Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Mansfield Park at The Grange

In her 200th anniversary year, in the county of her birth and in which she spent much of her life, and two days after she became the first female writer to feature on a banknote - the new polymer £10 note - Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park made a timely appearance, in operatic form, at The Grange in Hampshire.

Elektra in San Francisco

Among the myriad of artistic innovation during the Kurt Herbert Adler era at San Francisco Opera was the expansion of the War Memorial Opera House pit. Thus there could be 100 players in the pit for this current edition of Strauss’ beloved opera, Elektra!

Turandot in San Francisco

Mega famous L.A. artist David Hockney is no stranger at San Francisco Opera. Of his six designs for opera only the Met’s Parade and Covent Garden’s Die Frau ohne Schatten have not found their way onto the War Memorial stage.

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

The Opera Box at the Brunel Museum

The courtly palace may have been opera’s first home but nowadays it gets out and about, popping up in tram-sheds, car-parks, night-clubs, on the beach, even under canal bridges. So, I wasn’t that surprised to find myself following The Opera Box down the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe for a double bill which brought together the gothic and the farcical.

Proms at Wiltons: Eight Songs for a Mad King

It’s hard to imagine that Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic monologue, Eight Songs for a Mad King, can bear, or needs, any further contextualisation or intensification, so traumatic is its depiction - part public history, part private drama - of the descent into madness of King George III. It is a painful exposure of the fracture which separates the Sovereign King from the human mortal.

Prokofiev: Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution: Gergiev, Mariinsky

Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, Op 74, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. One Day That Shook the World to borrow the subtitle from Sergei Eisenstein's epic film October : Ten Days that Shook the World.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Barbara Dobrzanska [Photo by Jochen Klenk]
09 Jun 2011

Karlsruhe “Gioconda” Unintentionally ‘Konzertant’

It was a lucky happenstance that glorious vocalism characterized Badisches Staatstheater’s La Gioconda, for effective stagecraft was nowhere in evidence…but, oh, what singing!

Amilcare Ponchielli: La Gioconda

La Gioconda: Barbara Dobrznaska; Laura Adorno: Sabina Willeit; Alvise Badoero: Konstantin Gorny; La Cieca: Anna Maria Dur; Enzo Grimaldo: Keith Ikaia-Purdy; Barnaba: Walter Donati; Zuàne: Alexander de Paula; Isèpo: Sebastian Haake. Conductor: Attilio Tomasello. Director: Annegret Ritzel. Set Design: Siegfried E. Mayer. Costume Design: Annegret Ritzel and Siegfried E. Mayer. Choreography: Flavio Salamanka. Chorus Master: Ulrich Wagner. Lighting Design: Gerd Meier.

Above: Barbara Dobrzanska [Photo by Jochen Klenk]

 

Barbara Dobrzanksa continues to go from strength to considerable strength in the title role, with her secure soprano now assuming all the trappings of a thrilling spinto performer. Let’s cut to the chase: The Divine Miss D scored a triumph — personal, professional, artistic, musical — think of a category, and she nailed it. Her searing top notes rang out in the house, the chest tones were dramatic and solid, and her floated phrases and occasional messa di voce effects were nigh unto faultless. This supremely intelligent artist commands a reliable technique that not only allows for great nuance of utterance and phrasing, but also finds her as fresh-voiced at the finale as when the show began. When has any Gioconda tossed off the sudden coloratura flirting with Barnaba in the closing pages with such self-assured élan? (Pace, Maria.)

Let me go out on a limb here: there is possibly no singer currently performing the part that is in quite the same league as this Karlsruhe star. Why the theatre feels it must bring in Violeta Urmana (whom I do like) for an upcoming “gala” performance is beyond me. Barbara could probably be singing this and many other roles on world stages any time she wants. The local Publikum should (and does) rejoice in the fact that their Diva is a home body.

Her accomplishment was wonderfully partnered by Keith Ikaia-Purdy’s ringing Enzo. But stentorian singing of the high order is not his only asset, for Mr. I-P is above all else a supremely sensitive interpreter of the multi-faceted moods of the text. Without crooning he can scale back his sizable tenor to craft phrases of melting beauty, infused with great meaning. Moreover, his Italianate styling is well-judged and idiomatic. It is bittersweet to note that this run of Gioconda’s will mark Keith’s final scheduled appearances with the company. He will be missed in Karlsruhe. In the meantime, we reveled in his professionalism and craft, including a lovingly shaped, haunting “Cielo e Mar.”

Willeit.gifSabina Willeit [Photo by Jochen Klenk]

The evening’s true show stopping set piece, however, belonged to Dobrzanska and her Laura, the glamorous mezzo Sabina Willeit. Their heated Act I duet escalated to a fever pitch of sizzling singing and supremely bitchy confrontation, and the audience erupted like a group of opera-crazed Italians in an appreciative response. That ovation might be going on still had the conductor not finally urged things along. Ms. Willeit is another fine company asset, possessed of a throbbing, communicative instrument, somewhat bright with a wide range and considerable allure. As her husband Alvise, house favorite Konstantin Gorny did not disappoint. His familiar orotund bass rolled out to blanket the auditorium, and his sensible phrasing and reliable musicianship provided all that was wanted.

Anna Maria Dur contributed an affecting Cieca. Though not particularly matronly in demeanor (like Chookasian) nor voice (like Dunn), Ms. Dur suggested a frail, quirky mother eerily in the mold of “Six Feet Under’s” Frances Conroy. Her meaty mezzo was by turns plangent, urgent, and excitable as required and she found much variety in her relatively brief stage time. Walter Donati is a sturdy and stirring Barnaba. Mr. Donati’s career is somewhat a marvel, since he began as a successful tenor, switching mid-point to baritone and bringing with that an exceptional clarity of tone all the while having found a true baritonal core and timbre. And at 70+, he sounds more youthful and vibrant than most singers half his age. This is not the bullying, blustering Barnaba often encountered, but rather intensely focused and beautifully couched for maximum Slime Factor and dramatic impact.

Any house would be proud to have fielded this top notch sextet of soloists, who almost performed the feat of making you forget that when it came to the production, there was no “there” there. Sometimes a spare scenic design can focus the drama, and sometimes, as here, “less” is just “less.” Actually, make that…”least.”

Is there any locale more atmospheric and evocative than Venice. (That was rhetorical: No. Except maybe Bruges.) And yet set designer Siegfried E. Mayer found “gar nichts” to suggest the slightest hint of La Serenissima. In fact, let me be blunt. All he came up with was a butt-ugly set of orchestra risers surrounded by a box set of reflective walls that had all the beauty of a fading 50’s concert hall in Brno, and all the charm of a bus terminal in Tenafly. Mr. Mayer shared credit with Annegret Ritzel for a hodge-podge of costumes that seemed to have Fascist leanings, a look that was already tired out in German theatres in the 80’s.

Gioconda’s get-up was a cross between Sally Bowles in a trench coat and Lotte Lenya in Pierrette drag. Enzo (who is supposed to be incognito) sported a can’t-miss-him dazzling white sailor uniform that made him look like Pinkerton took a wrong turn from the dressing room. Poor Barnaba fared worst, looking as sinister as a Fasching reveler with a costume thrown together from the closet: flowered muumuu culottes, tux jacket with clownish white satin lapels, and a bird’s head hat like the god Horus as interpreted by South Park. And he was in white face. Laura first sported a black tailored jacket and Frederick’s of Hollywood metallic slip, then a flowered gown that just didn’t hang right (was it backwards?). Why the chorus women were look-alike Jean Harlow’s in Act IV is anybody’s guess.

Nor were any of these visuals helped in any way by Gerd Meier’s dismal lighting plot which seemed to have been created to keep the singers’ faces in as much darkness as possible. Alvise sang his entire second aria un-illuminated except by back-light until the final two bars when he wandered (by mistake?) into an area light down right. (I had the feeling that Herr Meier was somewhere hissing “My God, fools, his face is lit! Turn that light off! Turn it off!”) Note to all “designers:” it is not about you! The design elements should only exist to help the performers create their characters, and to tell the author’s story. Not “your” story…”the” story. When a light design robs the performer of the ability to communicate with the audience (“Two eyes to two eyes” as Martha Graham said) then you have made a bad lighting design. When you make the sinister baritone look like an inexplicable buffoon, you have made a bad costume design. When you fail to visually evoke any sense of time or place or intent, you have made a bad set design. Punkt!

Flavio Salamanka’s eccentric choreography of the famous “Dance of the Hours” was enthusiastically applauded, although its overall impact somewhat eluded me. The Karlsruhe corps boasts wonderful young female dancers to be sure and they threw themselves with skill and gusto into the concept of having an Adonis-like (sole) ballerino invading their regimented world. The scenario “seemed” to be about eschewing totalitarianism. As the girls stripped away their regimental jackets, and then their long black tulle skirts they did so with considerable more dramatic propulsion than was otherwise present in the longish evening. But while the steps and combinations were clever enough, and the groupings and intent sincere, the overall impact of the piece seemed pleasantly generic but dramatically neutral.

Ulrich Wagner’s chorus was polished and full-throated but did the entire group have to be trapped on stage for virtually the whole show for no good reason? They sat around on the risers in various vague groupings, trying to look interested, trying to stay in character and ultimately failing at both pursuits. Sorry to say Annegret Ritzel proved to be a better costume designer than director, for while her attire was variable it at least showed that she had made some choices. In her unfocused direction she seemed to avoid choices at all costs. Characters wandered at will. Actors didn’t look at each other or relate. Scenes meant to have characters in close proximity found them on opposite sides of the stage. And then there was the omnipresent bored chorus for the soloists to navigate around. I had the distinct feeling the experienced principals were doing their damndest to fill in the vast directorial blanks.

Attilio Tomasello took over the baton for the rest of the run with largely excellent results. The Karlsruhe pit is peopled by a superb group of musicians, and they had a very good night indeed. Maestro Tomasello deviated from a few standard choices of tempi with this phrase a bit slower, that phrase a bit faster, and yet another passage a lot slower, etc. but he partnered well enough with his singers and displayed secure control of the many large ensembles. I found the polished reading just shy of the passionate Italianate incisiveness that would have taken this Ponchielli pot-boiler to the ultimate level, with the strings, though assured, a little cool.

All told, it is always a pleasure to encounter this seldom-performed piece, especially a performance with such an exceptional International-level cast. But really, if you are going to go to such great lengths to make it look for all the world like a half-baked concert version, for God’s sake get all the crap out of the way, put the accomplished band, chorus and soloists on the stage and … just plain do it as a concert version. We would have been far better off.

James Sohre

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):