Recently in Performances
It’s Verdi’s bicentenary year and Rolando Villazón has two new CDs to plug — titled somewhat confusingly, ‘Villazón: Verdi’ and ‘Villazón’s Verdi’, the latter a ‘personal selection’ of favourite numbers performed by stars of the past and present.
Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra climbed out of the War Memorial pit, braved the wind whipped bay and held spellbound an audience at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Auditorium at UC Berkeley.
Utterly mad but absolutely right — Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos started the Glyndebourne 2013 season with an explosion. Strauss could hardly have made his intentions more clear. Ariadne auf Naxos is not “about” Greek myth so much as a satire on art and the way art is made.
“Man is an abyss. It makes one dizzy to look into it.” So utters Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, repeating what was also a recurring motif in the playwright’s own letters.
National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.
Once upon a time, Frankfurt Opera had the baddest ass reputation in Germany as “the” cutting edge producer of must-see opera.
Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.
Just in case we were not aware that the evening’s programme was ‘themed’, the Britten Sinfonia designed a visual accompaniment to their musical exploration of night, sleep and dreams.
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Composed between 1718 and 1720, Handel’s Esther is sometimes described as the ‘first English Oratorio’, but is in fact a hybrid form, mixing elements of oratorio, masque, pastoral and opera.
Hector Berlioz's légende dramatique, La Damnation de Faust, exists somewhere between cantata and opera. Berlioz's flexible attitude to dramatic form made the piece unworkable on the stages of early 19th century Paris and his music is so vivid that you wonder whether the piece needs staging at all.
St. John’s Smith Square was the site of Elizabeth Connell’s final London concert, intended as a farewell to London on her moving to Australia. It was rendered ultimately final by her unexpected death.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
Back for its fourth revival, David McVicar’s 2003 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte has much charm, beauty and artistry.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro has a libretto by Lorenzo daPonte based on the French play La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (The Crazy Day or the Marriage of Figaro) by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799).
For its world class Easter Festival, Baden-Baden mounted a Die Zauberflöte that owed more to the grey penitential doldrums of Lent than to the unbridled jubilance of re-birth.
Once Berkeley Opera, renamed West Edge Opera, this enterprising company offers the Bay Area’s only serious alternative to corporate opera, to wit Bonjour M. Gauguin.
In the first of pianist Julius Drake’s three-part series,
‘Perspectives’, our gaze was directed at Gustav Mahler’s eclectic musical
responses to human experiences: from the trauma and distress of anguished love
to the sweet contentment of true friendship, from the agonised introspection of
the artist to the diverse dramas of human interaction.
22 Apr 2011
Otello, Carnegie Hall
By the time he emerged from retirement with Otello, his
twenty-seventh opera, at 73, there wasn’t much Giuseppe Verdi
didn’t know about how to make an orchestra do his bidding, set the mood
of each line of a good story, piling excitement on excitement and letting the
tension mutate to something gentler at the right times in order to make the
outburst to follow the more demoniac.
This makes the score one of particular
delight to an instrument as skilled and as superbly led as the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra (and its equally illustrious chorus), and the opera’s appeal
clear to its director, Riccardo Muti, a former music director of La Scala.
When, at sixteen, I told my father that I had discovered opera, he got me my
first opera recording: the von Karajan Otello with Del Monaco and
Tebaldi, both singers considered definitive interpreters of the roles at that
time. (In the Rome Opera House, there is a wall-size bronze plaque dedicated to
Del Monaco, with his profile and the bar lines for Otello’s opening
“Esultate…,” a terrific way to remember a tenor, eh?) I
listened to this first recording devoutly, and then encountered the opera in
performance in perhaps Franco Zeffirelli’s finest bit of stagecraft at
the Met, under Böhm, with Zylis-Gara, Vickers and Milnes singing and acting it
superbly. And there have been many great Otellos for me since then
(McCracken, Domingo, King, the frighteningly quiet Willow Song of
Pilar Lorengar, the horrifying Iago of Wassily Janulako), but there were things
in the orchestration that I had not noticed until the Chicago’s
performance before a packed Carnegie Hall last Friday. This points up one of
two advantages about a concert performance of an opera (the first being that no
stage director to distract you from the piece being performed with his own
irrelevance): You can hear the orchestra more clearly, often playing with more
care, than you can in the opera house, where there is a covered pit and the
distractions of the stage and the attention (and the limelight) squarely on the
Riccardo Muti, who has conducted hardly any opera in this country, got his
start in the opera house and his original fame as a stickler for the letter of
the score. This has led to many productions of operas of an earlier era that
aficionados deplore as lacking the high spirits that idiosyncratic singers (of
the best sort) could bring to them. Muti’s attention to detail, to the
symphonic picture and to dramatic propulsion suits some operas better than
others, and Otello is a case where the composer knew just what he
wanted and took infinite pains to achieve it. Muti has great fun with it,
reaching out to each section with clutching, pleading hands, wooing them into
the dynamic he desired. There were times during the lighter, merrier moments
with which Verdi intended the dark drama to be studded—the drinking song,
the “flower” chorus, the “handkerchief” trio in Act
III—that an airier spirit sometimes eluded his attention, but placing the
Chicago Symphony in the hands of such a technician produces gilded, glowing
effect upon effect, each tremolo wind in perfect tune (from sighing violins to
threatening, murmurous basses), each thunderous brass outburst ideally
The singers, all well chosen, were not in quite such superlative form as the
orchestra and chorus. Aleksandrs Antonenko, singing though ailing, in Italian
rather better than his French in last year’s Les Troyens at the
same hall, demonstrated real tenor ping (as the aficionados say) on
Otello’s abrupt rises from the conversational to the furious and was
never overwhelmed by the orchestra. His quieter, more tragic moments were
affecting as well. Krassimira Stoyanova, who has sung Desdemona to acclaim from
Vienna to Barcelona, was occasionally flat in the Act I love duet, but her
placid, dignified bewilderment in the rest of the opera was true and sweet, her
Willow Song and Ave Maria quietly devastating. Carlo Guelfi, not always the
most exciting of baritones, sang a worthy, menacing Iago, with diabolic energy
to his cries of “O gioia!” as his wicked plots moved to fruition.
Juan Francisco Gatell’s Cassio and the few (but full and lovely) notes of
Barbara Di Castri’s Emilia made one eager to hear more of their singing.
Only Eric Owens, the growling Lodovico, proved a disappointment.