15 Jun 2011
Israel Opera cuts wide swath at festival
Israel Opera’s summer festival grew astonishingly in the year following its 2010 inaugural season.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
Israel Opera’s summer festival grew astonishingly in the year following its 2010 inaugural season.
Then it was Opera at Masada, where Verdi’s Nabucco was performed in a mammoth new open-air theater set between the mountain central to Jewish identify and the Dead Sea. A recital by Jesse Norman was included in the season.
This year it was the Masada Dead Sea and Jerusalem Opera Festival Six performances of Verdi’s Aida were set for at Masada, while Verdi’s rarely performed Jerusalem, a revision of his I Lombardi, was staged at Sultan’s Pool, once a reservoir in Jerusalem’s historic water system. This was also a season of collaborations that contributed greatly to plans by Israel Opera’s inventive general director Hanna Munitz to make this a destination festival on a level with long established programs in Europe.
Special this year was the Masada performance of Verdi’s Missa da Requiem by orchestra and soloists from Arena di Verona, the Italian festival that reaches back to 1913. In the performance the opened the season on June 3 Giuliano Carella conducted the Verona forces, plus the Israel Opera Chorus and Tel Aviv Philharmonic Choir. The Verona guests further offered an evening of opera’s greatest hits at Sultan’s Pool, attended by 5000 enthusiastic fans. Star of that show was internationally celebrated tenor Setfano Secco in such favorites as “Nessun dorma” and “E lucevan le stelle.” Carella made the evening a success despite a sound system unfair to the instrumentalists involved.
Once the fireworks of the Triumphal March were out of the way, Aida, seen on June 5, seemed a work not terribly well suited to the vastness of Masada. In the essential duet that results in Aida’s confession of her love for Radames, Aida and Amneris seemed lost in the desert night and without the dramatic personal confrontation that sets the scene for the rest of the story.
Happily, things improved after intermission when China’s Hui He made her entrance on a camel. And it was He who earned high marks for her work in the title role. A former IO Tosca, He was a strong but gently female Aida whose love grew ever greater when challenged.
Of course, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that Verdi stacked the cards against Egyptian Princess Amneris, who has little chance of winning the sympathy of an audience. Amneris is primarily a public person, never intended to be passion’s plaything. In the role Hungarian-born mezzo Ildiko Komlosi was a regal presence, conscious of her role in the conflict between public and personal feelings. Yet it was clear that she had no choice in setting the events that would lead to Radames’ death in motion.
Although in appearance hardly a dream Radames Pierre Giuliacci, a familiar figure at European festivals was equally heroic and sensuous as Radames. Veteran bass Paata Burchuladze brought dignity to High Priest Ramfis. Born is a Georgia then part of the Soviet Union, Burchuladze has been an Israel favorite since he sang the title role in the Boris Godunov that opened the opera house in Tel Aviv in 1995. (Thus Israelis overlook an increasingly wide vibrato that is irritating to non-fans.) Italy’s Roberto Frontali made his IO debut as a movingly human Egyptian King Amonasro.
The staging, directed by Charles Roubaud, was largely straightforward. Sets by Emmanuelle Favre were minimal — four sphinxes and a huge royal statue — and wisely made no effort to compete with impressive natural surroundings. Costume designer Denise Dufolt appeared to have found a bargain in white cotton, the dominant material in mob scenes, but unflattering to the full figure of Giulliaci.
Especially effective were projections onto Masada Mountain designed by Nicolas Topor. The production added a bit of local color by including residents of a local Bedouin village in lieu of a dance ensemble. Daniel Oren conducted the IO Orchestra Rishon LeZion.
The sound system failed for a moment late in the production, stressing that technology is never totally reliable. Nonetheless, this was all in all a successful, if not memorable Aida, but as entertainment no match for the exuberance of the 2010 Nabucco, which reached its high point when conductor Daniel Oren conducted the audience in a “community sing” repeat of the famous chorus “Va, pensiero.” Aida does not invite such audience participation.
Aida was a co-production with Les Choragies d’Orange and will be staged at the Roman Theatre in Orange.
The current season concluded with a Masada concert by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli on June 12. In a further expansion of the season, 30 chamber concerts were performed in Jerusalem at places of worship and historic sites in the city.
Bizet’s Carmen has been announced as the major opera of the festival’s 2012 season.
While European cultural capitals have their castles and cathedrals Israel offers the visitor over 2000 years of — often tormented — history. Even so, archeological activity continues at break-neck speed.
Israel is a small and easily manageable land. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, its major cities, are an hour apart, and the drop from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea is approximately that distance. Where but in Israel can one float in the Dead Sea, have dinner and head for an opera at Masada all in one afternoon?