Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Romeo and Juliet by Ford Maddox Brown (1870) [Source: Wikipedia]
05 Mar 2011

Roméo et Juliette, Philadelphia

Neither the music nor the libretto of Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette is quite compelling enough to have made it a popular standard.

Charles Gounod: Roméo et Juliette

Romeo: Stephen Costello; Juliet: Ailyn Pérez; Mercutio: Marian Pop; Stéphano: Elena Belfiore; Capulet: Daniel Mobbs; Gertrude: Olivia Vote; Tybalt: Taylor Stayton; Duke of Verona: Frank Mitchell; Friar Laurent: Justin Hopkins; Gregario: Jeffrey Chapman; Paris: Siddartha Misra; Benvolio: Paul Vetrano. Opera Company of Philadelphia. Conductor: Jacques Lacombe. Director: Manfred Schweigkofler.

Above: Romeo and Juliet by Ford Maddox Brown (1870) [Source: Wikipedia]

 

Fifty years ago performances were heavily cut, as much of the music lacks dramatic punch. The idiomatic Italo-French performance style in which it was written has all but died out. Its libretto bowdlerizes Shakespeare.

Yet a number of memorable arias and duets—and the reflected glory of the Bard—have kept Roméo alive. It is, moreover, widely viewed an appropriate vehicle for young and visually appropriate singers with medium-weight voices—though perhaps wrongly, since the greatest Roméos have included Jean de Reszke, Georges Thill, Jussi Björling, and Franco Corelli. The opera is thus intermittently revived when fresh new talent is at hand.

Such was the case this month at the Philadelphia Opera, which cast Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello as the stat-crossed lovers. Pictures of the good-looking couple, shot at an all-day session last summer, made for effective publicity. Pérez and Costello were on the airwaves and web, recounting their story of having graduated from Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts and becoming real-life husband and wife in 2008. Both are rising quickly in the opera world. Costello will join Anna Netrebko and Elīna Garanča for his second opening night at the Met next fall. Pérez has been singing in Berlin, Vienna, London and La Scala.

This casting was evidently insufficient to assure a box-office hit, so the company imported producer Manfred Schweigkofler from Italy. His big concept was to reset the story as a modern-day haute couture battle between rival Capulet and Montague fashion houses. The idea is not as radical as it might sound. Modern Shakespeare adaptations are old hat after Baz Luhrmann’s diverting (if not deep) film Romeo+Juliet and the Shakespeare Retold version of Macbeth, with its warring chefs. Opera Company of Philadelphia has had good luck in the past with modernized productions, most notably its wonderfully whacky 1950s Cenerentola a few years back, which opened with Angelina pushing around a vacuum cleaner.

Some local critics were hostile. True, this Juliet was more Versace than virgin, the modern setting belied the Victorian-era text, and some subtleties of Gounod’s score were obscured by overly energetic stage activity. Yet I found the fashionista concept dramatically engaging. Why not portray Juliette as a teenage House of Capulet model, play her Dad as the head designer, center the Capulet party on a group of runway models parading new outfits, deliver the poison in a martini glass, let paparazzi swarm around the stage, stage fights with golf clubs not swords, and set paper boys loose through the audience delivering tragic news? Schweigkofler has, moreover, a keen sense of color and line; the set, designed by Nora Veneri, looked great, even if the stage business taking place on it could be cloying. The unit set was clearly built to be inexpensive. No doubt the production concept helped sell out the house, create buzz, and stimulate community involvement—since fashion students from three local universities designed outfits for the party aka runway show.

Yet in the end, of course, Roméo needs to sell itself on the singing of its leads. Both seemed to take a while to warm up, or simply felt more comfortable in later acts. Costello’s famous second-act aria, “Ah, lève-toi soleil!,” was short-breathed and dynamically imprecise. Thereafter he seemed to settle down, displaying more subtle dynamics and phrasing—though his timbre often retained a pressed, somewhat monochromatically metallic “young tenor” sound, with the (often conjoined) tendency to slide off pitch. There is little doubt, nonetheless, that this is an exceptional voice of real promise, with true Italianate virtues: squillo, ringing high notes, and some ability to mix head and chest tones. His French was adequate.

Pérez is the more energetic stage presence. As happens with many young sopranos, her voice is now moving beyond the lyric coloratura roles in which she has specialized to date. She was least comfortable in the famous Act I showpiece, but, like Costello, she seemed warm into the role thereafter. Like him, also, her voice can be cooler and more metallic than one might wish; I found the bottom of the voice more attractive. Yet there is little doubt that this is a gifted, smart and technically accomplished singer with a potentially important career ahead of her. The duets, as one might perhaps expect from a married couple, were well-rehearsed.

The other members of the ensemble were strong, particularly fellow AVA graduate Daniel Mobbs as Capulet, but also Romanian baritone Marian Pop, Italian mezzo Elena Belfiore, and three other young singers with Philadelphia connections: Olivia Vote, Taylor Strayton, and Justin Hopkins. The chorus sang lustily and the orchestra, a weak link in many Philadelphia performances, surpassed its usual standard under the unaccustomed baton of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s new Music Director, Jacques Lacombe.

Andrew Moravcsik

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):