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

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

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):