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

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.

Riveting Maria de San Diego

As part of its continuing, adventurous “Detour” series, San Diego Opera mounted a deliciously moody, proudly pulsating, wholly evocative presentation of Astor Piazzolla’s “nuevo tango” opera, Maria de Buenos Aires.

La Walkyrie in Toulouse

The Nicolas Joel 1999 production of Die Walküre seen just now in Toulouse well upholds the Airbus city’s fame as Bayreuth-su-Garonne (the river that passes through this quite beautiful, rich city).

Barrie Kosky's Carmen at Covent Garden

Carmen is dead. Long live Carmen. In a sense, both Bizet’s opera and his gypsy diva have been ‘done to death’, but in this new production at the ROH (first seen at Frankfurt in 2016) Barrie Kosky attempts to find ways to breathe new life into the show and resurrect, quite literally, the eponymous temptress.

Candide at Arizona Opera

On Friday February 2, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Leonard Bernstein’s Candide to honor the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Although all the music was Bernstein’s, the text was written and re-written by numerous authors including Lillian Hellman, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, and Dorothy Parker, as well as the composer.

Satyagraha at English National Opera

The second of Philip Glass’s so-called 'profile' operas, Satyagraha is magnificent in ENO’s acclaimed staging, with a largely new cast and conductor bringing something very special to this seminal work.

Mahler Symphony no 8—Harding, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

From the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, a very interesting Mahler Symphony no 8 with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The title "Symphony of a Thousand" was dreamed up by promoters trying to sell tickets, creating the myth that quantity matters more than quality. For many listeners, Mahler 8 is still a hard nut to crack, for many reasons, and the myth is part of the problem. Mahler 8 is so original that it defies easy categories.

Wigmore Hall Schubert Birthday—Angelika Kirchschlager

At the Wigmore Hall, Schubert's birthday is always celebrated in style. This year, Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake, much loved Wigmore Hall audience favourites, did the honours, with a recital marking the climax of the two-year-long Complete Schubert Songs Series. The programme began with a birthday song, Namenstaglied, and ended with a farewell, Abschied von der Erde. Along the way, a traverse through some of Schubert's finest moments, highlighting different aspects of his song output : Schubert's life, in miniature.

Ilker Arcayürek at Wigmore Hall

The first thing that struck me in this Wigmore Hall recital was the palpable sincerity of Ilker Arcayürek’s artistry. Sincerity is not everything, of course; what we think of as such may even be carefully constructed artifice, although not, I think, here.

Lisette Oropesa sings at Tucson Desert Song Festival

On January 30, 2018, Arizona Opera and the Tucson Desert Song Festival presented a recital by lyric soprano Lisette Oropesa in the University of Arizona’s Holsclaw Hall. Looking like a high fashion model in her silver trimmed midnight-blue gown, the singer and pianist Michael Borowitz began their program with Pablo Luna’s Zarzuela aria, “De España Vengo.” (“I come from Spain”).

Schubert songs, part-songs and fragments: three young singers at the Wigmore Hall

Youth met experience for this penultimate instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s Schubert: The Complete Songs series, and the results were harmonious and happy. British soprano Harriet Burns, German tenor Ferdinand Keller and American baritone Harrison Hintzsche were supportively partnered by lieder ‘old-hand’, Graham Johnson, and we heard some well-known and less familiar songs in this warmly appreciated early-afternoon recital.

Brent Opera: Nabucco

Brent Opera’s Nabucco was a triumph in that it worked as a piece of music theatre against some odds, and was a good evening out.

LPO: Das Rheingold

It is, of course, quite an achievement in itself for a symphony orchestra to perform Das Rheingold or indeed any of the Ring dramas. It does not happen very often, not nearly so often as it should; for given Wagner’s crucial musico-historical position, this is music that should stand at the very centre of their repertoires – just as Beethoven should at the centre of opera orchestras’.

William Tell in Palermo

This was the infamous production that was booed to extinction at Covent Garden. Palermo’s Teatro Massimo now owns the production.

The Bandits in Rome

AKA I masnadieri, rare early Verdi, though not as rare as Alzira. In 1847 London’s Her Majesty’s Theatre  commissioned the newly famous Verdi to write this opera for the London debut of Swedish soprano Jenny Lind.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Paul Appleby as Jenik and Layla Claire as Marenka. [Photo by Nan Melville courtesy of The Julliard School]
22 Feb 2011

The Bartered Bride, New York

In the mid-nineteenth century, every nationality that did not possess a national state felt a need to prove itself, to square its shoulders and claim nationhood with all the identifying marks of a nation: a language with a literature, a tricolor flag, a national anthem extolling the people’s stalwart character and the country’s landscape (inevitably the loveliest in the world), a national theater and a national opera to be performed there.

Bedřich Smetana: Prodaná nevěsta [The Bartered Bride]

Mařenka: Layla Claire; Esmeralda: Joyce El-Khoury; Jeník: Paul Appleby; Vašek: Alexander Lewis; Kecal: Jordan Bisch; Ringmaster: Noah Baetge. The Met’s Lindemann Young Artists Program in partnership with the Juilliard Opera program, Juilliard Orchestra conducted by James Levine at the Peter J. Sharp Theater. Performance of February 17.

Above: Paul Appleby as Jenik and Layla Claire as Mařenka

All photos by Nan Melville courtesy of The Julliard School.

 

The national opera was often based on national legends and national folk tunes; when possible, national folk dances made an appearance.

Bedřich Smetana resolved to create the Czech national opera at a time when Czech nationhood was subsumed in that of the Austrian Empire, and he chose a legend about a Czech dynast. Scenes from this opera adorn the walls of the National Theater in Prague, which was constructed at that time, to this day. The opera is called Libuše (the name of the prophetess who founded both Prague and the Czech royal house); it is rarely performed in the Czech lands and obscure outside them. Instead, to both the Czechs and the rest of the world, the national opera is Smetana’s light, merry Prodaná Nevěsta, to the English-speaking world (for it is seldom given in Czech here) The Bartered Bride. In this guise it has long been in the category of occasional revivals, the overture almost too familiar (orchestras love it for the rhythmic workout it gives the strings: it’s a charming showoff piece). The Met and Juilliard chose it for the first of what one hopes will become a tradition of collaborations between the Met’s Lindemann Young Artists and the Juilliard opera program in their nifty little opera theater, the Peter J. Sharp. The omens look good.

One did wonder, though, at the performance, what Smetana’s charming folk opera was doing in a Central European café in doom-laden 1938? Was some ideological point intended? Or (one sneered) was it just that they couldn’t afford costumes of the proper era? A program note by director Stephen Wadsworth cleared things up: No, they couldn’t afford a full stage of fancy peasant costumes. He gets applause from me for not trying to make some political point of this, and for clear storytelling though, as usual with Wadsworth, it’s a bit fussy. Something is always going on, people are always dancing outside the window when the action should focus on one character’s solo distress. All the performers were expected to insert bits of folk-dance into their arias, just to ground us in Czech-ness, which they did with varying skill—but being able to dance credibly while they sing is part of the skill-set evidently being taught the Lindemann Young Artists at the Met. But I still can’t believe parents in Central Europe in 1938 would dare to arrange a marriage for their daughter without consulting her any more than they would today.

Opera translations into English come in at least four varieties: Risible, unendurable, irritating and inaudible. Inaudible—ENO’s Wagner, for example—is my favorite. Sandy McClatchy’s new version of Bartered Bride (an opera I have never heard sung in Czech) was mildly irritating: lots of false rhymes and false accents (the heroine’s name, at least, should fall with the proper emphasis), but many of those attending seemed to enjoy it and it was so clearly sung that surtitles should not have been necessary. The stuttering Vašek got laughs from those who find disabilities hilarious. (In Smetana’s day, no doubt, that was a larger group.)

5148Bride_0377c.pngJennifer Johnson Cano as Ludmila, Layla Claire as Mařenka, Donovan Singletary as Krusina, and Jordan Bisch as Kecal

Among the singers, slim, red-haired Layla Claire made the biggest impression as Mařenka, the bartered bride. She is a talented, affecting actress, both flirting and sorrowing, and her voice has a Central European sort of vibrato and a winning, plangent smoothness and rose on occasion to an opulent high C. Too, she worked her irritations out in dance steps that seemed unusually well integrated into her character. Paul Appleby, as her Jeník, displayed the several colors of his attractive tenor well, though he was unattractively costumed and obliged to use precious breath dancing with rage. Alexander Lewis had the part of Vašek, Jeník’s stuttering half-brother, and his well-supported light, high tenor made a nice contrast between the suitors; he also dances winningly and acts ably: a comic scene-stealer. I see Rossini and Donizetti leading roles in his future. Jordan Bisch was also an audience favorite in the buffo role of the pompous marriage broker, Kecal. His perfect diction and command of blowhard nuance (Kecal thinks he’s smarter than anybody, even when he loses the barter of the title) were as enduring as his rounded low notes. Noah Baetge’s star turn as the Ringmaster of a convenient carnival invasion was not vocally impressive, but that was all right since his part is written to be upstaged by ridiculous circus acts—the bearded “lady” ballerina and the contortionist were particular crowd-pleasers. The four annoying parents who clutter the plot proved their worth when they joined distraught Mařenka for the quintet that was the evening’s vocal peak. James Levine conducted the Juilliard Opera Orchestra, and the thrilling, rushing string writing gave no problems and great delight.

John Yohalem

5148Bride_1264c.png

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):