06 Mar 2011
Così fan tutte, Palm Beach
Little is known about the extent to which Mozart and Da Ponte collaborated on the libretto for Così fan tutte.
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.
Little is known about the extent to which Mozart and Da Ponte collaborated on the libretto for Così fan tutte.
There is no mistaking the Austrian musical polyglot’s imprint on the story’s sarcastic similes, sharp allusions, and knowing winks however. Yet, for all his life, Mozart experienced the world in a musical bubble; how did he develop the keen sense of insight into human behavior that would lead to producing works like Così?
Though we have a picture of a child with a sensitivity to music that was awe-inspiring, there is also a gestalt view of a child extraordinarily observant and attentive, with the instincts of a savant. This is probably the way Mozart experienced the social world, through the lives of others. If Così is any indicia, he found great amusement in what he witnessed.
Joel Prieto [Photo by Felix Broede courtesy of Universal Music Classical Management & Productions]
In his adult life, Mozart was at the receiving end of vicious political jockeying and nasty pettiness he had no interest in mirroring. He still had an unquenchable thirst for living, seeking outlets for his energies and potential. In music, he found the only muse that would woo him. That tireless love for music probably killed him, but before it did, he would have his fun attending to and making it.
Mozart has gotten more attention recently from Palm Beach Opera. Così fan tutte, last seen here in 1998, completes PBO’s “Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy”; Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni were part of the company’s 2009 and 2010 seasons respectively. Two United States debuts highlight PBO’s second cast opening of Così on February 26th.
In his first opera conducting assignment in North America, Gianluca Martinenghi and orchestra distinguished themselves right from the overture with playing of the utmost delicacy, and sensitivity to Mozart’s score. This pattern held and generalized to the vocal department, buoying up and stimulating singing. A regular in some top theaters in Italy, the conductor’s pacing gave singers the prerogative to explore Da Ponte’s text. The playing did fall cold at the odd moment, but at the bridge to “Un Aura Amorosa” and for Fiordiligi’s second act aria, there was sufficient musical heat. Bruce Statsyna provided not simply chords, but accent notes, arpeggios, and runs underneath the vocal line on a healthy harpsichord.
Dorabella (Patricia Risley), Fiordiligi (Caitlyn Lynch) and Don Alfonso (Matteo Pierone)
Joel Prieto had regular work in Europe before winning Operalia in 2008. His breakout came after that competition though, as he has appeared at Covent Garden, the Liceu, Stuttgart, and the Salzburg Festival. In his North American opera debut here, the Spanish born, Puerto Rican bred tenor left one wanting more. Prieto is building a characterization of Ferrando as that of a shy but curious fellow, one for which Mozart’s music is especially suited. Of the music, Prieto’s performance tended toward caution; “Un Aura Amorosa” was unexceptional but for the shading of the second stanza; at that point, and occasionally later, he sang with the kind of affinity for this music that has garnered him (much-too-early) comparisons with golden age aristocratic tenors. His tenor’s quality — amber hued and full, with an attractive fresh sheen — and size were bare in “Ah! Io veggio quell’anima bella.”
Caitlyn Lynch also took some time to warm up to Fiordiligi, achieving a “Per pieta, ben mio perdona” of unexpected commitment and feeling. Comedic points were hers (and Steven Lawless’) for departing the stage after the first part of “Come scoglio” and then reentering grandly for its concluding verse. PBO favorite Patricia Risley has the sort of creamily textured mezzo — however gummy the diction — and alluring physical presence that can shift the axis of focus in any performance; in this case the axis of Così’s “school for lovers” turned often to her Dorabella. The Guglielmo of Andrew Schroeder was especially susceptible to fading into the background in this production, though his resonant baritone would not go unnoticed. Matteo Pierone’s Don Alfonso began to take shape in the quintet — the highpoint of this Così’s ensemble singing — that closes Act One. From there on, his Alfonso played narrator, observing and commenting from the wings. As Despina, Abigail Nims’ impact was felt as a mysterious, masked dottore and later as a twitchy notary.
Fiordiligi (Caitlyn Lynch), Despina (Abigail Nims) and Dorabella (Patricia Risley),
PBO’s chorus, under the direction of Greg Ritchey, created rich and sonorous music from offstage, emerging only for the civil ceremony.
Stephen Lawless’ permutation on Così’s magnet-as-poison-antidote theme was a kite-and-key electric conductor that had Ferrando and Guglielmo writhing and shuddering. Lawless moved the action upstage, in front of a scrim curtain of clouds as Alfonso re-pontificated to Ferrando and Guglielmo — their backs to the audience — “così” across Ferrando’s ear, “fan” across Guglielmo’s and “tutte” out into the theater. It is in the civil ceremony that Lawless’ stage direction hit a high-water mark that stayed mostly unbroken through much of Act Two. The scene included an action-stopping moment and then scurrying chorus members as the marriage contracts were signed. To close the opera, Fiordiligi and Dorabella crossed each other in confusion over which swain to go to in “Fortunate L’uom.”
Despina (Abigail Nims), Fiordiligi (Caitlyn Lynch) and Dorabella (Patricia Risley)
On loan from Atlanta Opera, Peter Dean Beck’s sets remember Classical Roman civilization and Naples; there are statues and columns and the sorelli are transplanted from their room to tanning on lounge chairs under an umbrella at a sun-soaked beach (Lighting by Michael Baumgarten). For a model of costume (owned by Atlanta Opera also) pragmatism we go to the final scene — designers at Malabar Ltd. cloak the “Albanians” in desert-beige trench coats, have them switch to floor length soldier uniforms, and back to the original desert gear, all in a flash.
This performance of Così will go down as an example of competent Mozart casting from PBO.