Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
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.
06 Feb 2011
Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Florida Grand Opera
If you are ever lucky enough to have the opportunity to catch a great exponent of just one of two major roles — the heroines or villains — in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, you should secure a seat maintenant.
If both of those roles are taken up by such
the rarified performer, it would behoove you to stage a sit-in at the box
office. Florida Grand Opera can boast to the latter situation with its
production of Hoffmann (seen opening night, January 22).
The detail in three of Bradley Garvin’s four villains, each with
oodles of personal stamp, made it easy to forget that he has taken the roles up
only 15 times, covering them at the Met last season. This was the
bass-baritione’s FGO debut. Lindorf was a less developed, more ambiguous
character for Garvin — a bother for certain, probably not evil incarnate.
By turns, Garvin’s Dr. Miracle was cruelly insinuating and, knowing
Antonia’s heart, ruthlessly played on her weaknesses. Garvin’s
transformation included a more backward vocal placement and an eerie French
brogue, adding a backward leaning stance and the creepy pointing of bony
digits; this Dr. Miracle exorcised the living force within Antonia with quiet
David Pomeroy as Hoffmann and Katherine Rohrer as The Muse/Nicklausse
In Elizabeth Futral’s first essaying of the four heroines, her
greatest challenge may well be making a believable woman-as-object out of
Olympia in a production that plays up the phantasmagorical in Offenbach’s
story. Olympia’s costume is a cumbersome cubed-patterned dress, with an
exaggerated petticoat that gives way to a box and keyhole — her cranking
mechanism. Futral darkened her voice, her word texturing the stuff of magic
itself, as she became a helpless and aimless Antonia, on breakneck course to
lose her soul.
Hoffmann was the role of David Pomeroy’s Metropolitan Opera debut in
2009 and the Canadian tenor did many things right in his opera debut with FGO.
The tale of the dwarf Kleinzach was finished well, his singing in the duet with
Antonia was impassioned, and by the epilogue, Pomeroy had plenty in reserve to
return to the final revelation of the Kleinzach legend. His voice is a husky
one that he covers or not at will below the passagio — this is Hoffmann
as a bit of a brute.
In another company debut, Conductor Lucy Arner seemed at home in the French
Romantic repertoire. Arner’s keen sense of tempi and firm hand made
rhythmic timing with singers — one of Hoffmann’s musical moguls
— look easy. The type of delicate instrument playing elicited for
Nicklausse’s short solo in Antonia’s Act reminded that the
conductor has extensive experience in chamber music. Katherine Rohrer (The
Muse/Nicklausse) is a real sprite, most memorable in the latter song and in
serially mocking Hoffmann’s attraction for Olympia. Matthew Dibattista
took on Offenbach, Cochenille, Frantz and Pitchinaccio, carrying on especially
heartily in Frantz’s aria. Phillip Skinner made both Luther and Crespel
relevant. FGO was rewarded by entrusting the roles of Henri Meilhac, Wolframm,
and Schlemil to Young Artist Craig Colclouch. Other Young Artists that
acquitted themselves favorably were James Barbato (Wilhelm), Jonathan G.Michie
(Hermann), Daniel Shirley (Nathanail); Young Artist Courtney McKeown’s
assignment as Antonia’s mother is rather unorthodox here, from the inside
of a huge male action figure, she moved the thing about as she sang.
Elizabeth Futral as Antonia, Bradley Garvin as Dr. Miracle and Courtney McKeown as Antonia’s mother
This joint production of Opera Colorado, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and
Boston Lyric Opera emphasizes the “dreamlike” over the cerebral in
Hoffmann’s tales. It was as if Andre Barbe (sets and costumes) and Guy
Simard (lighting) heaved mixed chunks of Willy Wonka and Dr.
Who on the Olympia and Giulietta Acts. A stage-sized screen with sliding
doors opens to an Offenbach shrine in gold in the middle of Spalanzani’s
workshop. Lime green lab coats and garbage-pail-inspired robots are the stuff
at the workshop and serpentine seahorse headdresses, and rolling staircase
gondolas, a nod to the ‘Barcarolle’ and Venice. If M.C. Escher
etching look-a-likes behind the doors in each act seemed out of place, they did
much to draw the eye downstage. Renaud Doucet’s meticulous consideration
of blocking and movement — each person, down to the last super, had a
place to be and executed some purposeful action — was total. Lastly,
FGO’s ensemble singing overall was as good as it has been since 2005 and
John Keene’s chorus put on a performance of all-around distinction.