Recently in Performances
On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
15 Mar 2011
Strict courtly hierarchies and the repressed formality of ritual juxtaposed
with violent sexual jealousy and lurid erotic excess … a stage-world
more suited to the Straussian insalubrity of Salomé than to the epic
grandeur of Verdi’s Aida, perhaps?
production, first seen in 2010 and here given its first revival, never wavers
in its presentation of grotesque barbarism and sexual abandon —
blood-thirsty gladiators run amok among nubile, naked maidens etc. — and
while such goings-on may not be to everyone’s taste (indeed, some might
argue that ‘taste’ doesn’t feature strongly in the
proceedings), McVicar certainly injects freshness into Verdi’s old
warhorse, thankfully avoiding the kitsch of cod-Egyptiana.
The first challenge for the audience is a visual one: for Jean-Marc
Puissant's sets reject the beauty and exoticism of ancient Egypt in favour of
dull modern industrialism: a huge wall of scaffolding, harshly illuminated by
diagonal strip lights, dominates the stage. Not an elephant or sphinx in sight;
but also little visual beauty to complement the tenderness of the delicate
lines that open Verdi’s magical prelude. We are among a barbaric,
theocratic society, one driven by human sacrifice: salacious human slaughter
blesses Radamès’ departure for war, and the victims’ bloodied
bodies are hoisted to form a canopy of carcasses to celebrate his return.
Clearly McVicar wants to emphasise the soullessness of this brutal,
compassionless community. But, at times he struggles to sustain consistency;
for example, the eclectic, international selection of primitive tribal dress
worn by the cast seems to have little to do with the gloomy dystopian
In the absence of a coherent mise-en-scène, it’s left to the
singers themselves to provide dramatic logic and focus; and here the problems
start, for the cast, while rich in musical talents, display a dearth of
interest in communicating narrative or engaging emotionally with each other,
preferring the stand-and-deliver approach, bellowing into the auditorium
apparently impervious to the manic action occurring behind them.
There are two casts for this revival. Only one member of the original cast,
Micaela Carosi, was expected to reprise her role, as the eponymous princess in
the ‘Cast A’ performances; however, due to pregnancy (the official
line goes …) she withdrew and was replaced at short notice by the
Ukrainian soprano, Liudmyla Monastyrska. Making her house debut — she is
to return in May as Lady Macbeth in Phyllida Lloyd’s production —
Monastyrska revealed a powerful, opulent voice, firm and controlled in the
lower register (in ‘Presago il core’, for example), and full in
tone right to the top; in her great Nile scene aria, ‘O patria
mia’, she floated the fiendish final phrases with ease, her breath
control superb. At times, she made effective use of a dusky, exotic colouring,
but it’s a shame that it was impossible to distinguish a single word of
the text, and she didn’t quite have the confidence to risk the true
pianissimos that the score demands.
Roberto Alagna as Radames and Priestesses
Roberto Alagna has an uneven history in the role of Radamès (audience
displeasure with his ‘Celeste Aida’ led to his infamous walk-out at
La Scala in 2006), and some have judged his voice too small for the part.
However, here he showed that he now has the required vocal power; brimming with
confidence, he never once lessened the ardour. Indeed, this was a puffed-up,
machismo reading of Radamès, and again there was little in the way of what one
might call acting. He opted out of the morendo on the high B♭
at the close of ‘Celeste Aida’, choosing instead the less risky
alternative of repeating the final phrase slightly less loudly. A lack of
nuance diminished the poignancy of the final duet (and the bare stage suggested
that McVicar had run out of ideas by the later acts), but overall there was
plenty of heroic strength and earnestness, which seemed to satisfy the
As Amneris, Russian mezzo soprano Olga Borodina was similarly impressive in
vocal stature, and she achieved a true Verdian colour and warmth. She shared
the theatrical weaknesses of the other principals, but her stunning, burnished
tone was apt compensation. Dramatic credibility was restored by Michael Volle,
a resonant and commanding Amonasro whose Act 3 duet with Aida was a rare and
moving moment of engagement, interaction and insight; here, Volle truly
communicated the father’s appreciation and regret that his own public
actions and concerns will cause his daughter to suffer such deep private pain.
In the smaller roles, Vitalij Kowaljow was underwhelming as Ramfis —
perhaps his voice was muffled by his ridiculously over-sized headdress? —
but Brindley Sherratt, an imperious King of Egypt, was in fine voice.
Olga Borodina as Amneris and The Royal Opera Chorus
Apart from one or two places where singers and orchestra momentary came
adrift, Fabio Luisi did an excellent job in the pit, whipping up the players in
the climactic moments, and demonstrating a strong sense of the shape and pace
of the whole.
Overall, despite its musical strengths and potentially intriguing concept,
this production remains unsatisfying. Part of the problem is that McVicar is
absorbed primarily by the ‘love triangle’ but does not connect the
protagonists’ experience with the wider context. In contrast to the
dynamic dramatic swiftness of Verdi’s other political intrigues, Aida is
unwieldy and often downright static. One can’t get away from the fact
that Verdi’s opera is a big, bold beast; the challenge is to both
juxtapose and integrate the moments of private intimacy with the grand ceremony
and pageantry of public triumphal processions and dances. McVicar gives us only
one half of the show; Radamès’ commanding entry at the commencement of
the Grand March, stage-enveloping train majestically trailing in his wake, is a
rare and arresting moment of grandeur. More usually, the crowd scenes are
under-directed — why have extra chorus members if you don’t know
what to do with them, or simply aren’t interested? And there’s just
too much standing about and arm waving: ironically, in striving for the shock
of the new, McVicar has lapsed into the clichés of old.