Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

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.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

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.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

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.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

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.

Tosca in Marseille

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.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

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.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

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.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

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.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

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.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal 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: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

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?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

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.

Double bill at Guildhall

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.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

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.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

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]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

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.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

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.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

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.

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):