Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Sara Heaton as Miranda [Photo:  http://opera.media.mit.edu/projects/deathandthepowers/gallery.php]
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):