Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Richard Strauss
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.

Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

Click here for cast information.

Above: Richard Strauss

 

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 powerfully.

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.

Gregory Moomjy

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):