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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!”

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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

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“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

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English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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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.



Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Academy of Santa Cecilia [Photo by Chris Christodoulou.courtesy of the BBC]
18 Jul 2011

Guillaume Tell, BBC Proms

Operatic fashions are fickle and, more to the point, often plain wrong. We all have our grievance lists of works that are ‘scandalously neglected’.

Gioacchino Rossini, Guillaume Tell

William Tell: Michele Pertusi; Arnold Melchthal: John Osborn; Walter Furst: Matthew Rose; Melchthal: Frédéric Caton; Jemmy: Elena Xanthoudakis; Gessler: Nicolas Courjal; Rodolphe: Carlo Bosi; Ruodi: Celso Albelo; Leuthold: Mark Stone; Mathilde: Malin Byström; Hedwige: Patricia Bardon; Huntsman: Davide Malvestio, Chorus and Academy of the Academy of Santa Cecilia, Rome (chorus master: Ciro Visco), Antonio Pappano (conductor). Royal Albert Hall, London, Prom 2, Saturday 16 July 2011.

Above: Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Academy of Santa Cecilia

Photos by Chris Christodoulou.courtesy of the BBC


No one would claim that, Riccardo Muti notwithstanding, ‘serious’ Rossini was in fashion. On the basis of this Proms concert performance of Guillaume Tell, I cannot say that I feel deprived. Indeed I should express unalloyed relief, were it not for the fact that its place tends to be assumed by less rather than more interesting works. Schiller’s wonderful play, Wilhelm Tell, becomes something tedious and uninvolving – and, moreover, tedious and uninvolving at very great length. One gains no real sense of the characters as characters, of why one should or even might care about them. Now it might well be that individual psychology is not the point; it certainly is not in, say, Fidelio. Yet there one has a noble, overwhelming instantiation of the bourgeois idea of freedom at its greatest. Here one has interminable exchanges between men from different Swiss cantons ramble on uninspiringly about a Swiss fatherland, but never with fervour, lest Rossini’s monarchist protectors become alarmed. The nationalism – or, perhaps better, caricatured anti-German sentiment – is so preposterous that one can only hope nobody took it seriously even at the time. Certainly if this were a German work and the boot were on the other foot, we should expect howls of protest. The romantic element, between the Habsburg princess Mathilde, who rejects the wicked governor Gessler, and Arnold Meuchtal, a Swiss conspirator, is implausible – and implausible at great length. And how much lolling about in the sun by peasants can anyone reasonably be expected to take? Music can express languor very well; think of Debussy. Here, however, it less expresses boredom than becomes lamentably nondescript – at, you guessed it, inordinate length. Indeed, the entire first act could be cut without the slightest harm to the plot; on this occasion, it was the fourth that suffered, being cut down to twenty minutes, creating the rather odd impression of a rush to the finishing line far too late. I have never attended an operatic performance at which so many in the audience were constantly checking their watches, nor, indeed, in which so many leaped to their feet and departed, as soon as the performance was over, not even waiting to engage in the most desultory applause.

So much for the work: I was genuinely interested to have the rare opportunity to hear it, but now do not feel the need to do so again. What of the performances? Antonio Pappano had his moments, perhaps more so in the crowd control of the choral exchanges, or some of the recitative passages. Yet I could not help but wonder what a conductor such as Muti would have brought to the work; perhaps his iron grip might have had one believe in something as implausible as this. Even the overture failed to impress. It is sectional, of course, but surely a conductor ought to try to mask that just a little; there was no discernible attempt at transition whatsoever. The storm section was absurdly hard-driven, and the whole quite lacked charm, despite some fine woodwind playing from the Santa Cecilia orchestra. Though the strings on occasion sounded a little feeble here, they were on good form for most of what was to come. To have members of the orchestra take solo bows following the overture was straightforwardly bizarre.

Michele-Pertusi--and-John-O.gifMichele Pertusi (William Tell) and John Osborn (Arnold Melchthal)

Vocal performance remained. The choral singing was generally very good indeed, and improved as the night went on: Ciro Visco is clearly an excellent choral trainer. Michele Pertusi, sad to say, made a dull Tell. Someone charismatic in this role might have pulled off a miracle, but that was not to be. Most of the rest of the cast outshone him, not least John Osborn’s outstanding Arnold, his fourth-cast aria, ‘Asile héréditaire’, proving the evening’s high-point: sweetly and elegantly sung. (Pappano should not, however, have allowed the prolonged intrusion of applause thereafter.) Elena Zanthoudakis sang well as Jemmy, Tell’s son, though her French vowels often left a good deal to be desired. The wideness of Patricia Bardon’s vibrato as Hedwige, Tell’s wife, would not have been to all tastes, and was certainly not to mine. Bar the odd unfortunate moment, such as a culiminating shriek in her Act II Scene 3 exchange with Arnold, Malin Byström proved impressive as Mathilde, her coloratura almost always precise and tasteful, though the end of the third act brought some notably flat singing. Nicolas Courjal’s Gessler in many ways came the closest to a convincing portrayal of character, certainly as close as one could imagine, suavity of line and demeanour suggesting a more sophisticated malevolence than one might have expected.

The singing, then, or rather some of the singing, was the only real point of interest. I can imagine that a staged performance with an outstanding conductor – a Muti or an Abbado – and an interesting, properly deconstructive production – from, say, a Stefan Herheim or a Peter Konwitschny – might work wonders, though I suspect one would tend to think that such talents would be better employed elsewhere. At least the celebrated scene with the apple, for which everyone not unreasonably appeared to be waiting, might elicit some sort of impact, whereas in concert, one merely notes the lack thereof. I am far from a Rossini devotee, but give me the sparkle of Il barbiere di Siviglia any day over this, and if it must be grand opéra, then Rienzi, which boasts some truly extraordinary music, let alone the masterpieces of Berlioz. Even Meyerbeer if necessary… I could not help but think of Wagner’s Opera and Drama, in which he portrays nineteenth-century opera as having degenerated into a chaotic farrago of different elements, randomly mixed and presented, permitting each spectator choosing whatever took his fancy: ‘Here the dainty leap of a ballerina, there the singer’s daring passage-work, here the set-painter’s brilliant effect, there the amazing eruption of an orchestral volcano.’ In this way, Wagner, claimed, composers such as Rossini had become the toast of the ‘entire civilised world’, and acquired the protection of Prince Metternich (the Austrian Prince Metternich, be it noted) and his European System, reinforcing rather than questioning the social order. Such a work, then, is undoubtedly of historical importance; its modern-day interest, however, largely escaped me.

Mark Berry

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