Recently in Performances
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.
“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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
04 Apr 2011
New York City Opera’s evening of “Monodramas” (under that
general title) may not appeal to the opera-goer who prefers such typical fare as the company’s other offering this week, Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore, but I found it a devilish and delightful exploration of the depths of inner consciousness.
John Zorn’s La Machine de l’être (The Machine of Being)
began with an empty stage gradually filling with silent individuals dressed in
all-covering costumes resembling burqas. A man and a woman dressed modern
formal wear with stark white shirts and ties moved among the growing throng.
One of the burqa-d women darted away when approached, as if in fear, then
disappeared into the crowd, giving the proceedings something of the feel of a
video game. The actors in suits removed the burqas from two of the crowd to
reveal, first, a man dressed in a painfully brilliant red suit, and second, the
soprano dressed in a starkly white gown. It was unsettling to find a man under
a burqa, and he remained an uncomfortable presence on stage. A large cartoon
“speech balloon” rose out of the floor and into position just over
the head of the darting woman, adding to the video game impression. Film clips
of drawings adapted from those made by Antonin Artaud during his incarceration
in an asylum played across the balloon. These disturbing drawings complemented
the disjointed music as both became increasingly twisted and tortured. Finnish
soprano Anu Komsi, in her City Opera debut, did a fine job tossing her voice in
the air evoking a descent into madness in this free-form piece that lacked both
text and plot.
Kara Shay Thomson, soprano
During a riveting entr’acte, Jennifer Steinkamp’s
stunning video display of a stylized forest moving through the seasons played
across the cartoon balloon. The video began with a wild profusion of pink
cherry blossoms mixed with yellow flowers and moved on to greens of summer,
then orange leaves falling and blowing and leaving a gray tangle of bare
branches. I was almost disappointed when the second Monodrama began.
But the gorgeous orchestrations of Schoenberg’s Erwartung
soon enveloped the audience, pulling us into the depths of the lonely
protagonist’s consciousness. A stunning blizzard of brilliant red leaves
fell on the stage for over half of the 30-minute piece. The glittering,
tumbling red was mesmerizing against the midnight blue backdrop. A dead man lay
in the middle of the stage with a knife protruding from his chest while the
tortured ravings of the soprano, sung movingly by Kara Shay Thomson, were all
that was needed to explain the drama—but several dancers provided an
unneeded distraction throughout this beautiful and compelling operatic
Cyndia Sieden and ensemble
The final, longest, and most abstract Monodrama of the evening was
Neither, set by composer Morton Feldman to a text by Samuel Beckett.
The mystical and complex orchestral part was richly complemented by the
continually evolving splashes of intense colors and shapes created by the laser
and holographic effects (after work by the innovative laser artist Hiro
Yamagata). Mirrored one-foot cubes moved and revolved, sending flashes of color
and penetrating lights across the house. The singer and the several dancers
reacted to and interacted with the cubes, as the singer seemed to try to find
some connection with the other people. Cyndia Sieden’s voice sailed above
the orchestra, intoning the text in a near monotone that never left the highest
extremes of the soprano range.
The City Opera is certainly to be commended for stepping beyond the
traditional operatic comfort zone to present these three fascinating and
compelling performance pieces. It bodes well for the future of opera as a
living art that this company has brought such work to its audience.