Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

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):