Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Ailyn Pérez as Marguerite and Bryan Hymel as Faust [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera]
10 Jul 2011

Faust Reaches Santa Fe Opera — And How!

The celebrated New Mexico opera festival has, in its fifty-fifth season, created a production of Charles Gounod’s 1859 masterpiece Faust, its first ever.

Charles Gounod: Faust

Marguerite: Ailyn Perez: Marthe: Jamie Barton; Siebel: Jennifer Holloway; Faust: Bryan Hymel; Valentin (thru 8/1): Matthew Worth; Valentin (from 8/8): Christopher Magiera; Mephistopheles: Mark S. Doss' Wagner: Darik Knutsen. Conductor: Frédéric Chaslin. Director: Stephen Lawless. Scenic Designer: Benoit DuGardyn. Costume Designer: Susan Willmington. Lighting Designer: Pat Collins. Choreographer: Nicola Bowie.

Above: Ailyn Pérez as Marguerite and Bryan Hymel as Faust

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera

 

It is a mega-show that happily falls into the success column, despite some excesses and an occasional mis-fire. This commentary is based on the second performance, July 6, with eye-watering toxic fumes and particulates still in the air from the forest fires that have been surrounding Santa Fe, forcing the Opera to hire school gymnasia for rehearsals. If circumstances have been hard on the singers and production staff, as they surely have, it is almost miraculous that so complex a show opened on time and in reasonably good order.

FST2_0130a.pngMark Doss as Méphistophélès

Here is a taste: The cassetta of jewels, directed by the composer to be left by Méphistophélès in Marguerite’s garden to impress the innocent maid as a token of Faust’s affection, was instead a large Tiffany-esque show window, wheeled in from stage right, loaded with glittering jewelry and large enough for Marguerite to enter and make her selection; even her portly duenna, Marthe, wiggled in and grabbed up whatever Marguerite left behind. When it was time for the soldiers’ chorus, they executed a smart drill, wearing long greatcoats and spiked helmets that might have betokened the Franco-Prussian war, and when the bucolic Kermesse (village fair) scene arrived, it was equipped with a Ferris wheel (history’s first was at the Chicago World’s Fair 1893), while the merry singing and dancing took place amidst a carnival midway of gaudy freak shows, with uni-cyclists, stiltists and roller-skating. In fact, Marguerite makes her entrance upon roller skates! No, I did not make that up.

FST2_2197a.pngClockwise from top: Bryan Hymel as Faust, Mark Doss as Méphistophélès, Gabrielle Zucker as Helen of Troy, Kessa Huey as Cleopatra, Kristin Osler as Manon, Heidi Kershaw Carmen, Hallie Brenner Dalsimer as Salome and Jasmine Quinsier as Delilah

Action was constant, and with much busy detail, and if it was anachronistic, well never mind! One had to chuckle that Marguerite, as she sang the ballad of the King of Thulé, avidly worked at her humming Singer sewing machine rather than the traditional spinning wheel. The production continued in such style for much of the evening. It must have been exhausting and expensive to mount. While there were small moments that needed tightening or fine-tuning, I expect by the full repertory run in August all will be well polished to the satisfaction of those seeking gaudy entertainment, even if the first three acts were combined into a 90-minute Marathon before the single intermission.

Frédéric Chaslin, the French conductor, pianist and composer, in his second year as principal conductor at Santa Fe, proved the musical jewel of the evening. His orchestra was alert, accurate and highly responsive to his direction. He did linger now and then with a slow tempo, but the waltz scene and later the rarely played ballet of courtesans, ticked along crisply and with élan. I hope we hear a lot of Chaslin in his native opera repertory. He’s the real thing! And how very pleasant to hear French opera with a Frenchman in the pit. Bravo!

Santa Fe has always been a company that seemed to spend more on production values than on vocal talent, but that alone cannot account for a certain mediocrity that beset the singing cast, with one exception: Ailyn Pérez in a strongly sung musically solid performance of Marguerite, the star of the show. Her French pronunciation had its Hispanic moments, but the free flow of tone, her ease in the top soprano register, and her energy and ability to enter into hyper-action staging won deserved applause. Basso Mark Doss, senior member of the cast appropriately appearing as Méphistophélès, was totally into his role, aided by experience and purpose in his portrayal; vocally, he was underpowered and was too often unheard over the orchestra. I would have rather heard him as Leporello in the Mozart opera.

FST2_1877a.pngBackground left: Matthew Worth as Valentin, Jennifer Holloway as Siébel and Chorus, Foreground: Ailyn Pérez as Marguerite

Tenor Mark Hymel had the high-lying phrases for his demanding title role and gave pleasure with his well achieved high tones, even if his bright tenor was a bit lacking in body and seemed nonexistent in the lower register. Few tenors today are reliable in this classic tenor role once graced by the likes of Jean de Reszke and Jussi Bjoerling (they don’t make ‘em like that any more). A young lyric baritone, Matthew Worth, qualified as a French bariton martin, with a pleasant light voice suited to such as Pelléas or Massenet’s Juggler, Jean. Worth was not equipped with the kind of burly vocal weight needed to make Valentine credible. He played the part well and was touching in his scenes with Marguerite.

In smaller but important roles, Jennifer Holloway was effective as Marguerite’s teenage suitor Siebel, here given two arias rather than only the usual Flower Song, while the greedy duenna Marthe was ably presented by mezzo Jamie Barton, though Faust’s wine-loving friend Wagner, was only faintly heard as sung by another too-light baritone, Darik Knutsen. The 2200-seat Santa Fe house is a kind host to larger voices that project well – such are much needed.

The antic stage direction was by the noted Stephen Lawless aided by Belgian scenic designer Benoit Dugardyn, who made good use of the full stage and whose work was colorful and pungent, even if it did consist mainly of props. It all worked!

FST2_0294a.pngThe Fair (Act II)

The splendid choral work, lots of it in this show, was directed by the hard- working and able Susanne Sheston. The mixed-period costume design was by Sue Wilmington, sometimes a puzzle but often quite attractive. Unusually effective lighting was well designed by Pat Collins, while the expertly directed choreography and actor movement was by Nocola Bowie with Lawless. The show as a whole was visually appealing, if at times the ideas behind it all were a bit obscure. If unremitting action counts for success, we saw success.

It would not surprise me if stage director Lawless and General Director Charles MacKay, whether they would admit it or not, were tempted to mount an all-out rather over-produced rendition of Gounod’s lyric classic in lieu of really memorable singing. How many in any given audience really know how Faust was sung in the so-called Golden Age of opera, and how difficult it is in the 21st Century to find a vocally ideal cast for an opera that was composed when Rossini and Meyerbeer were still alive? I cannot fault them, for theirs is the style of the time – the time of regieoper, to use the forbidding German term, when the intention of the stage director is often preferred to that of the original composer and librettist. At least Santa Fe’s first Faust was sung in the original French language (pace St. Louis); was at one level reasonably entertaining with comic moments; beautifully played by an expert orchestra and conductor, with a cast that was of average capability and produced no embarrassing moments. In such terms, the 2011 Faust was a huge improvement over the failings of Santa Fe’s curious 2010 Tales of Hoffman. More French repertory with Maitre Chaslin, s’il vous plait!

J. A. Van Sant © 2011

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):