Recently in Performances
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.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
08 Feb 2011
Don Pasquale, New York
Witty and airy as an after-dinner anecdote over biscuits and cognac, Don
Pasquale (1844) is, unlikely as it may seem, almost the last opera Donizetti
completed before his descent into the madness of tertiary syphilis.
He was 47,
managing opera houses in Vienna and Paris, introducing new talents like Verdi,
and could still turn out melodies to beat the band—so to speak—with
ever more of a nod to tight scripts and psychological subtleties. With Rossini
in retirement, Bellini dead, Verdi a tyro and Mercadante about to withdraw into
academe, Donizetti was the most popular Italian composer in the world. Who
knows where this would have led him had his career gone on (as Verdi’s,
Mercadante’s, Pacini’s, Meyerbeer’s, Auber’s all did)
till he was 65? Would he have composed operas for St. Petersburg, Berlin,
London and New York? Can we doubt it?
Given the proper performers (Donizetti’s operas, even more than most,
depend on the performer to put them over), Don Pasquale remains almost
irresistible. The Met has had great success with Otto Schenk’s moderately
updated production (O’Hearn-Merrill’s was better, funnier,
lighter), and it is clear from last Friday’s performance that the
touch-ups required for last fall’s HDTV movie theater broadcast have made
it more stage-ready than ever. James Levine, in the pit, seemed especially to
enjoy himself but the entire cast is infectiously frolicsome.
I had quibbles, however, with some of the singers: all good, but some a
little graceless in their approach to this pearl-icing confection. Anna
Netrebko is a prima donna, and her voice has gotten steadily larger and thicker
while losing a top note or two. This makes her a good candidate for Anna
Bolena, for example, a Donizetti role she is singing in its Met premiere next
season, and even likelier as Bellini’s Sonnambula or Giulietta, in both
of which roles she has been broadcast from Vienna. But the voice’s
thickness, its inability to lighten up, is uncomfortable in a Norina. The lady
must be laughing all the time, or we are disinclined to forgive her rather
calculated assault on the wealth of the title character. Reri Grist, my first
Met Norina, floated about the stage, almost pirouetting around a lovably
flummoxed Fernando Corena, and the instant of her slap, the moment when she
goes too far and knows it, was an instant transformation not merely in the
music but in her attitude, as she pulled her hands to her cheeks in horror at
what she’d done, and a genuine personality was displayed—as also
affection for the old man. Netrebko can no longer manage that lightness, that
speediness, and she cannot manage the top notes of her runs, which rise
prettily only to stop short every time. (What is that note? D? She hasn’t
even got a D?) The glittering final waltz did not glitter or twirl; Netrebko
offered it … dutifully. Ljuba Petrova, who sang one performance of the
opera here during the present production’s first season, was rather more
what we are looking for: Not a dramatic prima donna but an old-fashioned canary
coloratura whose charm and wit match her voice. And she had all the high
John Del Carlo as the title role and Anna Netrebko as Norina
Ernesto was sung by Barry Banks, whose voice has also changed over the
years, from the spectacular instrument of the Flute/Thisbe in the Met’s
Midsummer Night’s Dream and the heroic Oreste in Ermione that amazed New
York. His legato line no longer flows comfortably; it is a tolerable but
charmless substitute for the proper tenor elegance.
Buffo basses can get by for years with far less voice than John Del Carlo
still possesses. He wittily deploys his great height and bulk and mugs in the
very finest fettle. You can’t have Don Pasquale without a Pasquale, and
the Met is right to hang on to this one.
The star of the show for dapper farce-performance, suave vocalism and
bring-down-the-house sex appeal was Mariusz Kwiecien as Dr. Malatesta. There is
nothing to object to in his singing (he doesn’t scream in this opera, as
he tends to in Lucia or L’Italiana) or his scampering or his appeal,
except that this is Dr. Malatesta and the opera is called Don Pasquale and the
lovers are Ernesto and Norina. Why is the doctor the one we wait for, listen
to, watch on stage? Most Malatestas “feed” their Norinas (without
picking them up and tossing them about like throw pillows), accompany their
Pasquales, take a line in the concerted passages. The character is a catalyst,
not the focus of the opera, but Otto Schenk has got nothing so wrong as
building this character up. If Malatesta is the center of attention, and has
such a rich relationship with Norina … why do we need the tenor at all?
He fades into the woodwork if Malatesta does not.
Mariusz Kwiecien as Dr. Malatesta and John Del Carlo in the title role
But all these objections seemed to occur to few others in the audience last
Friday, who all seemed to be tickled that they were having such fun, enjoying
such a sparkling score in such an animated, Broadway-worthy performance,
without having to drop a tear or think a thought at all. And isn’t that
the sort of pleasure farce is supposed to provide?