Recently in Performances
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
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.
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
Jennifer 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.