Recently in Performances
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.
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of
Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a
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.