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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

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.



Riccardo Muti
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.

Giuseppe Verdi: Otello

Otello: Aleksandrs Antonenko; Desdemona: Krassimira Stoyanova; Iago: Carlo Guelfi; Emilia: Barbara Di Castri; Cassio: Juan Francisco Gatell; Rodrigo: Michael Spyres; Lodovico: Eric Owens. Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Riccardo Muti. At Carnegie Hall, April 15.

Above: Riccardo Muti


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 singers.

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 calculated.

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.

John Yohalem

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