Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

Royal Academy's Semele offers 'endless pleasures'

Self-adoring ‘celebrities’ beware. That smart-phone which feeds your narcissism might just prove your nemesis.

The Eternal Flame: Debussy, Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček - London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski

Although this concert was ostensibly, and in some respects a little tenuously, linked to the centenary of the Armistice, it did create some challenging assumptions about the nature of war. It was certainly the case in Magnus Lindberg’s new work, Triumf att finnas till… (‘Triumph to Exist…’) that he felt able to dislocate from the horror of the trenches and slaughter by using a text by the wartime poet Edith Södergran which gravitates towards a more sympathetic, even revisionist, expectation of this period.

François-Xavier Roth conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Works by Ligeti, Bartók and Haydn

For the second of my armistice anniversary concerts, I moved across town from the Royal Festival Hall to the Barbican.

The Silver Tassie at the Barbican Hall

‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ The words of George Orwell, expressed in a Tribune article, ‘The Sporting Spirit’, published in 1945.

The Last Letter: the Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court

The Barbican Centre’s For the Fallen commemorations continued with this varied and thought-provoking programme, The Last Letter, which interweaved vocal and instrumental music with poems and prose, and focused on relationships - between husband and wife, fellow soldiers, young men and their homelands - disrupted by war.

Fiona Shaw's Cendrillon casts a spell: Glyndebourne Tour 2018

Fiona Shaw’s new production of Massenet’s Cendrillon (1899) for this year’s Glyndebourne Tour makes one feel that the annual Christmas treat at the ballet or the panto has come one month early.

The Rake’s Progress: Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic

Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress is not, in many ways, a progressive opera; it doesn’t seek to radicalise, or even transform, opera and yet it is indisputably one of the great twentieth-century operas.

A raucous Così fan tutte at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Precisely where and when Così fan tutte takes place should be a matter of sublime indifference - or at least of individual taste. It is ‘about’ many things, but eighteenth-century Naples - should that actually be the less exotic yet still ‘othered’ neāpolis of Wiener Neustadt? - is not among them.

For the Fallen: James Macmillan's All the Hills and Vales Along at Barbican Hall

‘He has clothed his attitude in fine words: but he has taken the sentimental attitude.’ So, wrote fellow war poet Charles Hamilton Sorley of the last sonnets of Rupert Brooke.

English Touring Opera: Troubled fidelities and faiths

‘Can engaging with contemporary social issues save the opera?’ asked M. Sophia Newman last week, on the website, News City, noting that many commentators believe that ‘public interest in stuffy, intimidating, expensive opera is inevitably dwindling’, and that ‘several recent opera productions suggest that interest in a new kind of urban, less formally-staged, socially-engaged opera is emerging and drawing in new audiences to the centuries-old art form’.

Himmelsmusik: L'Arpeggiata bring north and south together at Wigmore Hall

Johann Theile, Crato Bütner, Franz Tunder, Christian Ritter, Giovanni Felice Sances … such names do not loom large in the annals of musical historiography. But, these and other little-known seventeenth-century composers took their place alongside Bach and Biber, Schütz and Monteverdi during L’Arpeggiata’s most recent exploration of musical cross-influences and connections.

Piotr Beczała – Polish and Italian art song, Wigmore Hall London

Can Piotr Beczała sing the pants off Jonas Kaufmann ? Beczała is a major celebrity who could fill a big house, like Kaufmann does, and at Kaufmann prices. Instead, Beczała and Helmut Deutsch reached out to that truly dedicated core audience that has made the reputation of the Wigmore Hall : an audience which takes music seriously enough to stretch themselves with an eclectic evening of Polish and Italian song.

Soloists excel in Chelsea Opera Group's Norma at Cadogan Hall

“Let us not be ashamed to be carried away by the simple nobility and beauty of a lucid melody of Bellini. Let us not be ashamed to shed a tear of emotion as we hear it!”

Handel's Serse: Il Pomo d'Oro at the Barbican Hall

Sadly, and worryingly, there are plenty of modern-day political leaders - both dictators and the democratically elected - whose petulance, stubbornness and egoism threaten the safety of their own subjects as well as the stability and security of other nations.

Dutch touring Tosca is an edge-of-your-seat thriller

Who needs another Tosca? Seasoned opera buffs can be blasé about repertoire mainstays. But the Nederlandse Reisopera’s production currently touring the Netherlands is worth seeing, whether it is your first or your hundred-and-first acquaintance with Puccini’s political drama. The staging is refreshing and pacey. Musically, it has the four crucial ingredients: three accomplished leads and a conductor who swashbuckles through the score in a blaze of color.

David Alden's fine Lucia returns to ENO

The burden of the past, and the duty to ensure its survival in the present and future, exercise a violent grip on the male protagonists in David Alden’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor for English National Opera, with dangerous and disturbing consequences.

Verdi's Requiem at the ROH

The full title of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem per l’anniversario della morte di Manzoni 22 maggio 1874 attests to its origins, but it was the death of Giacomo Rossini on 13th November 1868 that was the initial impetus for Verdi’s desire to compose a Requiem Mass which would honour Rossini, one of the figureheads of Italian cultural magnificence, in a national ceremony which - following the example of Cherubini’s C minor Requiem and Berlioz’s Grande messe des morts - was to be as much a public and political occasion as a religious one.

Wexford Festival 2018

The 67th Wexford Opera Festival kicked off with three mighty whacks of a drum and rooster’s raucous squawk, heralding the murderous machinations of the drug-dealing degenerate, Cim-Fen, in Franco Leoni’s one-act blood-and-guts verismo melodrama, L’oracolo … alongside an announcement by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, of an award of €1 million in capital funding for the National Opera House to support necessary updating and refurbishment works over the next 3 years.

A New La bohème Opens Season at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its 2018-19 season with Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème. This new production, shared with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and with the Teatro Real, Madrid, features an accomplished cast and innovative scenic approaches.

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):