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.
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
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?