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.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
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.