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Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … 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.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“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!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

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.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“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.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

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.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

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.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.



La Traviata [Photo courtesy of Howard Paley Photography]
10 Mar 2011

La Traviata, Phoenix

Francesco Maria Piave’s Italian libretto for Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La Traviata is based on the French play La Dame aux Camélias.

Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata

Violetta: Julia Koci; Alfredo: Jesus Garcia; Germont: Gaétan Laperrière; Flora: Erin Tompkins; Annina: Alexis Davis; Gastone: Francisco Renteria; Baron Douphol: Christopher Holmes; Marchese d’Obigny: Andrew Gray; Dr. Grenvil: Christopher Herrera; Commissioner: Earl Hazell. Conductor: John Massaro. Director: Carroll Freeman. Scenic Design: Peter Dean Beck. Costume Design: John Lehmeyer.

All photos courtesy of Howard Paley Photography


The play was adapted from a novel by Alexandre Dumas fils, who actually knew the real life heroine, Marie Duplessis.

When Alphonsine Rose Plessis was born on the 15th of January, 1824, in the tiny village of Nonnant in Normandy, no one could have imagined that within twenty years she would become the famous courtesan, Marie Duplessis. Her father put her to work at an early age, first as a beggar and later as a prostitute. When he was investigated for child abuse, he sent the girl to live with relatives in Paris. There, at age 15, she began to frequent dances where she hoped to meet men who would pay her living expenses.

HHP_PMO_Traviat_DSC_4917.gifDirector of the Paris Opéra Nestor Roqueplan wrote that he once saw her on the Pont Neuf eating a green apple, but gazing hungrily at the fried potatoes being sold nearby. He bought her a large portion and watched as she wolfed them down and even licked the paper in which they had been wrapped. Roqueplan would recall this incident in 1851 when he spoke with Giuseppe Verdi about bringing La Traviata to the Opéra.

Marie worked hard at bettering herself. She not only learned to read and write, but she also attained an appreciation of the arts. When Roqueplan next saw her, he was astonished to note that the little waif from the Pont Neuf had become the fashionable lady on the arm of the Duc de Guiche.

One evening, when Marie was attending a party with Alexandre Dumas, son of the famous writer, she had a dreadful coughing spell. She explained that since there was no cure for her illness she chose to be among interesting people who would distract her from her pain. Dumas continued his affair with her for about a year, but he had to evade detection by her actual protector because he did not have anywhere near enough money to maintain her household. Another of her admirers, Franz Liszt, wrote: “She had a great deal of heart, a great liveliness of spirit and I consider her unique of her kind.She was the most complete incarnation of womankind that has ever existed.” This is the femme fatale we see on the stage as “Violetta” in La Traviata.

On March 4, 2011, Phoenix opera presented Carroll Freeman’s traditional staging of La Traviata at the historic Orpheum Theater. Peter Dean Beck’s set, originally designed for Florida Grand Opera, was easily transformed into the opera’s various scenes. John Lehmeyer’s detailed costumes set the period securely and added considerably to the opera’s visual appeal.


Viennese soprano Julia Koci was a radiantly beautiful Violetta who sang with taste and musicality. She is one of the few interpreters of this role who can truly handle both the coloratura of the first act and the dramatic singing required by the following scenes. Operalia winner Jesus Garcia was a passionate young lover who sang with robust, ringing tones. Together they were an ideal couple in Act I, and a pair of troubled but intriguing lovers thereafter. One could not help reaching for a handkerchief in the last act when Germont, not the soprano, read the letter which comes too late. That was an interesting choice by the director and it worked well.

Germont was sung with panache by veteran French Canadian baritone Gaétan Laperrière. He made you angry as he gave Violetta a piece of his narrow mind in Act II, but he tore at your heart strings at the end with his expressions of remorse. An attractive Flora, Erin Tompkins sang with a solid sound while Francisco Renteria was an unwavering Gastone. Alexis Davis Hazell was a poignant Annina and her husband, Earl Hazell, sang the Commissioner with a stentorian voice. Baritones Christopher Holmes and Christopher Herrera portrayed Baron Douphol and Doctor Grenvil with authority, while bass baritone Andrew Gray proved to be a commanding Marchese.


Company Founder and Artistic Director John Massaro led the rather small orchestra in a smooth, lyrical rendition of the work. The audience response at the end of the opera was tumultuous and it was fitting praise for the excellent performers who brought Verdi’s wonderful opera to life.

Maria Nockin

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