Recently in Performances
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
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.