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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

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.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

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.



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

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