27 Jul 2011
Rigoletto, Miami Lyric Opera
There’s hell to pay for profligate publicity; Giuseppe Verdi and Francisco Maria Piave knew this to be true.
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.
There’s hell to pay for profligate publicity; Giuseppe Verdi and Francisco Maria Piave knew this to be true.
Wanton rankling may start off with high ratings and a spike in tickets sales but can easily degenerate into opprobrium and murk an artistic work’s essence. The opera Verdi and Piave set out to complete for Teatro La Fenice was on course for such an ignoble providence were it not for the duo’s imagination, and discretion. La maledizione was the working title for the opera almost cursed with the sort of attention that would dull its artistic merits.
Distilled from a Victor Hugo play with a checkered performance past, the opera would meet with its own curses before its premiere in 1851. The play (Le roi s’amuse) and the opera (Rigoletto) revolve around such a curse, something Miami Lyric Opera Director Raffaele Cardone reminded of when he addressed the audience pre-performance on opening night June 23rd. Placing the context of Rigoletto directly on, and finding its dramatic pole in, the curse teased the imagination as to what was to come, holding out the suspense of the grist for Rigoletto’s mill: La maledizione.
This performance marks a whole new set of standards for MLO. Sets (designed by Carlos Arditti), still on the main backdrops, were more suggestive of the piece (in this case, 16th century Mantova) and redolent of specific scenes: there were columns and archways at the party and a nicely lit (in blue) background, the alley where the sanction was dealt was as an hallucination - a dark and muggy picture; Rigoletto’s domicile was depicted by a patently different scene (turning a bit cheeky when a flimsy wall shook terribly as the jester set the ladder on it). The curtain rose for the final time to a tavern that any assassin might find a suitable safe house.
Artistic expression and sensibility in staging too have improved for the small company. A soft screen hazed the view of the opening scene, the ballroom at the Ducal palace; courtiers held their dance poses for the length of the overture. Movement in the room thereafter was well-planned, with varied exchanges as members of the court came in contact with each other. Blocking and shifting of positions was thoughtful too for the Act Three gathering of Gilda’s abductors. Adequate effects (strobes/lighting by Kevin Roman) in that final scene at the tavern saw to a turbulent tempest.
Musically, including in the singing, those heading the company have much to be pleased with. Conductor Doris Lang Kosloff and players seemed to work well together, resulting in nice string articulation (with fine violins in Cortigliani), sweet flute phrasing (in the work’s echoed themes) and well-modulated dynamics. Miguel A. Raymat beat clear, accurate, and powerful sounds on the kettle drum, supporting the overture, the storm, and the finale.
Cuban baritone Nelson Martinez first appeared with MLO in a Gala concert in the spring of 2007; Martinez sang a Rigoletto later that same season. With the company he as appeared as Rossini’s Figaro, Escamillo, and Giorgio Germont. Locally, Martinez is considered a tested talent; his proved to be the most schooled voice — technically and stylistically — in this cast. As far as size (and heartiness) and the ease of its use in high tessitura, Martinez’s voice does well by Verdi. It is hard to forget the force of the high note he held out to close ‘Pari siamo’.
MLO went out of town for the Gilda. Gina Galati is an American soprano that has studied in a Verdian Academy at Bussetto; she has the voice — its flutter fitting for ‘Caro nome’ — and looks of a soubrette. This was Galati’s first singing engagement with MLO; she shared Gilda with local Susana Diaz (the Gilda on June 25th). As the cad, the vehicle through which Verdi’s opera gets interesting, the Duke of Mantua, Aurelio Dominguez had some laudable moments in this tricky role and his first outing with MLO (two other tenors sang on subsequent performance evenings). The difficult recitative and aria that opens Act Two, where the Duke implores the heavens over the snatching of Gilda, was a triumph for the tenor. Dominguez ducked few obstacles, meeting Galati for the high note in their duet.
MLO returnee Diego Baner made a fine Sparafucile vocally — the rapid vibrato of his bass an interesting change of pace. On the stage, Baner distracted with his tendency to look downward. Graduating from the Florida Grand Opera chorus to a critical role here, Monterone, Cuban bass-baritone Armando Naranjo clearly understands the importance of the curse; Naranjo communicated anger with constant fervor in his singing. Lisseth Jimenez was a saucy Maddalena of darkish tone and Jesse Vargas and Mathew Caines did good work in their brief moments as Borsa and Marullo. Ketty Delgado (Giovanna) and Erica Williams (Paggio) appeared for the first time with MLO.
Pablo Hernandez (Chorus Master) did not put his group to work for the storm and the singers were musically rough here and there (in the second act, the men were at odds over entrances and the text). In the case of costumes, Pamela De Vercelly is credited for colorful work. Vercelly will not be faulted for hosiery (a few with Swiss cheesy wear) unflattering to male cast members whose best features are not their legs. One could be cursed with much worse.
La maledizione would also be a dummy title meant to throw authorities off the scent of Verdi and Piave and their busy redactions of Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse. Hugo encountered trouble mounting the play in France due to its content and the opera was meeting with similar obstructions in Italy some twenty years later. As it went, La maledizione went through a number of textual alterations as Verdi and Piave tried to satisfy censors that feared the reprisal of royals over their less than stately depiction. La maledizione wound up retaining its place in the story; the hunchback also remained and was renamed, as was the opera, Rigoletto.