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

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

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):