Recently in Performances
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
14 Aug 2011
Ariadne auf Naxos, Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble
Today’s general public labors under the unfortunate misconception that in order to enjoy opera, one needs to be educated and at ease with mobility in social circles largely consisting of decrepit old rich people.
What the general
public doesn’t understand is that this very same question has been
debated for centuries within the realms of opera itself. The question of
high-brow versus low-brow entertainment goes back at least to the creation of
Italian opera buffa, which dates from the Enlightenment. The comic, and
consequently unflattering, portrayal of the aristocracy which has come to
define opera buffa set the genre at odds with opera seria, which attempts to
depict the aristocracy as noble human beings who tragically suffer for the good
of the state. This binary, which epitomizes the adage that tragedy shows us our
betters, while comedy scoffs at the misfortune of others, has defined opera
ever since. However, by integrating operas buffa with opera seria, Richard
Strauss’s opera-within-an-opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, carried the
tradition of opera buffa into the 20th century.
Dell ‘Arte Opera Ensemble’s recent production of this bubbling
comedy should be commended for an all-around stylish performance which captures
the wit and the lyricism of this work. The term “Mozartian” has
been applied to other Strauss comedies like Die Liebe der Danae and
Der Rosenkavalier; however, this assessment sometimes seems
implausible simply because Strauss was working with an orchestra of Wagnerian
force. An orchestra of this size was simply not available to Mozart. This
explains my fear on seeing that the orchestra was considerably smaller than the
normal forces required. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Conductor
Christopher Fecteau struck a noteworthy balance between humor and aesthetics,
bringing a classical precision to the trio of the nymphs in the opera proper
was certainly reminiscent of Der Rosenkavalier.
Mezzo Sarah Heltzel was utterly compelling as the Composer (played by Juli
Borst on August 18 and 20). The blind devotion to music as an art form that she
injected into the character made the themes of the opera, the conflicts between
what a composer wants to write and what his audience wants to see, more
tangible than in Strauss’s last opera, Capriccio where the
question that was debated was whether, when writing an opera, were words or
music were more important. Like soprano Mary Ann Stewart, who played the
prima donna, (who is played by Jane Shivick on August 18 and 20) the
commitment that Heltzel brought to the role served as fodder for the contrast
between their idealized view of art and the more realistic view of opera, as
personified by the commedia dell’arte troupe and soprano
Jennifer Moore, who played Zerbinetta (played by Jennifer Rossetti on August 18
and 20). Stewart sang warmly, yet when called for, she could also sing
Jennifer Moore was delightfully girlish as Zerbinetta. Her portrayal
strengthened the parallels between Strauss and Mozart, as her Zerbinetta could
be a modern-day Zerlina or Despina. It should be said, however, that in the
Prologue, despite her glorious high notes, the body of her voice was slightly
heavier than other Zerbinettas, such as Elisabeth Schwartzkopf’s. That
said, she could be lyrical when called for. More importantly, Act II was her
time to shine. She clearly relished her showpiece; her cadenzas were simply
stunning. At the same time, her singing highlighted the implied mockery of the
proverbial bel canto scena, which coloraturas love to lose
their minds to.
As the Dance Master, Edwin Vega (played by Andrew Klima on August 18 and 20)
obviously had fun, and his light tenor was always a joy to hear. In the second
act, he vocally outshone the other the singers in the commedia
dell’arte troupe. That said, the troupe worked cohesively as a team
and created immensely comical portrayals of each character throughout. The trio
of the nymphs was in splendid vocal form as well. On the whole, the only rough
spot in the second act was Shawn Thuris’s rendition of Bacchus, which was
a little understated compared to that of his partners on stage. Even so, there
were moments where his singing shone through.
Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble is one of a number of organizations, such as
Wolf Trap Opera Company, that is dedicated to providing young singers with the
tools they need to succeed in the extremely competitive world of opera.
However, this company is still unique insofar as it performs in a Greenwich
Village loft, allowing the audience to be quite literally feet away from the
actors. I even had the honor of shaking hands with Zerbinetta. In this way,
Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble provides an invaluable experience not only for
its singers, but to its audiences as well.