Recently in Performances
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
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.
06 Mar 2011
Gilbert & Sullivan: The Mikado
The front leg of the grand piano may rest at a rather precarious angle, and
the out-sized martini glass lean a trifle askew, but Jonathan Miller’s
1986 production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado wears its
twenty-five years lightly — as do Stefanos Lazaridis’
eye-wateringly white, gleaming sets.
Miller’s long-runners have been
ubiquitous on London’s operatic stages of late — Così and
Don Pasquale at Covent Garden, and (in combination with a new
L’elisir d’amore), La Boheme, Rigoletto
and now The Mikado at the Coliseum. And, the director’s
enthusiasm for revisiting and refreshing past projects seems undiminished:
having involved himself with this latest revival, he appeared on the opening
night to oversee the topsy-turvy affairs.
A superb cast rose to the occasion. As a no-nonsense Yum-Yum, Sophie Bevan
delivered ‘The Sun Whose Rays’ which brightness and buoyancy
— a moment of ‘normalcy’ among the mayhem. Alfie Boe —
kitted out with kiss-curl and blaring blazer — is a Tigger-ish Nanki-Poo,
all enthusiasm and bounce; perhaps a little uncertain of his dramatic direction
initially, Boe’s wide-eyed innocence came through more effectively in Act
2. His warm, flexible tenor conveyed both youth and sincerity, and matched
Bevan’s timbre and colour most pleasingly.
Alongside the drolleries of the young lovers’ courtship, Donald
Maxwell’s Pooh-Bah was hilariously haughty; he possesses a powerful
baritone, but his strong speaking voice boomed with equal sonority, his
Scottish brogue bellowing to the far reaches of the auditorium. Richard Angas,
a veteran Mikado of Japan, returned to the role once more; Angas was vocally
secure and presented a well-studied portrait of indifferent imperiousness, his
understated authority possessing just the right hint of menace.
Anne Marie Owens’ Katisha, glamorously be-jewelled, was perhaps not
sufficiently harridan-esque. She effectively brought out the pathos of the
role, but was rather too good at arousing our pity. And, she struggled at times
to project successfully. Claudia Huckle was more at home in the role of
Pitti-Sing: her contralto is clear and bright, and she acted the dialogue
entertainingly. Frances Canfield, as Peep-Bo, made the third of a fine trio in
‘Three Little Maids’, although the absence of choreography here
(when elsewhere all was manic movement and fizz) was rather a weakness.
The dialogue coach, Selina Cadell, has clearly worked hard to implant the
rules of cut-glass R.P. among the cast and chorus, and the distorted vowels
certainly come from the back of the throat. There’s always the danger of
over-kill, but here and through other conceits Miller captures the essential
‘artifice’ of the work. Nowhere is this made more wryly apparent
than with the extravagant preparations for Ko-Ko’s entry, which is
anticipated by the kowtowing court with trumpet voluntaries, elaborate
genuflections and splashes of rose-petal confetti, only for the
high-and-mighty-one to fail to appear … and so, eyes are rolled, grins
are fixed, petals are hastily gathered up and the entire sequence is repeated.
The zany choreography and props — sashaying headless servants and a
fat-suit for The Mikado — together with the over-bright, gleaming
lighting, add a frisson of surrealism and risk. Such details scratch at the
façade of the dazzling white-and-cream hotel lobby, and perhaps hint at the
latent instability of the edifice: Titipu may not ready to topple yet, but
there’s the danger of least a wobble or two.
In the pit, Peter Robinson kept things ticking along with precise and
well-judged comic timing; if anything the orchestra was a little
‘restrained’, but perhaps this was to allow the text to shine, and
Robinson was certainly sensitive to the singers in this regard.
The entire cast, including the shimmying maids and the bopping bell-hops,
were clearly having a marvellous party. The engine driving the show is,
however, the Lord High Executioner himself, Richard Suart, whose unprincipled,
unscrupulous Ko-Ko is effortlessly slick. Emphasising the Executioner’s
self-interest and opportunism, Suart’s Ko-Ko is deliciously cynical.
Surprisingly he manages to balance slapstick and hamming with innuendo and
suggestion. Casting an eye at both the political leader columns and the
celebrity gossip pages, his ‘little list’ of those ‘for the
chop’ has naturally been updated, and this time around deluded Arab
dictators, mincing coalition politicians, philandering footballers, affianced
royals and, inevitably, Silvio Berlusconi, all found themselves in the firing
line. Suart’s comic timing is superb; he pauses to relish the sharper
moments, before rushing on to the next joke, keeping the audience hooked,
ever-ready for the next bombshell. His mimicry is spot on, encompassing models
as divergent as Olivier’s Richard III, Frankie Howerd and Gordon
The perfect visual and dramatic embodiment of G.K. Chesterton’s
observation that, in fact, none of the jokes in the play fit the Japanese but
‘all the jokes in the play fit the English’, Miller’s
1930’s hotel-foyer staging seemed inspired at its first appearance, has
proved itself both reliable and perpetually inventive, and is fast assuming the
epithet ‘classic’. At the end of this run, no doubt the costumes
will be carefully wrapped in tissue paper, as I don’t expect that this is
the last we’ve seen of this production. In contrast to the
‘victims’ on Ko-ko’s list, it really would be