Recently in Performances
It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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?
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.
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.
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.
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]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
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.
16 Mar 2011
Magnificent Mahler by Shanghai Symphony
It was, of course, only a coincidence, but a week of ideal spring weather — no rain and low humidity — found Shanghai in a perfect mood for an all-Mahler program by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra on March 12.
calls of the First Symphony were unhackneyed, and those who recalled
Mahler’s early programmatic references in the work to the awakening of
spring — to fruits and flowers — found themselves in a magic garden
for a program that combined the Wayfarer Songs and the four-movement
version of the First Symphony. Even had it been performed in a Midwestern
blizzard, however, this was Mahler that made one sit up and listen — and
be grateful for a moving musical experience.
The Shanghai Symphony, which dates back to a municipal band in the 1870s, is
today the outstanding orchestra of Eastern Asia. Under Music Director Long Yu
it has toured Europe and the US and has even been heard at the movies on the
sound track of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Although it must be
said that the SSO does not have the refined and mellow sound of many Western
ensembles — the silvered strings and burnished brass, it has something of
greater importance: the dedication of its instrumentalists and their full
emotional involvement in what they are doing.
Guest conductor for Mahler was Chinese-born Lan Shui, currently music
director of the Singapore Symphony and — since 1907 — chief
conductor of the Copenhagen Philharmonic. Given the conductor’s
adolescent mien, it is difficult to believe him old enough to have once been
tutored by Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood. In the States he has held positions
with orchestras in Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore and Los Angeles.
Lan Shui is elegant and unmannered and he knows his Mahler as if by
instinct. His reading of the First Symphony was analytic, but never academic.
He sensed in the score a narrative impulse, but knew how wrong it would be to
make that into a romp through field and forest. And outstanding was his
“feel” for the irony that gives the First that
“there’s-more-here-than-meets-the-ear” sensation. He
deliciously caught the tongue-in-cheekedness of the hoarse bass that leads to
“Brother Martin” in the third movement, thus making clear that this
is funereal music of quite a different color from that heard in the Fifth
For even the still-youthful First can grow lugubrious in the hands of a
conductor with no understanding of the many levels of the score. Thus it was no
surprise when Lan Shui brought the horn section — bells up-turned —
to its feet in the brass blast that concludes the First. This was exuberant
China’s Yang Jie is a true alto with a radiant and resonant low
register well suited to the Wayfarer Songs, on which Mahler worked in
the years of the First Symphony. In the West she includes Carmen in
her signature roles. Long gone is the day when Wayfarer with its story of
unrequited love was consider male property — just as the outwardly
maternal Kindertotenlieder were once assigned to female vocalists. With perfect
German diction Yang Lie is totally at home in the cycle with its shifting
moods, its light and dark moments.
The quality of the March Mahler was undoubtedly enhanced by the presence in
the orchestra of all four members of the Shanghai String Quartet. Founded in
the city three decades ago and now on the faculty of the local conservatory,
the four men enjoy “sacred-cow” status in Shanghai. When in town
they teach at the Conservatory from which they graduated. (In the States they
are in residence at New Jersey’s Montclair State University.) First
violinist Weigang Li served as concert master on March 12.
Although the Shanghai Concert Hall, the orchestra’s local home, was
built by a Chinese architect in 1930, it would be at home next door to
Vienna’s gilded Musikverein or any of the historic halls of Europe that
have survived. The hall — 1200 seats seems a good guess at its size
— was reopened in 2004 following total reconstruction. It is acoustically
sound, and generous lobbies opened onto balconies on a mild March evening. It
is close to downtown, and taxis at a flat rate of 12 Yuan — no tips!
It would be presumptuous for a first-time concert goer in China to draw
sweeping conclusions from a single experience. Nonetheless certain things were
happily obvious. The concentrated — indeed, devout — attention that
the Chinese bring to music is astonishing. Barely a muscle moves; even
breathing seems hushed. There is absolutely no applause between movements, and
the standing ovation now near-obligatory in the West is absent in Shanghai.
Enthusiastic applause continued until conductor took concert master by the hand
and left the stage.
The college-age set is a far larger part of the Shanghai audience than it is
in the States — explained in part perhaps by the fact that the city
boasts China’s major conservatory. And dress? As in almost all countries
today one comes as one is. The “little black dress,” if China ever
had one, has gone the way of the Mao jacket!