Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.

La Vestale, La Monnaie, Bruxelles

In the first half of the 19th century, Spontini’s La Vestale was a hit. Empress Josephine sponsored its premiere, Parisians heard it hundreds of times, Berlioz raved about it and Wagner conducted it.

Shattering Madama Butterfly Stockholm

An intelligent updating and outstanding performance of the title role lead to a shattering climax in Puccini's Japanese opera



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


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):