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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.

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.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.



Piotr Beczala as Roméo and Hei-Kyung Hong as Juliette [Photo by Marty Sohl courtesy of Metropolitan Opera]
18 Mar 2011

Roméo et Juliette, New York

Is Guy Joosten’s staging of Roméo et Juliette the best-looking production in the Met’s current repertory or what?

Charles Gounod: Roméo et Juliette

Juliette: Hei-Kyung Hong; Stephano: Julie Boulianne; Roméo: Piotr Beczala; Tybalt: Sean Panikkar; Capulet: Dwayne Croft; Mercutio: Lucas Meacham; Frère Laurent: James Morris. Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, conducted by Plácido Domingo. Performance of March 14.

Above: Piotr Beczala as Roméo and Hei-Kyung Hong as Juliette

All photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of Metropolitan Opera


With its faux marquetry sets by Johannes Leiacker and spectacular astronomical projections for the star-crossed and velvet-clad lovers (lighting by David Cunningham, costumes by Jorge Jara), the stage is always a delight to watch while this is on, no matter who is singing. I wish they’d use these sets for operas I liked better—Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, say, or Bellini’s I Capuletti ed i Montecchi (to keep the story on track), or Verdi’s Trovatore or Vespri, or Auber’s La Muette de Portici, or Mercadante’s Il Bravo, or Mascagni’s Parisina, or Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, or Korngold’s Violanta—just about anything Renaissance-themed and at least faintly Italian. It’s entirely too beautiful to leave it to rare encounters with sugary Gounod.

RJ_Met_2011_03.pngDwayne Croft as Capulet and Hei-Kyung Hong as Juliette

The current revival was to have placed gallant young Polish tenor Piotr Beczala beside Romanian glamour-girl soprano Angela Gheorghiu, but for whatever reason (illness, she says) Madame Gheorghiu was a no-show. I do not find the lady’s voice or her use of it persuasive enough to mourn her absence. Standing in for her was Hei-Kyung Hong, who with all the looks, twice the technique and three times the vocal gift of Gheorghiu, has never been a candidate for stardom but, rather, a totally assured first-class house singer of roles from Handel, Mozart and Verdi to Puccini and Wagner. If she has lacked the spark of individuality that inspires cult, her dedication to singing, to excellence, has made her a favorite with Met audiences for twenty-five years. She is still a pretty woman and an able actress, albeit lacking the little self-knowing and personal touches that a stage animal like Natalie Dessay brought to Juliette when this production was new. Too, she might be faulted for a certain coolness, a lack of passion—this Juliette does not grow into a woman convincingly, but that is partly due to the omission at the Met of her potion aria in Act IV. In any case, after a few nervous high notes in the coloratura showcases of Act I, Hong settled into a lovely, creamily sung performance.

RJ_Met_2011_02.pngJulie Boulianne as Stephano

Beczala, a tenor I have admired as Edgardo and Lenski, has the Slavic fault (I identify it with Hvorostovsky) of pausing between beautiful phrases that should be strung together in ardent, breathless apostrophe, but his “Lève-toi, soleil” was nonetheless a high point of a year of good tenorismo. He was ably supported by Sean Panikkar’s Tybalt; Lucas Meacham’s impressive Mercutio; James Morris’s rumbly Frère Laurent; and Dwayne Croft’s most distinguished Capulet. Mr. Croft is another of those house singers who brings class to anything he sings, and he seemed very much the host of this gala party. Wendy White was not up to her usual standard as the Nurse—I could hardly hear he in the wedding quartet, and I was sitting thirty feet away. Julie Boulianne, a mezzo with a developing reputation, sang Stephano: She puzzled me, as she has in the past, not for the occasional ringing and beautiful high notes, which are sure to please, but for the off-pitch or scattershot phrases that led up to them. The conductor was Plácido Domingo, and though his beat seemed draggy at times, he kept things trundling and never threw the singers for a loop, no doubt remembering occasions when he had to keep his eye on a vague baton.


The crowd-movements were passable but the dueling was not. I would not say this if I had not seen the street brawl and the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt done so very well in the old Met production of this opera, some of the most realistic swordwork by elegant young men in tights I’ve ever seen on any stage. The current version, which relies too much on knife lunges (that must fall on the right crescendo to be effective), is unnecessarily awkward and complex. The singers tried, but they could not make it seem natural. The Met should try to find the guy who set this scene up in 1996 and entreat him to do it again.

John Yohalem

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