Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Javier Camarena as Count Ory and Liliana Nikiteanu as Ragonde [Photo by Jef Rabillon courtesy of Opernhaus Zürich]
06 Feb 2011

Randy Rossini Romp in Z-Town

If proof were needed, the Swiss capital’s heady new Le Comte Ory cements the notion that super-star Cecelia Bartoli certainly seems to have found an ideal home at Zurich Opera.

G. Rossini: Le Comte Ory

Count Ory: Javier Camarena; Countess Adele: Cecilia Bartoli; Isolier: Rebeca Olvera; Ragonde: Liliana Nikiteanu; The Governor: Carlos Chausson; Raimbaud: Oliver Widmer. Conductor: Muhai Tang. Stage Direction: Moshe Leiser and Patric Caurier. Set Design: Christian Fenouillat. Costumes: Agostino Cavalca. Ligthing Design: Christophe Forey and Martin Gebbhardt. Chorus Master: Jőrg Hämmerli.

Above: Javier Camarena as Count Ory and Liliana Nikiteanu as Ragonde

All photos by Jef Rabillon courtesy of Opernhaus Zürich

 

And like everything else about her meticulously managed career, La Bartoli has chosen her house wisely since this jewel of a theatre is a perfect size to showcase her prodigious vocal skills. She exudes star quality to be sure, and her acting is fearless and assured, but she also sings up a perfect storm with some of the best damn’ coloratura (rhymes with bravura) fireworks to be heard in this (or any other) galaxy.

The Divine Miss B knows her assets, and her limitations, well and she unerringly maximizes the former and beguiles us into ignoring the latter, by which I mean…the voice is not large. It will never pin us in our seats like Gabriela Schnuat in full Geschrei (Gott sei dank…). But Cecelia is crafty enough not to try, concentrating instead on dazzling with the afore-mentioned pyrotechnical melismas, and by making every phrase supremely meaningful. Some find her minute attention to detail and nuance irritatingly over-reaching and mannered. Not so.

For an example of truly fussy calculations I invite you to listen to the late (late) Schwarzkopf recordings where every syllable has a different life and color (make that “lah-EEF an-duh Cuh-LOoooouuur”). To my ear, our Ms. Bartoli invests each phrase with subtext, and finds exactly the right dramatic modulation within the context of the overall musical moment. As she has matured, her pliable upper voice seems to have become even more flexible all the while it has gotten a little darker, more bronzed now than silvery. The chest tones remain rich, the lower-middle full and responsive, and the role of Countess Adele was superbly realized by a diva in full command of all her resources.

Call it another triumph by this treasurable artist who has gifted the company with another definitive performance. Zurich Opera has repaid our star in kind by surrounding her with a cast of highly talented colleagues and a scintillating production.

Young tenor Javier Camarena was almost all one could wish for in the title role. He sports a secure and easy top, solid technique, decent heft in mid-range, good agility in the florid passage work, and a willingness to throw himself into the stage antics with abandon. True, his forte high notes get quite straight-toned, but they never miss. And he sings very musically with arching line, projecting his well-focused slender voice to the furthest reaches of the house, no matter what comic business he may be doing simultaneously. Mr. Camarena is a highly valuable asset to the repertoire, and he is needed. But damn Juan Diego Florez! Anyone who has experienced JDF in one of these Rossini roles has had the bar of expectation raised impossibly high, not only vocally, but also because he is gorgeous and. . .he can be effortlessly funny. Javier works a little too hard to get har-de-har-laffs and thus distances himself from us. And it has to be said when he peels off his shirt, well, the moment is more Pillsbury Doughboy than Casanova.

Rebeca Olvera was such a secure, perky Isolier and she had such a spot-on delivery that I wanted to love her even more than I did. But I kept thinking what a wonderful Oscar she would make, and wondering if I should be thinking that while she was in front of me essaying the meatier role of Isolier. She strutted and prowled the environment with great conviction, and everything about her crystal-clear bell-like soprano was absolutely first rate. Her duets, singing often in thirds with Bartoli, were among the evening’s most sublime moments. But ultimately, for all her talent and conscientious music-making, we ended up with Isolier-Lite.

ory-81590.gifJavier Camarena as Count Ory and Cecilia Bartoli as Countess Adele

Not so with the plummy mezzo contribution from Liliana Nikiteanu as Ragonde. Her tone is like a rich cream sauce, and her grounded vocal character was a perfect foil for the other two high flying ladies. Oliver Widmer was a dramatically involved, vocally secure Raimbaud, and he made the most out of his lengthy celebration of wine’s virtues. The ageless veteran Carlos Chausson made his usual solid effort, his ripe bass rolling out securely as the Governor. What a wonderful career he continues to have.

The production was cleverly directed by Moshe Leiser and Patric Caurier, the duo who also scored with Ms. Bartoli’s Clari in this house. Here are two people who know how to direct singers. They know where to place them on stage to be heard. They know how to keep them still (or still enough) to be able to sing well. And they know how to group the chorus and move them so they can maintain good ensemble singing. And…dramatically they know how to use placement of characters and meaningful blocking to properly focus a scene. And Messrs. Leiser and Caurier have created inventive and personalized business while still trusting the material. Sadly, on the international circuit, this is not all that common.

The piece has been set in post-war France and it works surprisingly well. Of course, having the plot hinge around ladies anxiously awaiting their troops coming home from the war invites bitchy comments about not realizing the French ever actually fought in that war…but perhaps that is a little Swiss in-joke. The lovely realistic village setting from designer Christian Fenouillat includes an upper street level that accommodates a number of vehicles to drive across it including a jeep for Isolier and the Governor, and a Citroen for the Countess. A steep set of stairs center stage brings performers to the main level where the Hermit (Ory) is hiding not in a cave, but in a white trash trailer. It later spins and unfolds like a dime store pop up greeting card to reveal a leopard skin and red lamé campy camper interior.

Act Two’s palace interior was a brilliantly detailed drawing room with overstuffed sofas and chairs, dining table, copious noveau light fixtures, a balcony, and even a grand piano (which Ory ‘plays’ to accompany himself at one point) . The goof of having the women taking their tea as only one sewed during the ‘sewing chorus’ was charming. Indeed, as Ragonde sloooooooowly threaded the needle while the rest of the ladies hung suspended in silence until the deed was done (to great general relief) , it was an inspired moment of comic invention. And having the chandelier sway during the storm, and various light bulbs “explode” and blow out was one of the many deft touches from lighting designers Christophe Forey and Martin Gebbhardt. The choice of period also allowed for a color-riot of ‘busy’ costumes: day dresses, uniforms, business suits and, of course drag nuns, all of which were lovingly devised by Agostino Cavalca.

ory-81830.gifCecilia Bartoli as Countess Adele and Rebeca Olvera as Isolier

All of the plot points and machinations were extremely well presented, not least of which is Ory’s attempted false seduction of the Countess (in the guise of Isolier). Having the Countess on the floor down stage of the chaise that bears Isolier, the both covered with a blanket, and having Ory approach from upstage was absolutely the right placement, and it allowed good variety in the lengthy scene to boot. The team worked hard and well at filling the repetitive arias (especially Raimbaud’s and Governor’s) with meaningful movement and varied positioning.

The one miscalculation in the concept was that of the character of Count Ory himself. He is sexually adventurous and somewhat insatiable, clear. And he is focused on his pursuits. But he is not a perverted, promiscuous boor with a constant erection. Here, the Count came off as the obnoxious frat boy who was the bane of every party, ogling buttocks, pawing penitents, and even looking up the Countess’ skirt. Mr. Camarena was also oddly costumed in flip-flops, cargo pants and a tee shirt (when he wasn’t the blind hermit). A little finesse would go a long way in fine-tuning Javier’s considerable efforts. A little heart would make him the heart of the show. How ‘bout it, guys? Please?

Conductor Muhai Tang elicited wonderful ensemble playing from the orchestra, finding real rubato and dramatic personality in the odd little overture. He partnered his singers with great aplomb, and the solo work, especially from the winds, was demonstrative and effervescent. Jőrg Hämmerli’s chorus was polished to a fare-thee-well and the many Opera Studio soloists distinguished themselves, notably young tenor Ilker Alcaryűrek, a talent to watch.

What a joy it was to see such a seriously well crafted mounting of this seldom encountered comic piece. Rare Rossini, well done!

James Sohre

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):