication with the forces beyond. As she concludes with a thrilling and extended chest note on “Silenzio!”, Ms. Blythe’s disheveled persona looks truly possessed. She prophesies riches and rank for the sailor Cristiano, who is convincingly sung and acted in this production by Paul La Rosa. After he is sent off — the entire scene being observed from a distance by the disguised King Gustavus — Amelia enters and solicits the intercession for her part of Mme. Arvidson. She begs for a solution to her emotional attraction to Gustavus, which has distracted her from duty. Mme. Arvidson tells her to pick at night a magic herb growing at an isolated gallows outside the city. Even in this relatively brief exchange Ms. Radvanovsky communicates in her liquid vocal lines a sense of urgency, hinting at her extended prayer in the subsequent act. The trio which now follows indeed features her first prayer to God, while Mme. Arvidson encourages her daring to find the herb and Gustavus, still unseen, simultaneously promises to follow. [“Consentimi, o Signore” (“Grant to me, o Lord”)]. Here Ms. Radvanovsky’s voice soars in her appeals for help, such that she effectively binds the trio into a crescendo of determination. In the final part of the scene following Amelia’s departure Gustavus emerges and demands that the fortuneteller predict his future. When Mme. Arvidson sees the sign of death in his palm, the reaction “Presto morrai” [“Soon you will die”] is delivered by Ms. Blythe with chilling certainty in her intonation. Gustavus laughs off the divination and clasps the hand of Anckarström, hence sealing the prediction that he will die by the hand of the next person whom he thus greets.
In the constellation of beloved and spouse which makes up the shorter second act of Un ballo the emotions and conflicts introduced earlier develop into a turning point for the principals. After appropriately fast and bright tempi under Fisch’s direction, Amelia enters at the isolated gallows while snow falls. As she reaches for the herb, she recoils in fear, which Radvanovsky emphasizes with a distinct intonation on “terrore.” In her following aria, “Ma dall’irido stelo” [“But when from the dry stem”], she sings with great pathos, her tone moving from lament to self-encouragement and ending in the touching prayer for divine support. Throughout the aria, and notably in the final ascent and following “Miserere,” Radvanovsky exhibits the ideal Verdian soprano range, assured middle and upper registers bound seamlessly with admirable breath control. When Gustavus enters and declares “Teco io sto” [“I am here with you”], the subsequent duet allows both to admit their love. At first Amelia protests that the King should leave her, a line that Radvanovsky sings with telling diminuendo on “Mi lasciate.” During the well-known scene Lopardo’s voice blooms in lyrical abandon as Gustavus is transported by the assurance of Amelia’s love. Lopardo’s tasteful performance of top notes in the duet is matched by Radvanovsky’s line as the two singers blend vocally toward each other. Soon after the declaration of love a warning alerts the King of Cout Anckarström’s approach. Gustavus entrusts the veiled Amelia to Anckarström and asks his friend to accompany the unnamed woman back to the court. Although Anckarström had come to warn the King of a plot against his life, loyalties soon shift: Amelia’s veil drops when she tries to protect her husband and the latter perceives his wife’s emotional betrayal. In the final ensemble, at which the Count is mocked by the courtiers returning to court, Amelia’s final notes, as here performed, give expression to her sense of an undeniable love with a tragic outcome.
Sondra Radvanovsky as Amelia and Frank Lopardo as Gustavo
In Act III the Count gives vent to his anger as the two arias of the first scene reflect on the couple’s marriage. When the Count threatens to have Amelia killed, she begs for the opportunity to see her child one last time. Radvanovsky’s approach to the aria, “Morrò, ma prima in grazia,” [“I shall die, but first in mercy”], evinces a number of vocal touches that blend ideally with the orchestra to express her character’s suffering. Once she leaves, the Count sings of his own anguish and the betrayal he feels at the King’s behavior. In Delavan’s approach to “Eri tu” [“It was you”] an admirable sense of legato is marred by an attack stronger than necessary at the beginning of lines. The conspirators now enter and the Count throws in his lot with them against the King. When Amelia returns, she is forced to choose the name of the one privileged to slay the King. As the scene ends with the Count’s name selected and the venue of the ball announced, the vocal ensemble rises in excitement to the fateful evening.
In the final scene before the ball, when the Count indeed shoots the King fatally, Gustavus performs his last aria alone, while musing on his devotion for Amelia yet his resolve to send the couple away from court. As his voice moves here through successive phrases with an exquisite sense of line, Lopardo echoes the love expressed in his earlier scenes but now with an appropriate foreboding on “del nostro amor” [“of our love”]. His inevitable death at the hands of the Count is accompanied by a moving declaration of Amelia’s innocence, her own voice then rising expressively in horror at the turn of events.