20 Jun 2011
Geneva’s Juicy Oranges
Need something remedial for “what ails you?”
It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
Need something remedial for “what ails you?”
You would do no better than to scurry to the Grand Theatre of Geneva where this first rate ensemble is producing a snazzy, energetic, in-your-face production of Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges. Just like the opera’s hapless Prince we all could use a therapeutic laugh, and this the Swiss company decidedly delivers.
Although it is billed as a “co-production” with Deutsche Oper am Rhein and La Fenice, in truth, the physical design is so definitively reproductive of the Venice Theatre’s architectural elements that is is hard to consider this re-mounting as more than a “rental.” Consider this: the massive masking “legs” stage right and left are photographic copies of the boxes in La Fenice, clearly meant to “extend” that ‘teatro’s’ structure onto the stage. Too, the ‘stage-within-a-stage’ up center has a replica of the Fenice grand drape, and the stucco elements in the backdrop are derived from those in the Italian house. While it does not wholly matter, it does seem to stifle any of the ‘local’ resonance that was clearly intended.
Heikki Kilpeläinen and Jean Teitgen as the King
That said, Ezio Toffolutti’s scenery functioned well, was handsome to look at, and contributed a smooth-moving parade of inventive visual delights required by the libretto. I did wish that the “stage” had not been so far upstage as it served to distance us visually, if not aurally, from the two-thirds of the action that was played there. There was just that big empty expanse of prime “real” stage area unused for much of the time. Maybe shuttering the lighting to more tightly encompass the false stage might have focused the action more and edited the dead space out, although I found Volker Weinhart’s varied lighting design quite well-judged, with good area isolation, effective specials, smooth cross-fades and on the whole, very tightly cued.
Patricia Toffolutti’s fashion parade of meaty, varied, multi-faceted costumes (a ‘char-couture-y’?) provided constant colorful delight. Moreover, her creations were character-specific, greatly helping the actors in embodying their (largely) stock characters. The stage direction by Benno Besson and Ezio Toffolutti managed the large crowd scenes well enough, although the traffic patterns became repetitive. The pair seemed less interested in directorial distinction in the more personal scenes where they contented themselves with getting characters on and offstage with ease and pace. Power loves a vacuum, and absent a scintillating directorial hand, the cast filled in the dramatic blanks with savvy and imagination.
The hardest-working cast member had to be Emilio Pons, whose Truffaldino was not only a master of invention, but also was exceedingly well sung. Mr. Pons is almost never still as he leaps, kicks his heels, spins, cowers, beseeches, minces, and prances with more infectious energy than a Billy Blanks Tae-Bo session. His fearless, manic, even demented, cavorting during the playing of the famous March was a scintillating high point. Too, Emilio deployed his secure lyric tenor to fine effect, pouring out secure, arching phrases on demand, and ‘speechifying’ with good purpose, presence and diction on the many parlando passages. A definitive impersonation from this talented young tenor.
Chad Shelton gave us first a sympathetic and, later, a self-assured Prince. Mr. Shelton has just a hint of a ‘bite’ in his well-schooled tenor which stood him in good stead as the phrases got higher-flying and the instrumental density ratcheted up. His tireless, solid upper extension recalled the young Chris Merritt, and his command of the stage is already even better. On the distaff side, it was a distinct pleasure for me to encounter anew the (apparently) ageless mezzo of Jeanne Piland. I first took notice of Ms. Piland at New York City Opera as Orisini and Smeton in the year…well…we were all younger then. I caught up with her a few years ago as a riveting Sara in Munich’s Roberto Devereux. And here she was again engaging us with a real star turn as Fata Morgana, her rich, plummy voice in fine estate and skillfully deployed; still treading the boards as if born to the stage; still glamorous and vibrant. This was luxury casting and the opening nighters responded enthusiastically.
Chad Shelton as the Prince, Katherine Rohrer as Princess Clarisse, Nicolas Testé as Leandro and Michail Milanov as Tchelio
Jean Teitgen was a positively splendid King of Clubs. His rich, mature bass rolled out line after line of imposing phrases. And Mr. Teitgen devised an exceptionally well-rounded characterization, one moment amusing us as the exasperated buffoon-royal, and the next truly breaking our hearts after his son slaps him — a moment every bit as genuine and touching as the Pasquale equivalent.
Katherine Rohrer (Princess Clarice) and Nicolas Testé (Leandro) sang with solid panache, and prowled the environment with suitable relish of their evil intent. Smeraldina was as over-the-top and vibrant as her co-conspirators, but Carine Séchaye’s sizable mezzo-soprano, when pressed at forte, was occasionally marred by an overly generous vibrato that resulted in approximation of pitches above the staff. Heikki Kilpeläinen was a reliable Pantalone, Thomas Dear stood out with his virile baritone and committed stage action as Farfarello, and Christopher Stamboglis made a strong impression as the Cook. Some artists would be content to let the drag costume do all the work, but Mr. Stamboglis not only sang the role beautifully with a soft grained, weighty bass, but also imbued the part with considerable sensitivity.
The Princesses Linette, Nicolette and Ninette are usually as individual as Huey, Dewey and Louie. Here however, there was good distinction offered by three young sopranos: Susanne Gritschneder with her limpid, lyric Linette; Agnieszka Adamczak with a slightly darker, urgent Nicolette; and Clémence Tilquin in the more extended role of Linette. Ms. Tilquin was just lovely — slim as a ballerina, but with a sizable soprano with a hint of metal that sailed over the orchestra and proved a good partner to Mr. Shelton’s pointed tenor.
The seasoned bass Michail Milanov may not be producing the most fresh-voiced or roundly sung performance of the evening. But, damn if his demonstrative Tchelio didn’t score every point as he brought his years of experience to bear, husbanding his resources to make the most of every dramatic statement. The Geneva public lavished Mr. Milanov with a warmly appreciative ovation for his efforts.
Chad Shelton as the Prince and Katherine Rohrer as Princess Clarisse
Arguably the star of the evening was conductor Michail Jurowski. Never have I heard such fire in this score tempered by such nuance. Maestro Jurowski not only had all the angular, rhythmic flash and dazzle abundantly in place, but he also lovingly inspired contrasting moments of transparency, tenderness, and mellow rumination. This was as deeply felt, stylistically impeccable, personalized and persuasive a reading as you might be lucky enough to encounter once every ten years. The Maestro was ably abetted by Ching-Lien Wu’s meticulously prepared chorus.