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.
28 Mar 2011
Le Comte Ory, Metropolitan Opera
Rossini’s penultimate stage work, Le Comte Ory, belongs to
the tradition of sexy scoundrel operas, along with such works as Don
Giovanni, Zampa, Fra Diavolo, Barbe-Bleu,
Les Brigands and Threepenny Opera.
You could make a case for
adding supernatural scamps like Der Vampyr and Tannhäuser to
the list. The hero may be a rogue—in fact, rogue is his job
description—and may even be a cutthroat or worse, but he’s a
lovable fellow for all that. And he almost never gets to home plate with the
ladies whose hearts he flutters; the censors wouldn’t have stood for it.
Thus the joke of Gilbert and Sullivan’s spoof in The Pirates of
Penzance: Their chorus-full of reckless rogues lust “to be married
with impunity” to the bevy of helpless females they are about to abduct.
(Is it coincidence that most of the sexy scoundrel operas are French? No.)
Michele Pertusi as The Tutor
The censors wouldn’t have stood for it then, but there are no censors
now, and opera directors are all for full disclosure. This mars Bartlett
Sher’s colorful if bare-bones staging of Le Comte Ory for the
Met. Consider the final trio: Ory, our scoundrel, has disguised himself as a
nun in order to enter Countess Adèle’s bed in her darkened chamber.
Unbeknownst to him (but obvious enough to us), Adèle’s young suitor,
Isolier, is also present, and in fact the Count is embracing Isolier as Isolier
embraces Adèle. If this seems a bit racy for 1828, even in Paris, ne
vous-inquiètez pas: Isolier is played by a mezzo soprano. Audiences
didn’t mind watching a man fiddle with a boy so long as the boy was
obviously a woman. (The first time I saw this opera, Lucky Pierre—sorry,
Isolier—was played by a countertenor; he seemed to be enjoying the
But in Sher’s production, all three persons scramble around each other
among the bedclothes as if this were just an ordinary three-way with no story
to tell, and it is impossible for the Count not to be aware that he is
in bed with two other people. Adèle, too, should not be aware of what is going
on; here she’s a merry participant. It may seem a small point, and
everybody around me found the slapstick hilarious, but the premises of farce
must be taken seriously for the mad machine to work properly. Either Joyce
DiDonato is a man or she isn’t; if she isn’t, why does Adèle hope
to marry her? If she is, why does the skirt-chasing Count enjoy being in bed
with him? It’s as if Lucy schemed to divorce Desi and demanded custody of
his band: It violates the clear farcical contract for which we have been so
carefully set up.
Stéphane Degout as Raimbaud
Sher, as in his previous Met shows, Barbiere and Hoffmann,
is always willing to dump the plot to insert a dumb joke; this was also true in
his disastrous staging of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
He only seems capable of theatrical discipline if the piece is, like South
Pacific, sacrosanct, guarded by those who can keep him in line. He has no
theatrical clarity of his own. Is this sort of anything-for-a-laugh mayhem what
Peter Gelb means when he refers to a “new realism” in the opera
The singers have been encouraged not to play this charming piece straight. I
would find the evening pleasanter (and probably funnier) if Diana Damrau, a
fine singer as well as a fine comic actress, sang the dizzy Countess’s
fruity tunes with a bit more attention to proper line and with fewer wildly
mugged high notes, and if Juan Diego Flórez’s nasal tenor, never the most
sensuous of instruments, were not quite so dry. He is choosing roles lately
that do not exhibit his extraordinary virtuosity, and his is not an instrument
to make it in bel canto otherwise. There are many far prettier tenor
Diana Damrau as Countess Adle, Joyce DiDonato as Isolier, and Juan Diego Flórez as Count Ory
What, I wonder, would Rothenberger and Gedda have made of the bedroom trio?
With, say, Teresa Berganza as Isolier? I can’t help thinking they’d
have each contrived to keep one foot on the floor, in old-time Hollywood
fashion, but they would still have been funnier than Sher’s
staging, and they would have sounded like a glimpse of heaven.
Joyce DiDonato, as Isolier, is a lovely performer who does not let her
farce-making get in the way of torrents of beautiful Rossini, as heartfelt as
they are pure. She is the reason to visit Le Comte Ory and the reason
to linger to the very end. Susanne Resmark revealed a most attractive alto
voice with more to display than was evident here in the Margaret Dumont-like
housekeeper role. Michele Pertusi was all that could be desired as the Tutor
and Stéphane Degout filled our grateful ears with dark baritone during his
drinking song. Maurizio Benini kept the orchestral sound low so as not to
interfere with singers’ audibility, though as Sher (as usual) pushed them
all to the edge of the stage apron, this was probably unnecessary. In the old
days, and not so very old either, singers could fill the Met from mid-stage and
revel in the filling.