27 Aug 2011
Mosé in Egitto and Adelaide di Borgogna in Pesaro
It was a no-brainer. The Old Testament Egyptians had to become today’s Palestinians.
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 less-than-tragic plight.
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.
It was a no-brainer. The Old Testament Egyptians had to become today’s Palestinians.
Well, the politics of the Graham Vick production were a bit confusing at first as Moses implored God to restore light to Egypt and He did in the most magnificent chorus of Andrea Leone Tottola’s azione tragico-sacra that ultimately parts the Red Sea and then drowns the Egyptians.
Sonia Ganassi as Elcia
But back to Egypt bathed in glorious light with the Egyptians confused about who was going to clean up the ostentatious palaces growing out of decayed reinforced concrete structures if the enslaved Jews were released. So they did not free the Jews after all to the relief of the scion of the ruling family who had fallen in love with an Hebrew maiden.
Moses, betrayed, implores God to rain fire on the Egyptians, and the Hebrews to a man, woman and child strap bombs onto their bodies while singing a most magnificent chorus. And, uhm, was that really Osama Bin Laden’s beard on Moses? We now fully understand that Graham Vick’s dramatic vocabulary is not politically literal. It is the storybook tragedy of the Old Testament magnified onto the now massive tragedy of Western Asia and the entire world.
Alex Esposito as Faraone
The enormity of the subject and its realization was full force in this sleepy seaside town, the birthplace of the great Rossini. Its 15,000 seat sports palace, the Adriatic Arena is now home to one of the three major productions of this August festival (the other two are in the 19th century Teatro Rossini). But wait! Walls and a ceiling (new this year — that nasty echo is no more) are installed, those 15,000 seats are reduced to 1200. A huge space remains for a scenic installation.
The drafty, leaky Adriatic Arena has become surprisingly one of the world’s most exciting opera venues. Opera there is out-of-the-box so to speak, and has been for several years, notably the scenic installations of Zelmira (2009) by Italian director Giorgio Barberio Corsetti (critics attacked its political illiteracies) and Cenerentola (2010) by Italian director Luca Ronconi. There are no directors more in-the-box than Graham Vick (the stage housings of the Met, San Francisco War Memorial, etc.). Maybe it should have been no surprise that he can ascend to the heights of the great Italian theater directors, but it was.
Rossini’s exquisitely beautiful third act prayer by Moses, Aaron, Elcia and chorus of Hebrews was punctuated by invisible sniper fire executing the Egyptian eldest sons (its sound mute, its victims’ fell sharply echoing the suddenness of the gunshot). Special forces commandos stormed the Adriatic Arena pursuing the Jews (some audience fled in terror [yes, this really happened]) for whom the sea parted for their crossing into the Promised Land. The Egyptians are destroyed but for one lone surviving boy. He straps a bomb onto his body as a lone Israeli soldier climbs out of a tank and offers him a detonator.
Conductor Roberto Abbado had propelled the Zelmira to plateaux of lyric delirium as he had the Ermione (2008), a brilliant Adriatic Arena installation directed by his cousin Daniele Abbado. But this was another Rossini, the delirium replaced by lyric solemnity, much like the tone of the Rossini Stabat Mater, but with extended dramatic scenes for soloists. Bass Alex Esposito, the Egyptian pharaoh, exploded in his Cade dal ciglio il velo, terrifying in its runaway machismo. Tenor Dimitry Korchak, the pharaoh’s son and soon lover of the Hebrew girl Elcia lamented her loss in clumsy, brutal moves of male domination. Soprano Sonia Ganassi as Elcia tore at our hearts in her supplication to him to release Moses.
Sonia Ganassi as Elcia and Dmitry Korchak as Osiride
New at the Rossini Festival productions this year were supertitles. Tottola’s text however is virtually incomprehensible in the archness of its style and the richness of its archaic vocabulary that fit the perceived gravity of a biblical subject. Never mind that the supertitles were washed out by the crescendo of brilliant light during the Eterno! immenso! incomprensibil Dio!, Maestro Abbado simultaneously effected a spine tingling choral crescendo that took us into and beyond the text, and kept us there until the opera’s final moment.
Ovations at the Rossini Festival are usually reserved for a singer who has executed a difficult aria with finesse, and these ovations are extended often over several minutes. Here these extended, very extended ovations occurred only at the ends of the acts, the astonished audience unwilling to leave its seats.
The individual performances were subsumed into the Graham Vick production of this Rossini masterwork. Nonetheless besides the flashy performances of brilliant singing mentioned above Riccardo Zanellato as Moses captured the anger and passivity of this complex personage with exceptional beauty of voice and delivery. Young Chinese Ylhe Shi as Aaron continues to mature as a Rossini tenor, here showing a new confidence that propelled this secondary character to unexpected emotional stature. The chorus of the Teatro Comunale of Bologna rose to unprecedented glory in its huge role as the Hebrews when not as the Egyptians.
The premiere of Adelaide di Borgogna was in December, 1817, the premiere of Mosé in Egitto in March, 1818, thus the two works were composed back to back and performed just now in Pesaro back to back. Both works chronicle the fall of a father and son, both works explore human relationships in politically charged atmospheres, and both end in hollow political victories.
The librettist, Giovanni Federico Schmidt had written the libretto for Armida (upcoming at the Met) earlier the same year. Adelaide di Borgogna was the wife of Lotario, the last Carolingian king of most everywhere in those days, though Schmidt is quite confused about dates and happenings. Never mind, as opera is about opera and not about history as Rossini and Graham Vick know.
In Schmidt’s libretto the widowed Adelaide is told by Lotario’s successor, Berengario that she must marry his son, thereby legitimizing the succession, You can imagine the rest of the story. And yes, she finally marries Ottone, making him Otto I, the first Holy Roman Emperor while Berengario and his son Adelberto are taken away in chains. The operatic problem is that Adelberto truly loves Adelaide, and that maybe Berengario did not murder Lotario after all.
Daniela Barcellona as Ottone
Italian avant-gardiste of the 1980’s Pier’Alli was the stage director. He also did sets, costumes, video projections and lights. He did not have Graham Vick’s good luck — no pregnant political metaphor comes to mind nor does the challenge of the Adriatic Arena present itself. But he did have video to play with, and that can be pretty cruel too.
The Teatro Rossini stage is small, challenging some contemporary metteurs en scéne to overcome this perceived limitation. Mr. Pier’Alli explored the digital technology that has exploded in theatrical scenic applications. Apparently no one informed Mr. Pier’Alli that you cannot watch a movie of a mud puddle and live opera at the same time, that moving images, particularly geometric images in absolute synchronization with musical architecture gets old fast, and that fast visual information (image stimuli) is not consistent with fast musical stimuli (Rossini, for example). Not least, Mr. Pier’Alli who trained as an architect is visually imprisoned by absolute structural symmetry. His mise en scéne was suffocating, if at best sort of pretty.
Against Schmidt’s strange account of historical happenings and this mise en scène Russian conductor Dmitri Jurowski deployed a score that is not one of the Rossini masterpieces, and maybe not all composed by Rossini anyway. The orchestra of the Teatro Comunale of Bologna responded with warmth of tone and obvious sympathy for the maestro whose tempos were indeed sympathetic to the needs of the singers. This maestro however did not connect with the Rossini ethos, and in this opera maybe Rossini does not either.
Mezzo soprano Daniella Barcellona is one of the Rossini Festival’s greatest treasures. Though she is surely the world’s prima donna assoluta of Rossini pants roles, even she could not make Ottone, the cardboard savior of poor Adelaide into a sympathetic hero. Our sympathies were with young Romanian tenor Bogdan Mihai as Adelberto whose vocal and histrionic innocence won us over to his father’s side. Australian soprano Jessica Pratt as Adelaide was the prize but her mannered piano singing and stolid presence captured none of the Rossini flash that could have made her operatically desirable to either suitor.
Mme. Pratt did know enough to hit her high E forte so she drew wild applause from an audience susceptible to the high is hard fallacy. On the other hand solid performances in high style were delivered by Italian baritone Nicola Ulivieri as a sympathetic Berengario and by Italian mezzo soprano Francesca Pierpaoli as Adelaide’s protector Iroldo, performances greatly appreciated by all of us Rossinians from around the globe.
N.B. Graham Vick’s Mosé in Egitto was cheered and wildly booed at its first performance, probably because Mr. Vick took a bow. Earlier that evening real riot police were brought in to quell a fight among spectators that broke out in the auditorium. At this second performance above the audience was enthralled, though perhaps there was one lone boo heard amidst the solid, extended applause.
Adelaide di Borgogna
Ottone: Daniela Barcellona; Adelaide: Jessica Pratt; Berengario: Nicola Ulivieri; Adelberto: Bogdan Mihai; Eurice: Jeannette Fischer; Iroldo: Francesca Pierpaoli; Ernesto: Clemente Antonio Daliotti. Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Maestro del Coro Lorenzo Fratini. Direttore: Dmitri Jurowski. Regia, Scene, Costumi, Progetto Video e Luci: Pier'Alli.
Mosè in Egitto
Faraone: Alex Esposito; Amaltea: Olga Senderskaya; Osiride: Dmitry Korchak; Elcia: Sonia Ganassi; Mambre: Enea Scala; Mosè: Riccardo Zanellato; Aronne: Yijie Shi; Amenofi: Chiara Amarù. Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Maestro del Coro Lorenzo Fratini. Direttore: Roberto Abbado. Regia: Graham Vick. Scene e Costumi: Stuart Nunn. Progetto luci: Giuseppe Di Iorio.