Recently in Performances
In May of 2013, the Spire Series at the First Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland, observed the fiftieth anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy by presenting a work dealing with the 1963 assassination.
Dulce Rosa, a brand new opera, had its world premiere Friday night, May 17, 2013 at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, California. It was produced by Los Angeles Opera, but staged in the smaller theater.
Richard Jones’ 2009 production of Verdi’s Falstaff translates the action from the first Elizabethan age to the start of the second.
Baritone Gareth John is rapidly accumulating a war-chest of honours. Winner of the 2013 Kathleen Ferrier Award, he recently won the Royal Academy of Music Patrons’ Award and was presented the Silver Medal by the Worshipful Company of Musicians.
This second revival of Jonathan Miller’s La bohème was the first time I had caught the production.
It’s Verdi’s bicentenary year and Rolando Villazón has two new CDs to plug — titled somewhat confusingly, ‘Villazón: Verdi’ and ‘Villazón’s Verdi’, the latter a ‘personal selection’ of favourite numbers performed by stars of the past and present.
Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra climbed out of the War Memorial pit, braved the wind whipped bay and held spellbound an audience at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Auditorium at UC Berkeley.
Utterly mad but absolutely right — Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos started the Glyndebourne 2013 season with an explosion. Strauss could hardly have made his intentions more clear. Ariadne auf Naxos is not “about” Greek myth so much as a satire on art and the way art is made.
“Man is an abyss. It makes one dizzy to look into it.” So utters Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, repeating what was also a recurring motif in the playwright’s own letters.
National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.
Once upon a time, Frankfurt Opera had the baddest ass reputation in Germany as “the” cutting edge producer of must-see opera.
Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.
Just in case we were not aware that the evening’s programme was ‘themed’, the Britten Sinfonia designed a visual accompaniment to their musical exploration of night, sleep and dreams.
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Composed between 1718 and 1720, Handel’s Esther is sometimes described as the ‘first English Oratorio’, but is in fact a hybrid form, mixing elements of oratorio, masque, pastoral and opera.
Hector Berlioz's légende dramatique, La Damnation de Faust, exists somewhere between cantata and opera. Berlioz's flexible attitude to dramatic form made the piece unworkable on the stages of early 19th century Paris and his music is so vivid that you wonder whether the piece needs staging at all.
St. John’s Smith Square was the site of Elizabeth Connell’s final London concert, intended as a farewell to London on her moving to Australia. It was rendered ultimately final by her unexpected death.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
03 Feb 2011
Mosheh, a VideOpera
Yoav Gal, an Israeli-born composer-in-residence at the HERE arts complex in
Manhattan’s South Village, calls Mosheh a “VideOpera,” rightly giving as much place to what is seen (electronic projections) as to what is heard (from four sopranos playing the women in the prophet’s life and an orchestra of nine musicians).
Mosheh contains most of what we’ve come to expect from new
operas in the twenty-first century: video and film, of course, and also
gamelan-derived percussive scoring, surtitles to obviate the need for a
coherent drama, and naked male bodies, in this case the non-singing title role.
(Trivia: Name other title characters who do not sing in their own opera.
There’s La Muette de Portici, of course.)
What Mosheh has that I seldom expect is respectable melody.
Miriam’s serenade to her baby brother as she places him in the Nile is an
especially lovely number; Zipporah’s harsh aria about inventing
circumcision to save her new husband from the Angel of Death is less
immediately attractive. Too, the quartet at the conclusion of the opera when
the women narrate the twelve plagues that fall upon Egypt has an eerie harmony
that calls Benjamin Britten to mind.
What Mosheh, the opera, did not have was a coherent, stageworthy
way of telling its more or less familiar story. Without some Bible reading (or
a viewing of The Ten Commandments) and surtitles, I don’t think
an audience would find the action at all clear. It is rather a costumed series
of individual scenes, all for voices of too striking a sameness. Gal writes
well for the voice, without straining the instrument as the atonal opera
composers were prone to do—because, unlike them, he has not renounced
melody as an expressive tool—also, I suspect, he has studied voice
writing and respects the instrument and its capabilities. His four well-chosen
soloists had no trouble filling HERE’s admittedly small space with
thrilling sound that never made us wince.
But because the vocalism accompanied so little action and no dialogue, the
evening never became a dramatic event, that is, an opera. Were sets and
costumes (wild costumes!) even necessary? Were the tremendously elaborate and
often beautiful projections, which led us, for example, through rows upon rows
of columns into Pharaoh’s throne room, or beside the muddy pools of the
Nile required? Is Mosheh’s presence called for by the music, or would any naked
man (a volunteer from the audience, say) do just as well? Or could we dispense
with him too?
Soprano Hai-Ting Chinn, well known among fans of New York’s odder
opera scenes (she was the Wooster Group’s splendid Didone
Abbandonata), made the most striking impression here as Miriam, acting as
well as singing her lovely music.
Heather Green as Bitia, Beth Anne Hatton as Zipporah, Judith Barnes as Yocheved and Hai-Ting Chinn as Miriam [Photo by Hunter Canning courtesy of seven17 public relations]