Recently in Performances
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
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.