Recently in Performances
On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.
Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
20 Feb 2011
This production retains a special place in my heart: its first outing in
1999 was my first Parsifal in the theatre. Saving up my student
pennies, I made the journey not once but twice from Cambridge to London, was
mightily impressed the first time and a little irritated the second.
though I began to harbour doubts about some aspects of Nikolaus
Lehnhoff’s production, above all its ending, it remains preferable to
many I have seen in the meantime. Stefan
Herheim’s astounding Bayreuth version stands in a class of its own.
Leaving that aside, however, Lehnhoff is immeasurably superior, say, to the
pitiful, incoherent offeringsfrom Klaus
Michael Grüber for Covent Garden — why on earth did the Royal Opera
revive a universally derided non-production? — or Bernd
Eichinger’s confused effort for the Berlin State Opera, let alone
glimpses of Tony
Palmer’s cod-mediævalism for the Mariinsky. Lehnhoff’s
conception, powerfully aided by Raimund Bauer’s stage designs, stands
very much in the shadow of the Holocaust, taking as a further, generally
productive cue the Waste Land’s ‘heap of broken
images’. Apposite both to Wagner’s drama ‘in itself’
and to how we may now feel compelled to consider it, we encounter in the first
act a community clearly in need of rejuvenation; by the time of the third act,
much has turned to rubble and stone, it not being clear until the end whether
there should remain any hope at all, even under Parsifal, of that rejuvenation.
The second act seems less sure of itself, its abiding images being the bizarre
costumes Andrea Schmidt-Futterer allots to Klingsor (weirdly space-age) and
Kundry (a strange chrysalis, out of and into which she awkwardly squeezes
herself). But compared to the horrors of Grüber’s Covent Garden
production, we perhaps should not concern ourselves unduly with that. What the
whole lacked, I thought, was more incisive direction on stage, doubtless a
consequence of Lehnhoff’s absence through illness: there was more than
the occasional hint of a routine ‘revival’, a great pity given the
The broken railway line present during the whole of the third act is a
powerful ‘broken image’, presumably intended to refer to Auschwitz.
But what is being said there? That the variety of revival offered by the
community’s new leader leads to racial rather than Schopenhauerian
annihilation? That would be wrong-headed in the extreme, but a point of view at
least, yet it seems undercut by the joy with which Kundry — she does not
die — and Parsifal begin their journey along the line. The implication
seems to be that they are wandering off to initiate a sexual relationship:
bewildering, and arguably offensive, in the production’s context. The
production, understandably, appears to waver between a quasi-Adornian attempt
to ‘rescue’ Wagner and a desire to condemn him. Part of the reason,
I suspect, why this conundrum presents itself is the production’s
absolute refusal to engage with the work’s complex relationship towards
Christianity. (I should direct anyone interested in my thoughts on the latter
to an article in The Wagner Journal, 3/3, pp.29-59.) Simply to ignore
the issue seems to me an unduly easy way out. And yes, that includes the
deflating absence of any substitute for the second-act Sign of the Cross; text
and music cry out for something, whatever it might be.
Mark Wigglesworth’s conducting was for the most part something to
savour. Parsifal is by any standards a tough proposition, but the
structure was largely in place, most impressively of all in the first act,
which opened with a beautifully slow yet sustained prelude. The third act
occasionally dragged: not a matter of tempo as such, but of faltering line;
however, I should not wish to exaggerate. The score’s dialectic between
horizontal and vertical demands was more surely navigated than I have often
heard. Moreover, the ENO orchestra gave perhaps the finest performance I have
ever heard from it; I have certainly never heard it finer. Strings had weight,
sweetness, and silkiness, as required, whilst the rounded tone of the brass,
sepulchral and never brash, proved exemplary.
Stuart Skelton as Parsifal and Jane Dutton as Kundry
Allowances had to be made for some of the vocal portrayals — and for
almost all of Richard Stokes’s English translation. The latter is
doubtless an horrendously difficult task to undertake, but some of the
inaccuracies — why change a gander to a ‘duckling’, making
nonsense of the relationship to a goose? — and banalities could surely
have been improved upon. Choral singing was generally very good. Jane
Dutton’s Kundry was sadly below par; one could only regret the absence,
owing to ‘artistic differences’, of the originally advertised Iréne
Theorin. Sir John Tomlinson’s voice is becoming increasingly threadbare
at the top, but there was no denying the overall majesty of his Gurnemanz,
however impoverished the great narrations may have been by the act of
translation. Iain Paterson had a slightly shaky start as Amfortas, but
recovered well, soon erasing unfortunate memories of his bizarre miscasting by
ENO as Don Giovanni; here, instead, we had a typically detailed response to
text and music, and a credible dramatic assumption, for the most part finely
acted on stage. Tom Fox and Andrew Greenan made their respective marks without
blemish as Klingsor and Titurel, both rising vocally above the handicap of
their strange costumes. Stuart Skelton displayed a fine Heldentenor in
the title role, very much in the baritonal, ‘Bayreuth’ tradition.
As with many of the best exponents of the role, he left one initially a little
disappointed, an apparent disappointment rectified by the appreciation of
dramatic strategy: the first act Parsifal should sound somewhat
vacant, in order to allow for the extraordinary development the character
undergoes. (Even ‘extraordinary’ is to put it mildly.) The voice
lacks nothing in power; if anything, the thought occurred that it might have
benefited from a larger space.
Iain Patterson as Amfortas, Adrian Dwyer as First Knight and Robert Winslade Anderson as Second Knight
Indeed, I still wonder whether a theatre other than the Bayreuth
Festspielhaus is a suitable venue for staging Parsifal at all: not out
of misplaced ‘Bayreuth Idealist’ piety, but rather because I think
other, non-theatrical spaces, from Siena Cathedral to the Tate Modern Turbine
Hall, might prove much more appropriate. A work that has so far transcended the
narrow horizons of the Italianate opera house — or, in the case of the
Coliseum case, the music hall! — jars somewhat in such a setting. Whether
one considers that jarring productive may be a matter of taste, however, and
the problem, such as it is, is not ENO’s alone; far from it.