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.
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?