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

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Turandot [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of San Diego Opera]
07 Feb 2011

Turandot, San Diego

The original story that formed the basis for the libretto of Puccini’s opera Turandot told of a Mongolian princess who insisted that any prospective husband endeavor to win a wrestling match with her.

Giacomo Puccini: Turandot

Turandot: Lise Lindstrom; Calaf: Carlo Ventre; Liu: Ermonela Jaho; Timur: Reinhard Hagen; Ping: Jeff Matsey; Pang: Joel Sorensen; Pong: Joseph Hu; Mandarin: Scott Sikon. Conductor: Edoardo Müller. Director: Lotfi Mansouri. Scenery: David Hockney. Costumes: Ian Falconer.

Above: Turandot [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of San Diego Opera]

 

In 1710, French author François Pétis de la Croix made her into Turandot, the so-called ice princess, who ordered the beheading of prospective consorts who could not solve riddles she posed. Half a century later, Italian playwright Carlo Gozzi transformed the Pétis story into a work for the theater.*

Turandot was Giacomo Puccini’s last opera. He first looked at it in March 1920 when he met with librettists Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni to choose a subject for his next work. Having selected Turandot, he composed most of it between 1921 and 1924, a time when impressionism along with the sounds of Claude Debussy and Richard Strauss were most influential.** When he had completed all but the last few minutes of the score, he went abroad for cancer treatment and, unfortunately, died of a heart attack there. The finale was completed by Franco Alfano and the new opera was premiered at La Scala in Milan on Sunday 25 April 1926, seventeen months after Puccini’s death. It was very quickly accepted by European and American theaters and was performed in New York, Vienna, Dresden and Buenos Aires during the same year as its world premiere.*** It was seen in London the following year. China, however, has taken many decades to accept this work because it once thought the libretto painted its people in a poor light. Performances there did not take place until the 1990s.

On 29 January, San Diego Opera opened its 2011 season with a gala performance of Turandot featuring brightly colored sets by the well-known artist David Hockney. Similarly colored costumes were designed by Ian Falconer. Although the scenery is stylized in a simplified Chinesemanner, for the San Diego Opera performances, inventive, Iranian-born stage director Lotfi Mansouri had his principals move with realistic reactions to the story’s situations.

For Lise Lindstrom, Turandot has become a signature role ever since her Met debut last season. After San Diego, she will sing it at La Scala and the Deutsche Oper in Berlin before returning to the United States and yet another rendition of the role at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. She sings it with a smooth delivery that belies the difficulty of the part. Her radiant technique is reminiscent of Birgit Nilsson, but although her voice had a great deal of gleaming steel that could cut through the orchestral tapestry like a laser, this ice princess melted into a passionate lover in Act III. She was not the only soprano star on that stage, however.

Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho, who has been heard in San Diego as Maria Stuarda, was a magnificently poignant Liù. She really brought tears to everyone’s eyes when she sang her aria, ‘Tu che di gel sei cinta’. She is a lyric soprano with a rainbow of warm, glowing colors in her voice and the ability to involve the emotions of the audience with her stagecraft.

Turandot_SD_2011_02.gifA scene from Turandot [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of San Diego Opera]

As Calàf, Uruguayan tenor Carlo Ventre was a patient suitor who sang all the notes in the right places with a warm, well-bronzed sound. His interpretation could have been a little bit more energetic and passionate, but his rendition of ‘Nessun Dorma’ brought down the house. Having Reinhold Hagen sing Timur was definitely luxury casting. His smoky-toned mellifluous voice and accomplished interpretation made his character a major player in this drama.

The trio of Ping, Pang and Pong add a bit of comic relief in Act I and a pastoral note to the second act. Baritone Jeff Mattsey as Ping, with tenors Joel Sorensen and Joseph Hu as Pang and Pong, sang with distinctive colors as they combined dramatic coherence with visual piquancy. As the Mandarin, veteran comprimario Scott Sikon commanded the stage with his proclamations. Seated at the top rear of the set, Joseph Frank as Emperor Altoum sang with a quivering reedy tone that denoted his great age.

Acting chorus master Charles Prestinari drew skillfully blended harmonies from San Diego Opera’s excellent group of choristers while they played their parts as the People of Peking. Ebullient and energetic Italian conductor Edoardo Müller led the excellent orchestra in Puccini’s somewhat impressionistic and thoroughly complex score. When the performance ended the applause was thunderous as once again the San Diego audience welcomed the opening of its opera season.

Maria Nockin
(This review also appears at Music & Vision)


* Puccini based his libretto upon Turandot, Prinzessin von China, an adaptation of Gozzi by Schiller.

** Julian Budden wrote:

Despite its unfinished state Turandot is rightly regarded as the summit of Puccini’s achievement, bearing witness to a capacity for self-renewal unsurpassed by that of still greater composers. The style remains true to the composer’s 19th-century roots, but it is toughened and amplified by the assimilation of uncompromisingly modern elements, including bitonality and an adventurous use of whole-tone, pentatonic and modal harmony. The resulting synthesis commands a new range of expression (the pentatonic scale, no longer a mere orientalism as in Madama Butterfly, conveys the full depth of Liù’s pathos in ‘Signore, ascolta’). The music is organized in massive blocks, each motivically based – a system which shows to particular advantage in Act 1, arguably the most perfectly constructed act in Puccini’s output; while the scoring shows a rare imagination in the handling of large forces (the writing for xylophone alone immediately attracts the attention). These attributes, combined with Puccini’s unfailing ability to communicate directly with an audience, have established Turandot as a classic of 20th-century opera.
Julian Budden. “Turandot (ii).” In The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, edited by Stanley Sadie. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/O905166 (accessed February 7, 2011).

*** Yet, as late as 1959, one critic observed that Turandot was rarely performed because of “a certain harshness that sets it apart from the big Puccini favorites (Tosca, Bohème, Butterfly), some devilishly difficult vocal parts, and a need for sumptuous staging.”

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):