Recently in Performances
Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
27 Feb 2011
Iphigénie en Tauride, New York
Gluck’s operas are part of a continuum, a tradition of French vocal
declamation (as opposed to the Italian school of flights of elegant,
open-throated vocal fantasy) that can be traced to him from Lully and Rameau,
and then from Gluck through certain works of Mozart and Gluck’s pupil,
Salieri to the operas of Spontini, Berlioz and Wagner.
It is not a greater or
lesser tradition than the Italian style, but it achieves different dramatic
effects, or the same effects by different means, and individual singers are
often more proficient in one than in the other. Specialists in Gluck being rare
(though he is, happily, going through one of his periodic revivals just now),
one must seek great Gluck singers in other branches of the repertory. Those
trained for Wagner, not too surprisingly, often fit well in the Gluckian glove.
Thus, back in the 1950s, Flagstad and Farrell were both superb as Gluck’s
Alceste and would probably have been exciting as his Iphigénie.
Elizabeth Bishop [Photo by Sasha Vasiljev courtesy of Barrett Vantage Artists]
With this in mind, I was intrigued to learn that Susan Graham was indisposed
on the night I attended Iphigénie en Tauride at the Met and would be
replaced by Elizabeth Bishop. I had last heard Bishop as Venus in
Tannhäuser (also a last-minute replacement) and have fond memories of
that performance: a young singer of great authority and potential in dramatic
roles. But Iphigénie is a less one-note conception than Venus; too, she is the
epitome of restraint where Venus is just the opposite.
Gluck’s Iphigénie, taken from Euripides, is a dignified priestess,
torn between her personal, humane, Greek sense of ethics and the demands of the
barbaric society in which she finds herself trapped, demands that include
performing human sacrifices. The screw turns its final gyre when two proposed
victims are her long-lost brother, Oreste, and his friend Pylade. Tension is
provided by the fact that, after fifteen years apart, the siblings do not
recognize each other and somehow never ask each other’s name.
Wouldn’t you tell a priestess your name before she cut your throat?
The situation is resolved in antique high style by the appearance of the
deity, Diane, who rescues the Greeks and abolishes human sacrifice—but
she takes her time to show up (at the end of Act IV), allowing us to comprehend
the noble natures of our legendary characters as they face their predicament.
In Gluck’s stately score dignity is the watchword, though at the Met, in
Stephen Wadsworth’s excessively busy production, Iphigénie is inclined to
hysterical fits and hallucinations. So, for that matter, is Oreste, but he has
an excuse—the Furies drove him mad for his brief fit of matricide back in
Paul Groves as Pylade and Plácido Domingo as Oreste
Bishop sang the priestess-princess with the right stately propriety and a
large, burnished mezzo, but with occasional lapses of evenness, of control,
that suggested she had not fully gauged the demands of this long role. It was
not a fully crafted performance, though a promising one; if Ms. Graham remains
under the weather (Bishop has sung at least one other evening since the one I
attended), another excursion or two should pull it all together. Plácido
Domingo, too, had a cold (and had the Met say so) but, canny codger that he is,
concealed his discomfort behind the craziness Oreste calls for. Not until
Bishop had him on his back on the altar, knife poised above, did the familiar
Domingo sound pour miraculously forth. Paul Groves, as Pylade, had much the
best night of the three leading singers, with an ardent, gleaming sound and
acting that made this two-dimensional sidekick role seem genuinely heroic. Mr.
Groves has usually been regarded as a lightweight, Mozartean tenor, but his
singing here implied that he could take on weightier assignments rewardingly:
Florestan or Samson or (in Domingo’s footsteps) light Wagner. Gordon
Hawkins sang Thoas unimpressively, Julie Boulianne was acceptable as Diane, and
I must say a word about Lei Xu and Cecelia Hall, who made a genuine and joyous
impression in the small roles of Iphigénie’s assisting priestesses. Gluck
obscures no one; his score allows everyone to shine if she or he is able to.
The Met chorus did a tidy a job and Patrick Summers brought out the many
felicities of this gracious, unusual score that sums up so much of where drama
and opera had led by 1779 and predicts so much of what was to come.
Susan Graham as Iphigénie and Gordon Hawkins as Thoas
The Wadsworth production accompanies the “Janissary” percussion
Gluck composed so that we’d know we were in a land of barbarians with
inane and frantic dancing here and there in nooks and landings and crannies of
the set to make us think wild orgies were going on next door. There are also
pointless and tiresome intrusions of the ghosts of persons sung about who have
no business being on stage, where they confuse the casual viewer and annoy the
knowing one. All these things, and Iphigénie’s hysteria could be altered
with a simple restaging. Less easy to comprehend and impossible to forgive is
the positioning of the statue of the goddess in her temple: In all the long
millennia of religious faith, this is surely the only occasion anyone has ever
offered prayers, sacrifices and hymns to the backside of a deity.
Couldn’t they turn her at least ninety degrees and have them offer
sacrifice beside her?
All that aside, it’s a good show.