07 Feb 2011
Turandot, Florida Grand Opera
In 2010, Florida Grand Opera held a gala to honor Robert Heuer on his 25th anniversary as general director.
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
In 2010, Florida Grand Opera held a gala to honor Robert Heuer on his 25th anniversary as general director.
On hand to join in the festivities was the great American baritone Sherrill Milnes who named Florida Grand Opera among the nation’s top regional companies. Compliment or challenge? The ultimate challenge for FGO in this, its 70th season may be to maximize efficiency without sacrificing quality. Dusting off thirty-year-old Turandot sets for the season opener (seen November 13th) speaks to the former and maintains a streak begun in 2009 of presenting productions designed and created for FGO.
Two features were immediately identifiable on curtain: a stage-covering set, the aft section of which molds the Forbidden City into a dragon, and the plush atmosphere that are quintessential Bliss Hebert (Staging) and Allen Charles Klein (Sets, costumes and lighting). A flash point in this scene is a sharpening wheel setting off sparks as the many executioners run swords across it. Act Three brings a particularly dark and dank garden, as Calaf and townspeople contemplate a sleepless night. Fine points in the work of Klein and Michelle Diamantides (Wigs and Makeup) include Ping, Pang and Pong wearing Kabuki face paint, and a wide palette of costume variations (Sumo gear on executioners, Samurai outfits on soldiers, and Sages of caricatured pre-frontal cortexes).
Familiarity was also supplied by the musical direction of Ramon Tebar, wielding baton here again, having led FGO’s Lucia last season. Tebar seems to prefer slow, deliberate beats that were quite successful in this Turandot, if taxing on some singers. The orchestra met crucial moments head on, playing chords strongly — with powerful horns and hammered, note-perfect percussions; the Riddle Scene simmered in mystery. Less successful was the over-bright harp playing following Turandot’s lines and a general slackening of musical structure in Act Two.
Lise Lindstrom is in exclusive company: singers that can easily clear the steep crests of Turandot. Her voice is penetrating and interesting, warming to the ears as the night progressed. Lindstrom excelled in Alfano’s passages, possibliy presaging a move into Wagner. In currying the Emperor’s sympathy and hinting at curiosity over Liu’s devotion, Lindstrom delved into La Principessa’s internal struggles. Where Lindstrom’s voice is pointed in focus, Frank Porretta’s is spread, making for shaky balancing with the orchestra. Still, Porretta’s Calaf stayed the course with well-taken but inconsistent legato and game attempts at varying expressiveness.
Frank Porretta as Calaf, Elizabeth Caballero as Liu and Kevin Langan as Timur
Elizabeth Caballero’s vocal glamour is well-known to audiences here and on that reputation she did not renege as Liu. Refined musical accents abounded — pianissimo in the correct places and generous outpourings of sound from notes in the meat of her voice. Kevin Langan’s Timur - fragile, sincere and strong of heart - was perhaps the most complete characterization of the evening. Robert Dundas is a youthful voiced Emperor of noble spirit. All supporting parts came off aptly, with a vote of vocal promise for the second handmaiden Emilia Acon, a distinctly rich sound. Hebert’s blocking and Rosa Mercedes’ fine and uniform choreography cushion production elements that verge on excessive. In Puccini’s final work, impact rests greatly on the chorus and FGO’s group is polished and disciplined under the direction of John Keene; Timothy A. Sharp drew a solid performance from Miami Children’s Chorus.
Lise Lindstrom as Turandot and Frank Porretta as Calaf