Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.

La Vestale, La Monnaie, Bruxelles

In the first half of the 19th century, Spontini’s La Vestale was a hit. Empress Josephine sponsored its premiere, Parisians heard it hundreds of times, Berlioz raved about it and Wagner conducted it.

Shattering Madama Butterfly Stockholm

An intelligent updating and outstanding performance of the title role lead to a shattering climax in Puccini's Japanese opera

Theodora, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées

Handel’s genius is central focus to the new staging of Handel’s oratorio Theodora at Paris' Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

Bostridge Sings Handel

1985 must have been a good year for founding a musical ensemble, or festival or organisation, which would have longevity.



Sara Heaton as Miranda [Photo:]
23 Mar 2011

Machover, Death and the Powers

This is an opera written with a cannon and a feather. There is sensory overload—an overload of sensory overload: lights that shine into your face in the manner of an ophthalmologist scanning your retina; eerie, too-loud sounds that invade you from every direction; dancing patterns of light that may resolve into huge words or huge faces; a great chandelier-harp that sometimes descends to be played, a strumming like the sounds of the sirens in Plato’s parable of the concentric crystalline spheres.

Tod Machover: Death and the Powers

Simon Powers: James Maddalena; Evvy: Emily Albrink, Patricia Risley (Monaco Premiere); Miranda: Sara Heaton, Joélle Harvey (Monaco Premiere); Nicholas: Hal Cazalet. The United Way: Doug Dodson, Frank Kelley (Monaco Premiere); The United Nations: David Kravitz; The Administration: Tom McNichols, Daniel Cole (September 2009 Workshop). Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Conductor: Gil Rose. Principal Keyboard: John McDonald. Second Keyboard: Linda Osborn-Blaschke, Simone Ovsey (September 2009 Workshop). Director: Diane Paulus. Production Designer: Alex Mcdowell. Choreographer: Karole Armitage. MIT Media Lab.

Above: Sara Heaton as Miranda [Click here for photo gallery.]


But there are also moments of fragile lyricism, pretty melodies that sing of the old values of love and touch. The opera vacillates between the loud future of silicon and solenoid, and the quietly humane past.

Machover.gifTod Machover

Like certain other short operas, such as Rachmaninov’s Francesca da Rimini, this is an opera in the past tense: the prologue shows us robots in a post-organic world, trying to puzzle out the meaning of the nonsensical word death. (There is something too cute about these robots, who look like the sly agile desk lamps in the old Pixar animation, and who sound like the apotheosis of R2D2.) The robots put on a skit—the opera itself—about the transformation of the human into the post-human: a billionaire named Simon Powers decides to abandon his dying body and place his consciousness, his identity, into The System, a motile all-encompassing electrical structure that is slowly replacing a dematerializing world. In this quest he is aided by Nicholas, a young assistant with a prosthetic arm, and resisted, at least partly, by his third wife Evvie and his daughter Miranda.

The name Miranda of course brings to mind Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and makes us wonder whether Powers is just another name for Prospero. In Dryden’s adaptation of The Tempest, Prospero never forswears magic and retains his mastery over the elements; and Simon Powers is a magician who keeps his power, although he may be a wizard lost in his own labyrinth. Nicholas, who dances and prances around the stage, and climbs up the grid of lights, is his affable Ariel.

Robert Pinsky’s text is more clumsy that one would expect from a distinguished poet, full of lame puns and overextended parallels: he keeps hitting you over the head with quotations from Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium” (a poem about an old man who muses on his possible transfiguration into a mechanical bird) and with plugs for poetry itself as something Important to the Human Soul. But the text does have the virtue of a certain moral ambiguity: it would have been easy to deplore the robots and to uphold the grand old human world of tears and joy; but Pinsky refuses this easy simple conflict, and makes The System a seductive place with at least partially real delights, and makes the human world a place of evil as well as good. At one point the delegates from the United Way, the United Nations, and the United States (the last a superb bass, Tom McNichols, maybe the best singer in the cast) visit the virtualized Simon to plead with him not to ruin the global economy. But these are not figures of pathos, but officious fools, somewhat like the Jews in Strauss’s Salome. And when the starving multitudes thrust themselves onto the stage toward the end of the opera, they seem like a bloodthirsty mob about to tear Miranda limb from limb. Only Miranda and Evvie place the warm world of sorrow and devotion in a favorable light; and Evvie, at least, herself decides to enter The System. In his interesting program note, Pinsky implicitly compares his text to “a robot that performs the work of meaning and emotion…the robots [in the opera] are in a sense returning the favor of creation”; and intelligence and sensitivity of robots constitute an important theme here.

Machover_robots_comp_lg.gifRendering of Operabots interacting with each other

It is an odd opera in that there is little romantic love, and little conflict beyond the cerebral pondering of robot vs. human cerebration. In this way it resembles Das Rheingold, another opera with little romantic love, and a good deal of thinking about the values of the wet old healthy elemental world vs. the values of a futuristic society built by robots (or, as Wagner called them, giants). In the scene where Simon gloats over his successful assimilation into The System, Machover bases the music on a triumphalist Naturthema not out of place in Wagner; and the sustained roar of certain episodes near the end might call to mind another great moment of sensory overload, the final bars of Das Rheingold.

The singing was satisfactory and evidently accurate, but unremarkable. James Maddalena, the Simon, was not in excellent voice, but his forceful baritone made for a potent stage presence—Alberich the billionaire, invisible in his Tarnhelm but dominating the world.

Daniel Albright

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):