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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.



Daniel Mobbs as Guillaume Tell and Talise Trevigne as  Jemmy [Photo by Gabe Palacio courtesy of Caramoor Festival 2011]
12 Jul 2011

Guillaume Tell, Caramoor Festival

For classical music fans, summer means only one thing: summer festivals. The goal of these festivals is to showcase a wide range of repertory with thought provoking creativity.

Gioachino Rossini: Guillaume Tell

Guillaume Tell: Daniel Mobbs; Mathilde: Julianna Di Giacomo; Arnold: Michael Spyres; Jemmy: Talise Trevigne; Hedwige: Vanessa Cariddi; Walter: Nicholas Masters; Rodolphe: Rolando Sanz; Fisherman: Brian Downen; Melchtal: Jeffrey Beruan; Gesler: Scott Bearden.

Above: Daniel Mobbs as Guillaume Tell and Talise Trevigne as Jemmy

All photos by Gabe Palacio courtesy of Caramoor Festival 2011


One such festival is the Caramoor Music Festival of Katonah, New York with its dedication to bel canto repertoire for its opera portion. It is true that since its resurgence after World War II, at the hands of Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas, bel canto opera is now firmly ensconced in the repertoire. But do not be fooled. As Will Crutchfield, the festival’s conductor, has previously stated, the goal of the festival is to present the lesser known bel canto operas. To that end, the festival is formatted such that one staple shares the stage with a more obscure work. Last year, Donizetti’s evergreen, drunken revelry L’elisir D’Amore was paired with Rossini’s majestic Semiramide.

This year, eyebrows were raised when Caramoor presented Rossini’s seldom heard epic Guillaume Tell alongside Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta HMS Pinafore. True, HMS Pinafore does not belong to the group of operas that we recognize as bel canto. Yet, according to an article in the New York Times by Allan Kozinn, audiences fail to realize that Arthur Sullivan held a job as a copyist in which he created reductions of bel canto opera. As a consequence, he was well acquainted with stylistic conventions, and his operettas can be seen as having evolved from that tradition. Furthermore, Patrick Dillon, a writer for Opera News argues that Guillaume Tell while a bel canto opera in the strictest sense had far reaching effects in the creation and standardization of French Grand Opera that lasted until the composition of Verdi’s Don Carlo. In this way, the theme of this Caramoor season seems to be the long lasting legacy of bel canto opera.

Regarding Guillaume Tell, I have nothing but good news to report. It was one of those performances of which opera lovers dream. Under the direction of the eminent Mr. Will Crutchfield, the orchestra of St. Luke’s demonstrated all the drama and complexities of Rossini’s vast score.

20110709Caramoor_9449.gifJulianna Di Giacomo as Mathilde

To comment on their dynamics and flare for theatricality would be obvious; I was most impressed with the dialogue between instrumental sections. If this were one of Rossini’s Italian comedies such as L’Italiana in Algeri, the opera would be full of ensembles in which the vocals lines would similarly interact with each other. Here, however, I was impressed with Rossini’s ability to transpose his skill for ensemble writing to the orchestra itself. Additionally, the strings brought a mellow burnished quality to the music; presenting a beautiful cohesive tone in a score with a plethora of strings.

The cast was in excellent form. Bass-baritone Daniel Mobbs, who sang the role of Tell, gave a thrilling dynamic portrayal. He managed to cover all facets of the character from revolutionary leader to husband and father while singing with style and spell-binding tone. Much the same can be said of Mezzo Vanessa Cariddi. Although, early on, her dramatic commitment to the role was less apparent, it came beautifully into focus with the last act. However, it is quite plausible that the reason for her character’s lack of substance lies within the opera itself. Tenor Michael Spyres, in the role of Arnold, sang with conviction and made his character a convincing case for the beloved operatic trope of tenor-as-lover. He also sang the role’s astronomically high tessitura with ease. Still two aspects of his performance should be mentioned. Vocally, he seemed to get lost in passages of either high powered orchestral work, or in ensembles. Additionally, he needs to develop a better physical and emotional connection with the other characters. Soprano Julianna Di Giacomo was incredibly compelling in the smaller but crucial role of Mathilde. Her deeply lyrical soprano was a joy to behold. Her voice brought much appreciated texture to the trio of Act IV with Mathilde, Tell’s wife Hedwige, and Tell’s son Jemmy. Soprano Talise Trevigne was delightfully boyish as Jemmy, while Scott Bearden was ferocious as Switerland’s Hapsburg governor.

20110709Caramoor_9386.gifVanessa Cariddi as Hedwige

The Caramoor festival chorus was in full vocal throttle when they joined the rest of the cast during the many ensembles. I could not help but smile at Rossini’s overt attempts to incorporate the tastes of the Paris Opera.

It remains to be said that Caramoor is a beautiful setting. When an obscure opera like Guillaume Tell is performed in such grand style and the audience is treated to fresh air, and exquisitely perfumed gardens, the question becomes, why isn’t this opera performed more often? My guess would be size and expense. It is true that massive forces are required to perform the work, and that according to Patrick Dillon of Opera News, the opera has never been performed in its complete version in the U.S. Yet despite the opera’s marathon four hours, this is an engrossing opera permitting time to pass quickly. Therefore, I have to say that I would gladly see Guillaume Tell again. And after all, isn’t that the goal of bel canto at Caramoor?

Gregory Moomjy

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