Recently in Performances
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.
“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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.