Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Cave: a new opera by Tansy Davies and Nick Drake

Opera seems to travel far from the opera house these days. Alongside numerous productions in community spaces and pub theatres, in the last few years I’ve enjoyed productions staged on the shingle shore of Aldeburgh beach, at the bottom of the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe, and in a renovated warehouse in Shoreditch on the roof of which perch four ‘creative studios’ in the form of recycled Jubilee line train carriages and shipping containers.

Götterdämmerung in San Francisco

The truly tragic moments of this long history rich in humanity behind us we embark on the sordid tale of the Lord of the Gibichungs’s marriage to Brünnhilde and the cowardly murder of Siegfried, to arrive at some sort of conclusion where Brünnhilde sacrifices herself to somehow empower women. Or something.

Siegfried in San Francisco

We discover the child of incestuous love, we ponder a god’s confusion, we anticipate an awakening. Most of all we marvel at genius of the composer and admire the canny story telling of the Zambello production.

Boris Godunov in San Francisco

Yes, just when you thought Wotan was the only big guy in town San Francisco Symphony (just across a small street from San Francisco Opera), offered three staged performances of the Mussorgsky masterpiece Boris Godunov in direct competition with San Francisco Opera’s three Ring des Nibelungen cycles.

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

A culinary coupling from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

What a treat the London Music Conservatoires serve up for opera-goers each season. After the Royal Academy’s Bizet double-bill of Le docteur Miracle and La tragédie de Carmen, and in advance of the Royal College’s forthcoming pairing of Huw Watkins’ new opera, In the Locked Room, based on a short story by Thomas Hardy, and The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have delivered a culinary coupling of Paul Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner and Sir Lennox Berkeley’s The Dinner Engagement which the Conservatoire last presented for our delectation in November 2006.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Anna Netrebko as Norina and Matthew Polenzani as Ernesto [Photo by Marty Sohl courtesy of Metropolitan Opera]
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.

G. Donizetti: Don Pasquale

Norina: Anna Netrebko; Don Pasquale: John Del Carlo; Ernesto: Barry Banks; Dr. Malatesta: Mariusz Kwiecien. Metropolitan Opera, chorus and orchestra, conducted by James Levine. Performance of February 4.

Above: Anna Netrebko as Norina and Matthew Polenzani as Ernesto

All photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of Metropolitan Opera

 

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 notes!

PASQUALE_Don_Carlo_and_Netr.gifJohn 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.

PASQUALE_Kwecien_and_Don_Ca.gifMariusz 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?

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):