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.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
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.