24 Mar 2011
Sarasota Opera Winter Festival 2011
Opera is alive and well in Sarasota. “It feels like it did before,” says Communications Officer for Sarasota Opera Patricia Horwell.
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.
Opera is alive and well in Sarasota. “It feels like it did before,” says Communications Officer for Sarasota Opera Patricia Horwell.
She describes pre-recession times, and more recently, the buzz inside Sarasota Opera House’s two-tier atrium lobby and the general enthusiasm the company’s 2011 Winter Festival is generating.
Giselda (Abla Lynn Hamza) and Arvino (Mathew Edwardsen) square off.
Sarasota’s 52nd season serves up standards in Boheme and Giovanni. The company’s Verdi cycle, now on its 27th work, resumes with I Lombardi. This season Sarasota Opera begins another venture, the America Classics Series, showcasing the 20th century operas of American composers. Robert Ward’s The Crucible starts the series. Skipping across the operatic landscape as it does — from Puccini’s Paris, Mozart’s Spain, Verdi’s Middle East, and 17th Century Massachusetts — Sarasota Opera’s word for the season is idiomatic.
It is not enough to note that all shows presented at Sarasota Opera are produced especially for the company, as sets are so perfectly suited to the venue and to the company’s goal of traditional opera readings as to draw raves. Each of the sets for the Festival run is remarkable for the acute use of angles, perspective and for craftsmanship. For Boheme, seen on March 11, the thought David P. Gordon (Scenic Design) gives to matters of stage action was in full effect. At Momus, we see sets at their most practical, to the extent that chorus members occupy a shop within the space allowing free room for the show at the town square (think Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley). Gordon and R.A. Reed Productions crafted this brilliant architectural art that debuted here in 2006.
Maestro Victor DeRenzi’s Puccini is quite grand. Just when the orchestral bounds slid close to a volume bordering on coarse, bearing in mind the space and style, the playing eased back to Puccini. DeRenzi knows this orchestra and vice-versa; he can afford to take risks. On the flip side, the orchestra overpowered singers, as it did Harold Meers (Rodolfo) in “Che gelida manina” and Carelle Flores (Musetta) in her waltz. Singers also found themselves falling behind the music, as did Meers in pickups for the same.
On parade, Marcello (Grante Clarke), Musetta (Carelle Flores), Schnaurd (Matthew Hanscom), Rodolfo (Harold Meers) and Mimi (Maria D'Amato)
Meers sang most convincingly when portraying a man powerless over a malady that will take his love in Act III. His sound — tight and lean above the staff — made for a less than affecting connection with that of the Mimi in this performance. Maria D’Amato’s lyric soprano is well-produced on low and carries buttery overtones. Dramatically and vocally, Flores and Grant Clarke (Marcello) were the more interesting pairing in a strong cast of singing-actors. Batting eyelashes and strutting right to the edge of the stage on her entrance was Flores as Musetta. No stranger to Sarasota audiences, Young Bok-Kim’ s dark, round voice had hints of graininess that imparted mettle to his Colline. Sarasota Opera Studio Artists Matthew Hansom and Carlos Monzon were playful as Schaunard and Alcindoro. Benjamin Gelfand’s elegant singing is not what one expects to hear in the role of Benoit and Adam Bielamowicz stopped the show as Parpignol.
Stage director Stephanie Sundine’s influence will be remembered for the well-executed utensil fencing in the opening act and a streaming parade in front of the café. There were tempo kinks between the pit and the men in Act III, otherwise the chorus was musically exacting and energetic. Roger L. Bingaman is Chorus Master and Micheal Shane Wittenburg the Youth Opera Chorus Master.
The Commendatore (Benjamin Gelfand) stands on guard over Giovanni (Lee Poulis).
On the streets and in the colonnades of Spain, David P. Gordon’s work (this time constructed by Center Line Studios, Inc.) excels further. Seamlessly fitting pieces and interlocking scenes of fresh squares with walkways either dropped down, slid across, rose up or a combination of these smoothly. Giovanni’s denouement — at some very swank digs — has him going down in damned deglutition at the top of a staircase as hell-fire shades (Lighting supplied by Ken Yunker) gobble him up. In the end, Howard Tsvi Kaplan has Giovanni sporting a Hugh Heffner robe: Giovanni as the feinschmeker he was. Peter Kozma provided a staging sequence that stood out to open Act II, the lights flashed on to Giovanni gaining on Leporello, both in full trot. Jim Hoskins’ choreography was carried out rather sluggishly by Lee Poulis (Giovanni) and Benjamin Gelfand (Commendatore) at this matinee on March 12th.
“If I am true to one, I will be cruel to all others.” While Lee Poulis spoke Da Ponte’s words for Giovanni, there were only faints signs of the attitude that makes such a rake. Poulis fit into Giovanni in other important ways; he is tall, slim and handsome. Gelfand played the officer well, and he was stiff as granite mounted on a steed in the cemetery.
Such are Leporello’s text and music that only a little extra something will have the role come off entertainingly. Playing the straight man might not be Andrew Gangestad’s strongpoint but he was just mordant enough to underscore the ridiculous situation he finds himself in. In the “Catalogue Aria,” Gangestad displayed both admiration for and confusion over his master’s conquests. Sarasota Opera debutant Christina Pier was the Donna Anna. Hers is a voice of ample volume for large houses; in Sarasota’s venue, the sound was piercing to the point of losing some of its luster. Her affianced Ottavio was played by Joshua Kohl. Unpolished, and tried as it was by Mozart’s tricky lines with scales tagged on, the young tenor’s timbre is what makes one take notice. The Donna Elvira Danielle Walker, had little trouble communicating her anger over Giovanni’s interminable infidelity. Studio Artists Patrick McNally (Masetto) and Sarah Asmar (Zerlina) played their parts’ vulnerabilities well. The chorus was tighter across the board for Mozart.
The orchestra played civilly and subdued for conductor and Sarasota Opera regular Anthony Barrese — there was not much here to disturb what exists neither to reveal anything interesting in Mozart’s score.
A toast to the Don (Lee Poulis at center; Andrew Gangestad to the right).
Revealing though is what I Lombardi is in examining Giuseppe Verdi’s career topography. Occupying the period termed Early Verdi, Lombardi marks the beginning of the composer’s life-long struggle with censorship, he officially takes up the mantle of patriot, and in setting a complex cause to music-drama, he takes set pieces to a new level (for one thing, the final two acts are split into six scenes).
As one would expect in a work such as Lombardi performed in Sarasota, the chorus had clearly gone through extensive preparation for this performance (on March 12th). Bingaman’s group sounded more like a well-balanced legion of 80 than the 20 or so there were. The chorus managed to come in and out of the panorama smoothly, as required. The orchestral performance was solid with DeRenzi conducting — the few interludes were warmly shaped, as was Concert Master Liang-Ping How’s violin solo.
Lombari’s character of central interest is more or less Pagano — after being excommunicated and committing patricide, he is received back in the end as a sort of prodigal son. Kevin Short’s imposing baritone gave Pagano intensity and he is an artist with obvious stage sense. As Arvino, Pagano’s brother, Mathew Edwardson’s slender tone cut through the orchestra, his acting was also quite good. Arvino’s daughter Giselda holds much of the opera’s attention through the end of Part One and all of Part Two. Alba Lynn Hanza is a slight woman with a lyric voice that filled the auditorium with Giselda’s urgent pleas of deliverance and objections to war.
In Part Two, Studio Artist Jeffrey Beruan lent a hearty bass to Acciano, the ruler of Antioch. Acciano’s son Oronte is perhaps the best known of Lombardi’s characters, and his “La mia letizia infondere” its best known tune. Shortly after his entrance, Rafael Davila established himself as a singer with little inhibition and some old-school sentimentality. Marvelous stuff. Later, Davila capped Oronte’s “In cielo benedetto” with a tenore di forza-defying diminuendo. For this scene, Yunker and Martha Collins (Stage Director) are applauded for placing the fallen Oronte beyond a dreamy underwater moonlight effect.
The wandering hermit (Kevin Short) finds Giselda (Abla Lynn Hamza) and the mortally wounded Oronte (Rafael Davila)
The lengthy supporting cast for Lombardi all played a part in making this disorganized story, a bear though it is, somewhat engaging.
With Robert Ward’s The Crucible, engagement is never a problem. In reading through Sarasota Opera’s literature reporting on the opera, the word powerful appears many times. From a distance, this work tells the story of the Salem witch trials. Up close, Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible — from which Ward created his opera — is a specific account of human treachery that recycles through time, therefore regenerating as a topic of concern and interest.
Micheal Unger’s stage direction was instrumental in the power of this performance of Crucible (March 13 matinee). The positioning, and jumpiness, of male characters at Reverend Parris’ house was tension-inducing. The distance kept between the Proctors at the farmhouse kitchen was indicative of the couple’s split and how their individual misunderstandings led to mutual isolation. The Act II courtroom was one of a sniveling and jeering cabal out to bring down the Proctors and whip up Abigail Williams on one side, and the outnumbered and drowned-out voice of reason (Reverend John Hale, for one) on the other.
Ward’s use of driving, tense strings and the presence of horns relaxes as the story unfolds and some of the scoring turns reminiscent of Korngold’s film music. He keeps the vocal line moving, with few inklings of extended melody and many exposed notes right in the break of the voice. Conductor David Neely and orchestra represented Ward very well overall.
A hulking and strapping man whose baritone has similar qualities, Sarasota Opera returnee Sean Anderson made a commanding impact as John Proctor. By the time of Proctor’s booming high note of despair closing Act II, the stage was set for a bring-down-the-house performance. Anderson’s acting at the jail was gut-wrenching in its pathos (this was enhanced by skillful disheveling of Anderson by Wig and Make-up Designer Georgianna Eberhard).
Enraged, John Proctor (Sean Anderson, middle) is restrained in the courtroom (Thomas Putnam, played by Dimitrie Lazich at right).
Heather Johnson ably produced both the strong and broken sides of wife Elizabeth Proctor. The role of Reverend John Hale is the sunniest in terms of Crucible’s social commentary and Jeffrey Tucker communicated this well. Studio Artists Steven Uliana (Reverend Samuel Parris) and Dimitrie Lazich (Thomas Putnam) were excellent. Tenor Uliana handled Ward’s demanding vocals and Lazich adroitly steered his baritone through Putnam’s high tessitura and declamations. The entire cast of over 20 in Crucible could have been a touring company performing this one piece alone, such was the synchronicity of the production.
What was mentioned of Sarasota Opera’s sets applies to the work of Michael Schweikardt, and the company for building the sets, for Crucible. The wood in Act III is particularly memorable for its plain treatment; lined patterns of slim, straight-trunked trees with small leaves were softly lit (by Yunker) suggesting the coming dawn.
Sarasota Opera’s Winter Festival closes on March 20th, alive and in idiomatic style.
La boheme (Friday, March 11)
Conductor: Victor DeRenzi. Stage Director: Stephanie Sundine. Scenic Designer: David P. Gordon. Costume Coordinator: Howard Tsvi Kaplan. Lighting Designer: Ken Yunker. Wigs & Make-Up Designer: Georgianna Eberhard. Chorus Master: Roger L. Bingaman. Youth Opera Chorus Master: Michael Wittenburg.
Mimi: Maria D’Amato; Rodolfo: Harold Meers; Marcello: Grant Clarke; Colline: Young-Bok Kim; Benoît: Benjamin Gelfand; Musetta: Carelle Flores; Schaunard: Matthew Hanscom; Alcindoro: Carlos Monzón.
Don Giovanni (Saturday, March 12 matinee)
Conductor: Anthony Barrese. Stage Director: Peter Kozma. Scenic Designer: David P. Gordon. Costume Designer: Howard Tsvi Kaplan. Lighting Designer: Ken Yunker. Wigs & Make-Up Designer: Georgianna Eberhard. Chorus Master: Roger L. Bingaman.
Donna Anna: Christina Pier; Donna Elvira: Danielle Walker; Don Ottavio: Joshua Kohl; Don Giovanni: Lee Poulis; Leporello: Andrew Gangestad; The Commendatore: Benjamin Gelfand; Zerlina: Sarah Asmar; Masetto: Patrick McNally.
I lombardi (Saturday, March 12)
Conductor: Victor DeRenzi. Stage Director: Martha Collins. Scenic Designer: Jeffrey W. Dean. Costume Designer: Howard Tsvi Kaplan. Lighting Designer: Ken Yunker. Wig & Make-Up Designer: Georgianna Eberhard. Chorus Master: Roger L. Bingaman.
Giselda: Abla Lynn Hamza; Oronte: Rafael Dávila; Arvino: Mathew Edwardsen; Pagano: Kevin Short; Pirro: Benjamin Gelfand; Viclinda: Lindsay Ohse; Sofia: Sarah Larsen; Prior of the City of Milan: Heath Huberg; Acciano: Jeffrey Beruan.
The Crucible (Sunday, March 13 matinee)
Conductor: David Neely. Stage Director: Michael Unger. Scenic Designer: Michael Schweikardt. Costume Designer: Howard Tsvi Kaplan. Lighting Designer: Ken Yunker. Wigs & Make-Up Designer: Georgianna Eberhard. Chorus Master: Roger L. Bingaman.
Elizabeth Proctor: Heather Johnson; Judge Danforth: Mathew Edwardsen; John Proctor: Sean Anderson; Reverend John Hale: Jeffrey Tucker; Abigail Williams: Lindsay Barche; Mary Warren: Lara Michole Tillotson; Ann Putnam: Lindsay Ohse; Tituba: Nicole Mitchell; Ezekial Cheever: Bernard D. Holcomb; Thomas Putnam: Dimitrie Lazich; Francis Nurse: Bradley Smoak.