Recently in Performances
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
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.
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.