Recently in Reviews
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.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
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 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.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
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
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.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
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.
10 Mar 2011
Cecilia Bartoli in Halévy’s Clari
A key measure of operatic star power is the ability to get an obscure work staged — think Joan Sutherland and her run in Massenet’s Esclarmonde, an outlandish wallow in orchestral excess ladled over a libretto of unfathomable goofiness.
No matter how dubious the chosen work may be, it is sure to have one undeniable virtue for the star — a leading role that encompasses all the singer’s vocal strengths.
Although her performances in staged operas have not been numerous in recent years, there’s no bigger star in classical singing than Cecilia Bartoli. The mezzo-soprano has shown, in a series of best-selling CDs, a comprehensive interest in baroque and early Classical composers, both well-known and lesser-known. In 2008 she brought to Opernhaus Zürich a long-forgotten work of Jacques Fromental Halévy, who is best known today for La Juive, a grand opera with a showcase role for a lead tenor (Neil Shicoff has been that work’s foremost proponent in recent years). Halévy’s Clari, to a libretto by Pietro Giannone, is a very different work — more Mozartean in musical language, and with a simple story that walks an uncomfortable line between comic underpinnings and deeper emotional currents.
The title character, before the stage action begins, has been induced to leave her farm family by an attractive Duke. She expects marriage, but he ensconces her at his home and presents her as his “cousin.” As Clari begins to doubt that she will ever be the Duke’s wife, she slips toward an emotional breakdown. Finally she flees to her home, where she fears her family will no longer accept her. Indeed, her father feels she has shamed the family, but when the Duke follows her to her home, realizing at last what she means to him, the expected happy ending makes its appearance.
Bartoli’s appealing stage manner does not extend to her being a convincing actress, and in the context of the cartoonish production of Moshe Lisher and Patrice Caurier, this staging doesn’t treat Clari’s emotional predicament with sensitivity or insight. Bright colors and broad gestures dominate, as if the creators fear that the audience will grow bored if asked to concentrate on the actual libretto and score. Indeed, Halévy’s music is Mozart-lite, with anodyne recitatives and superficially appealing but quickly forgettable melodies. Apparently, Bartoli herself did not have full confidence in the score, since at key moments she performs a Rossini aria from Otello and a cavatina from an entirely different obscure work of Halévy (La tempesta). Nonetheless, the show is a pleasant enough distraction. An act two chorus sung to an ailing Clari is a beautiful little piece, and an aria sung by a minor character (Bettina, performed by Eva Liebau) struck your reviewer as better than anything Clari gets to sing. The tenor lead, Il Duca, has a nice number or two. John Osborn takes a while to warm up, sounding a bit thin in his first number, with suspect intonation. Even warmed up his voice can’t be called beautiful, but he has real vocal agility and is a scrupulous musician. Unfortunately, as costumed by Agostino Cavalica, he looks less like a handsome libertine of a Duke than an overgrown pubescent boy. The shorts are truly unfortunate.
Adam Fischer and the La Scintilla band enjoy the unchallenging score, keeping things as interesting as possible with sharp rhythms and tight pacing.
Decca offers handsome packaging, although one can’t help but suspect the show is spread over two discs just to offer the set at a higher price point. The expansive booklet features a cartoon-panel version of the synopsis (parts of which also appear in the production as a clever bit of exposition), along with an essay on the opera, a note on the production, and a “Conversation with Cecilia Bartoli,” which is about as conversational as any document emanating from a public relation’s office.
Whether or not this production actually serves as the best representation of the opera Clari, it is very likely to be the only one available, indefinitely (if not infinitely). Bartoli’s vocal charms are on full display, and the show passes the time pleasantly enough.