Recently in Performances
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.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
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?